If You Enjoy the Fruit, Support the Tree

fruit_treeWeird thing happened the other day. I was scrolling through a bunch of statuses on Facebook, glancing at comments by friends I know pretty well, some I know hardly at all, and organizations and churches that I “like” or am somehow associated with. And I ran across two or three statuses that kinda reminded me of car dealership commercials on TV. “Need to make some last minute tax deductible donations before the end of the year? Consider our church …” And me, still battling issues with impulse control, rapidly snapped off a comment about how sad that was; “if you have to ask, then maybe you’re doing something wrong …” Okay, not the most gracious thing I could have done. It just struck me as so commercial, so off track, churches asking for money. Looking back on that now, I’m almost surprised that I was even surprised by that. We’d all been burned by the constant money-begging on Christian television, and I guessed we’d all moved past that. My thinking: “If you were really doing the work of God, the provision would automatically be there already, right?” But some of my friends didn’t mind those offending statuses at all. Operational expenses weren’t automatically met by generous donors acting as the hand of God. How else are these organizations going to keep doing the good work unless they ask for support? “You have not because you ask not …”, as one friend reminded me. Hmm. My friends were probably correct. But I was still left with that sour taste in my mouth. Something about this just isn’t right. Then I happened across the profile of a pastor friend of mine, and noticed that he’d gone back to school to pick up some technical training and certification. He already had a college degree (in the non-money making field of Biblical Studies), but was now needing more (other) training to make a living. That really hit me — with a sadness that overshadowed my earlier offense at those solicitation requests. And I was suddenly struck by how many pastors I know who have to be bi-vocational. They’ve accepted the call of God to tend his people, and they’re carrying the joys and responsibilities of that task nearly full-time. They teach. They spend time daily preparing their sermons and lessons. They pray, spending time keeping their spiritual ears tuned to God, lifting the needs of their flock before the Eternal Throne. They counsel hurting people on the phone. They visit the sick in the hospital, they answer phone calls in the middle of the night, they meet people who just “need to talk” for lunch, for dinner, for breakfast, for coffee. They go to endless meetings: meetings in the community, meetings at the church, networking with other organizations that effect the community they shepherd. They’re touching lives and making an impact. And they do all this joyfully. They love it. They find purpose and fulfillment in it. Well, most of it, anyway. But then they have to go to their “other job” to pay their bills, to put food on their table, to have medical insurance. And family life? Those blessed with spouse or children hardly get to spend any time with them at all. Sacrifice, I think, we all expect of our holy men and women. Sacrifice is part of the call. But what about us? What about those of us on the receiving end of all this sacrifice? We gladly spend time with our pastors; we’re quick to call them when we need them, when we’ve lost our job, or when our child is sick or a relative was taken suddenly to the Emergency Room. And we’re thrilled that we finally found a church where we belong, where we fit, where we can reap the rich benefits of good teaching and spiritual community. And, thank God, our pastor never annoys us with sermons on giving. Thank God he’s not out for our money. I’m all about grace. I’m all about liberty and freedom from religious obligation. We’ve received such a treasure in the Kingdom of God. We’re free. We owe no man any obligation, we’re under no pressure to conform, to live up to other people’s religious expectations of us. This is our heritage. This is our right as children of the King. But in celebrating our liberty, have we forgotten the responsibility that comes with it? Being the beneficiaries of such extravagant grace and liberty, aren’t we also under the obligation to help others come into their inheritance? Aren’t we also to share in the burden of ministry? The Apostle Paul said that anyone who receives instruction in the Word must also share all good things with his instructor (Gal 6:6). That is, if we are blessed, if we enjoy the freedom we’ve been taught to walk in, then we must financially support those who led us to this place of grace. We must take care of our shepherds. As Jesus himself told us, “the workman is worthy of his keep” (Mt 10:10). And more than that. What about the work itself? That “Great Commission” thing was given to all of us. Most of us don’t have the gifts, the abilities, or the time to make this our primary function in life. But we can participate by supporting those who do. As Paul again tells us, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved — this relationship with God, this freedom, belongs to everyone. But how can people call on someone they’ve never heard of? And how can they hear unless someone teaches them? And how can someone teach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:13-15) Those of us not called to bear the sacrifice of full time ministry must pick up the slack and support those who are. “How can they preach unless they are sent?” That is our job: to “send” them. Those few Facebook statuses requesting year-end donations are an embarrassment. But not for the organizations requesting them, as I at first thought. They are an indictment against us, against those of us who reap the benefit of all the great teaching, of all the comfort and encouragement our pastors lavish on us, against all of us who enjoy the warm fellowship of community our shepherds have created for us. Those people and organizations on the frontlines, plowing the road for us, making our lives easier, those taking the Good News of restored relationship with God to people and places who still need to hear it — why are they carrying this burden all alone? Paul continues: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15). We can be beautiful too. We can share in the blessing by sharing in the responsibility. Our preachers may be reluctant to lay the burden on us. You may not hear pleas from the pulpit for financial support for all the ministries and services we take for granted, for all the words that have changed our lives. But as people who enjoy royal citizenship, we need to step up and take more seriously the duties of that citizenship. Wherever we have benefited, whoever has enriched us — we owe them our lives. I wish I’d never have to see one of those solicitations again. Not because these ministries need our support to continue the work, but because we degrade them by making them beg. They shame me. They shame the Church. They remind us that we are lazy, ungrateful, and selfish. They’re a finger gently pointing in our faces that we are not shouldering our share of the job. We need to do better. And I promise, from now on, I will. “A tree is known by its fruit,” Jesus tells us.  If we’ve enjoyed the fruit, we should support the tree.