One of the most beautiful and vibrant characteristics which can be produced in a congregation is a sacrificial spirit, and we should greatly desire and work for this. A sacrificial people fulfil the principle of Romans 12.1 – ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ Whether we think of monetary giving, or the stewarding of time and energy, all is readily yielded to the Lord’s work by those who have a real sense of how much they owe, and this sense is stirred by Christ-exalting ministry.
The great enemy of the sacrificial spirit today is the comfortable lifestyle which has become a basic human right. An almost unconscious covetousness and acquisitiveness can creep in among even the best believers, making them soft and self-pampering to some degree. Gone are the days when the poorest believers would painfully yet gladly tithe, filling envelopes with cash, and marking them for various missionaries.
Yet it should be possible for a ministry to gently bring a congregation back to such a full-hearted surrender to the love of Christ. Unless, sadly, a minister inherits a congregation which has gone too far down the broad road of self-seeking and self-consideration, it should be possible by God’s blessing to rekindle the spirit of sacrifice. Here are a few factors to be borne in mind.
1. Total commitment must be the preacher’s theme
The substance of our offerings of service and stewardship are precious to the Lord, but most precious of all is the willing, sacrificial spirit behind them. ‘Willing’ is the key word in this objective, and so the preaching ministry must be conducted with great sensitivity, not commanding and demanding, but moving and persuading the Lord’s people over time to yield themselves wholly to him.
2. Early teaching is best
The ideal time to be educating believers to the duty of stewardship is at the very beginning of their Christian lives. Among other materials, this writer gives to young Christians, and to applicants for church membership, a copy of the booklet: Christian Stewardship – Our Calling.
3. Service leads to stewardship
If we can move believers to make a willing sacrifice of time and energy in practical service for the Lord, then the stewardship of substance will follow almost inevitably. Some churches – especially if they do not have a vigorous evangelistic Sunday School – give little opportunity to members to serve the Lord, which is a serious disservice to him, and also to those members. It is inevitably a blow to sincere stewardship because this grows best out of practical service, and a spirit of sacrifice.
4. Show the great change in affluence
We have already mentioned the affluence and comforts of life today, and this should lead us to have a special understanding and concern for younger Christians. The era of affluence arrived quite suddenly, and those who have come to adult life since its arrival have no ‘feel’ for the newness and unreality of it all. The luxuries of yesteryear are the necessities and basic rights of today. In the booklet just referred to I wrote the following paragraph:
‘Today we have so much. Our youngest earners drive cars of a newness and quality that their peers of only thirty years ago could not even dream about. Our newly-weds generally start with all the appliances, and more, that their parents had to acquire gradually on the long march to middle age. The humblest home seems to have hi-fi and video equipment, plus money for substantial holidays, and so on. Yet, from what we hear, churches and pastors around the country frequently struggle financially, and disturbingly few significant ventures in local evangelism can be put into motion.’
We must put the new era into perspective for younger believers, so that they may see the full scope Christians have for reasonable simplicity of life, and for giving.
5. The influence of example
Example is extremely powerful either to fan the spirit of sacrifice to a bright flame, or to extinguish it. People cannot see what we give, but they can certainly see what we keep. And they can surely also see what we do for the Lord. If the leaders of a local congregation drive luxury cars, those who are commanded by God to accept their rule and example will follow similar worldly aspirations.
The writer knew a church situated in a run-down urban area, which had a small forecourt on which were parked at service times the ultra-smart, upmarket vehicles of the elders. These were far more prominent than the notice board, with its Scripture text. What did this say to the members – particularly new believers? Did it fracture their God-given, instinctual feeling that a believer should be reasonable in lifestyle in order to be a great giver? Of course it did.
If middle-aged members of a congregation (to pick an unlikely example) speak about their expensive cruises, will their juniors rest content with more modest holiday arrangements? To preachers also we must breathe a brotherly warning – What you say will be far less influential than what you do, when it comes to stirring up a sacrificial spirit. ‘Be thou an example of the believers,’ commands the apostle. What if some members do set a bad example – what should be done? First, of course, friendly persuasion is the way, and certainly not carping, sniping, allusive remarks made in the public ministry.
Reasonableness in lifestyle opens the way to sacrifice. And once spiritual generosity is embraced, it, in turn, sustains reasonableness, because a sacrificial spirit is the very best curb to covetousness, and a great spur to contentment.
6. A noble objective is needed
Sacrifice needs the encouragement of significant spiritual objectives. Our first objective is, clearly, to please and honour the Lord who bought us. But sacrificial Christians also need to know that their giving will accomplish great things for the Lord. It is hard to sacrifice for nothing. So, what is our church doing? Is it preaching only to the members? Are there insufficient Gospel objectives at home and overseas to secure the wholehearted longing of the members?
Carey’s famous dictum, launching the nineteenth-century missionary movement, was ‘Pray – plan – pay’, and pay they did, from full hearts. The very first ‘collection’ for Carey’s fledgling mission was from a group of ministers, and the people soon followed. Prayer for blessing accompanied by planning and sharing of aspirations quickly inspired sacrificial stewardship. True believers are willingly inspired by worthy visible efforts to bring glory to their Lord and King.
7. The gifts must be seen to count
Sacrifice also needs the assurance that gifts given at great cost are not squandered. If a church is one of those that never does anything itself, but every time brings in the builders, decorators, and even the cleaners, the spirit of sacrifice can hardly be fostered. But where a more frugal spirit prevails, and God’s people do what they can themselves so that resources may be applied more directly to the King’s business, then the sacrificial spirit is encouraged.
Significantly, it is true of sacrificial stewardship (as it is with avenues of practical service) that ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6.21). Our stewardship binds us in love to the cause, stimulating prayer and concern for the promotion of the work, and motivating us to settle any problems that arise in a responsible spirit, so as to preserve that which is so precious to us. In other words, a sacrificial church is a peaceful church.
by Peter Masters
Available for purchase from the Tabernacle Bookshop
‘Prothesis’ / Policy 1: A Worshipping Church
Policy 2: A Praying Church
Policy 3: A Sanctified Church
Policy 4: A Working Church
Policy 5: A Learning Church
Policy 6: An Evangelistic Church
Policy 7: A Separated Church
Policy 8: A Sacrificial Church
Policy 9: A Loving Church
Policy 10: A Believing Church