How do you do ministry when you don’t have any money? How do you serve the Lord as a church planter while broke? After 30 years of experience, I assure you I have expertise. But wisdom comes from Scripture:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5–6)
The text teaches us four things about doing ministry without money.
- Be Careful
- Be Content
- Be Creative
- Be Confident
1. Be Careful (“Keep your life free from love of money…”)
Pastors and church planters should watch their souls closely. Our ministries should be without covetousness, which Colossians 3 calls idolatry. The Bible pushes pastors in particular here, as an elder must not be a “lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3).
Money is useful and has its benefits. It’s good for churches to pay their pastor so as not to muzzle the ox (1 Tim. 5:18). But don’t long for money or trust in it, or equate the size of your budget with the power of God. Money measures neither God’s ability nor the value of our efforts. Jesus warns us plainly, “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and money.”
Also, just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean you don’t love it. If you grumble in your lack, your heart posture may not be service for Jesus but an inordinate affection for money.
A good litmus test for church planters is this: is your willingness to serve dependent on the pay? Remember Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders:
“I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33–35)
2. Be Content (“…and be content with what you have…”)
Living without covetousness means being content with what you have. “Be satisfied with the present,” says another translation. We rest in the providence and provision of God, knowing this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Pastor, how do you deal with not having money? You should think on the fact that you have God!
Worry only has one remedy: a mindfulness of God. God encourages us to ask for what we don’t have, but then we’re free to trust whatever he gives or doesn’t (Matt. 6; Phil. 4:5–7).
So, does your ministry need more funding? Are there currently unmet needs? Paul’s own support letter gives us the secret to contentment:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11–13)
If we’re known and loved by Jesus, our situation can never improve because our status will never change. He has pledged himself to us. And his Great Commission hangs not on our bank accounts but on the fact that he possesses all authority on heaven and on earth, and he is with us.
C. S. Lewis put it this way: “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”
Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, the appointed heir of all things. He is preeminent. He is rich in possessions and power. All things were made for him, and through him the world was created—things on heaven and things on earth. The universe is upheld by the word of his power! He’s seated at the right hand of majesty on High—not a chair, but a throne: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”
It’s this same ruling and reigning Lord who is with us even now.
God sometimes denies our requests now to prepare us for permanent joy in glory. If God gave us everything we wanted, then we’d trust our things more than him. Do you not pray most when you need most?
Pastors and planters, be mature in your thinking: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” If he hasn’t given you something, his denial is a gift. He owns all, he knows what’s best, and he loves you.
3. Be Creative
Spurgeon in his book, Lectures to My Students has a section where he marvels at the abilities of some to accomplish exceptional good with very humble means. Spurgeon humorously labels ministers who are broke as workers with “slender apparatus.” He writes, “Work away, then, poor brother, for you may succeed in doing great things in your ministry, and if so, your welcome of ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ will be all the more emphatic because you labored under serious difficulties.”
So, rather than bemoaning what you can’t do, enjoy what you can do.
To restate the question from the beginning: How do you do stuff when you don’t have money? Brothers, you simply do what you can do.
And guess what? The most powerful and important things you can do are all free! Prayer is free! Studying Scripture is free! Sharing the gospel is free! Gathering for fellowship is free! Admonishing the idle, encouraging the weary and faint-hearted, and helping the weak is free!
Sometimes, the blessing of God in denying us resources is him removing the very things our hearts are tempted to trust in. And is it not true that in our lack we often learn how much we still have?
Be as creative as the book of God permits you, and then go and battle in his name! Like King David, we don’t go armed from the armory of the world—no, our stones from the brook are promises from the Word of God.
4. Be confident.
The Lord is our helper, and as Philippians tells us, “God will supply every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Who is it that is with us? Hebrews offers a massive view of God, and if we’re to be comforted and confident it will require that our theology is equally robust.
Finally, we must never forget it is our Lord’s wisdom that assigns one talent to some, two talents to some, and five talents to others. We should also note that our Lord is not unreasonable. Charles Spurgeon is not more sympathetic to our situation than the Sovereign Lord who assigned it to us. If he has limited your resources, then he will not enlarge his expectations. No, he is looking for those of us to whom he has given little, to be faithful over little.