Long ago I learned that people are not so interested in what a man can do for God, but rather what God can do for a man. I wanted my life to be a visible demonstration of the fact that God exists and that He hears and answers prayer. This led me to make financial choices that many of you ask me about. I am happy to talk about this since one of the very reasons I have taken this course for my life has to do with the immense value of testimony.
But first jump back with me to the 1950’s to our parsonage on Gladstone Blvd. in Kansas City, Missouri. In a box in the closet were most of the books we owned. There I could find my favorite one about a little boy counting out ten pennies with his chubby pink hands, and saving one for the Lord. That little book sparked in me a desire for giving to God.
I went through college and seminary days with the income of a barefooted monk. The austerity program of paying for my schooling and preaching around the country taught me even more about money. I loved to give, wherever, whenever I could. I thought that God had an endless resource to supply my needs, but that I was not to indulge myself in useless items. I did, however, go without meals in order to buy books.
One of those books etched itself into my thinking. It was the life of George Muller by A. T. Pierson. In it I saw firsthand that a person could give and give, and trust and trust some more, and God would continually supply. I found that a powerful message could be lived out this way. Every thing inside of me said, “Yes!” At first I majored even more on giving money. Then, after several years of marriage, God allowed Pam and me to stretch another way.
Like novice hang gliders, we moved into the ministry that we now call Christian Communicators Worldwide. The air currents kept coming and we stayed airborne. Our first sum, consisting of a few thousand dollars of inheritance money, and a large initial check from what would become a faithful partner in the work, was immediately given away to a missionary. That was 1988. Since that time we have witnessed in such specific ways the answers to prayers, the veracity of Scripture, and the generosity of the Father, that we have difficulty doubting that God will supply.
What We Do By God’s Grace
1. We have chosen not to solicit for money for our ministry. I can say with joy that I have not knowingly spent even a moment of my time since making this decision asking people for money. I have not written a letter to do that, nor have I sat down with a businessman to discuss our needs.
Someone once observed three models for financial support of ministries in recent history. The first is that of D. L. Moody and is the most popular today. Moody would go into the office of a businessman and say to him, “Here’s the need and here’s why you ought to give. ” The second option is that of Hudson Taylor, the missionary to China. Taylor would let the need be known, but would not ask for funds. The third is that of George Muller, the man who trusted God for millions without making the need known or asking anyone but God for help. Although we believe that each of the above methods have their merit and can be supported in some way by Scripture, it is this later option we have chosen.
Churches cannot take the Muller approach fully (no expression of needs, no solicitation) because the needs of the church must be shared with the whole body of believers. A pastor should not keep quiet about the finances since it is the privilege of the whole church to trust God for money needed and not his alone. Our situation is different.
2. We have chosen not to reveal the present state of the funds. Why? Because doing so can be a subtle way of asking for money. We do freely tell of the work of God and the trials we have faced in retrospect. We do make available an annual report of what God has done in retrospect.
3. Tens of thousands of copies of our publications have been sent out around the world at our own expense. These items and postage have represented a significant expense of this work. Several foreign editions of our books have been published, often with our financial help. We also sell books at very low prices in order to get the message out to additional audiences through booksellers, churches, and other ministries. Recently we connected with Granted Ministries who will publish and sell most of our print copy books online, though CCW will provide Kindle and other electronic versions. Included in the cost is a typical royalty for our authors if their books sell, which is also a matter of faith. Overages from these sales are very useful in overseas printing. We are committed to ministering with our books and audio as a priority, even if it costs us, rather than being merely a bookseller. Our great joy is to provide written tools that God may use to change lives. We hear regularly of people who have been converted or dealt with in some significant manner because of these.
4. The speakers representing CCW give all of our services in preaching and teaching free of charge. Our motto is: “Freely you have received, freely give.” By this we mean that we prearrange not to receive love offerings or honoraria for any speaking engagement. In other words, it is our sincere purpose to offer our ministry without cost, even if God sometimes overturns our plans in surprising ways. Though churches and organizations cover travel and lodging, there is no expected financial profit for us in traveling to speak. The profit is spiritual — both for us, and, hopefully, for them. The question is not whether the church or institution can afford to give compensation for our services, but that we are allowed to make a statement about the sufficiency of God’s care by looking to God alone for all our needs. In this way we preach both by our words and by our lives.
5. We have decidedly refused to get our ministry into debt. It has been our observation through the years that many otherwise sound ministries have incurred debts to carry on their work. Some have been destroyed by this policy. We do not find it useful, logical, or a biblical precedent to get ministries into debt, as if to say, “This work depends upon the bank to succeed.”
6. The Elliff family and the other CCW communicator families (Steve Burchett, Kole Farney and Bryan Elliff) receive through the ministry only what comes specifically designated for us. All other gifts go into other ministry expenses. In other words, we do not receive a set salary through CCW. We do receive normal royalties, a matter of faith for us, if books are blessed by God to sell. In this way we are allowed to trust God weekly for His provision as a family. He has always provided. Several years ago we were one day late in paying a bill. We were charged $25. We still do not understand the delay of the Lord on this one experience when He had regularly supplied for each bill at least by the day it was due. But God has His reasons. We have seen our bank balance shrink to less than $10 and swell to several thousand during these many years. We haven’t used the times of little to fret or the times of abundance to spend carelessly. Either way we are equally dependent upon and accountable to God to guide us in the use of it. The awareness that it is God who supplies is in our minds daily.
Some of you are aware that I have been instrumental in beginning a church in the Kansas City area (www.ChristFellowshipKC.org). I have found that by integrating my ministry through CCW with the ministry of the local church there are great benefits for both. Each provides a context for extending the effectiveness of the other. Much of what we do in CCW in providing help to ministers and churches is hammered out in the workshop of church life. Elders in our church do not receive a salary, but do receive gifts given by members to an elder’s fund, if they choose to do so.
I could, of course, do things differently. I could charge for all our publications, my speaking, my consulting and my services to our local church. And, if God were to so lead, I would do that.
All of us are required to trust in God as the one who supplies our needs and to put no confidence in our own ability to make money. Because one has a job that pays a salary and another also works hard but does not have a set income is, in one sense immaterial. But we do have to obey God in the specific ways he directs. It is not that I believe every Christian worker should follow the pattern of living I have chosen in order to be spiritually useful. There is a long history of great men and women who have demonstrated otherwise. Why then would I do it? First and foremost is my own sense of the will of God. I am not a mystic, but believe that God has uniquely “extruded” me into this kind of life through many experiences, the personal disposition He has given me, the mental and spiritual preparation He has taken me through, and the biblical warrant He has made plain to me. And He has given me a supporting wife and children who love this approach to life, and actively participate in it. It is beyond the scope of this article to elucidate fully how I believe God has led me, however, I believe that God shapes us and trains us all for certain effects on the world and the Kingdom. This is our part. “We are His workmanship, created by Christ Jesus unto good works, which He has ordained beforehand for us to walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) His will for me on the one hand is to preach and teach and evangelize the lost—on the other hand, it is to live a life of trust in God as visibly as is possible.
Secondly, I choose to live this way as a public demonstration that God is alive and answers prayer as freely today as he did in the days of the apostles. The frequency with which I see His care for me and the way He constantly and often uniquely provides for CCW assures me of His willingness to do this. I have seen his supply in many forms: people, prayers, encouraging words, gifts ranging from a nickel to thousands, the rebuking of the devourer, the perfectly arranged circumstance, etc. I find this testimony of God’s faithfulness a powerful tool in promoting the gospel. We all live with the skepticism of the unregenerate persons who believe that every Christian laborer is in his work to make lots of money. We find that our lifestyle helps to demolish this perception and to make a way for the gospel. They think, “If a man would give up a secure income for the gospel, surely there is something here worth listening to.” In fact, they are right.
But our lifestyle has potential to help believers as well. Who among us does not long to see clear, unmistakable illustrations of God answering prayer? We have seen many believers encouraged and strengthened to trust God because of our pattern of living. We don’t pretend perfection, but are people “of like passions” as Elijah, nevertheless, God has, to this point, chosen to hear our prayers. And even our struggles with faith and the delays to answers are encouraging to some. I wish that every Christian would prayerfully ask, “In what way may I visibly demonstrate that God is alive before a watching world?” God is pleased only by faith (Heb. 11:6). Our faith so casts us on God that He must come through or we fail. God actively blesses our desire to demonstrate that He will support what He initiates.
Whether I am preaching in a conference, writing a CCW publication, composing for other publications, sending letters, challenging students, witnessing on an airplane or in a coffee shop, counseling a friend, studying the Word, hosting friends in our home, or discipling young men or my family, my aim is to expend myself for God and the gospel. What I do may shift and change its form from time to time; how I do it may change as well if God so leads. But it is my desire to continue as I am, trusting God fully in the way He has called me to do it, visibly and dramatically, for as long as I can, to the glory of God.