Church Development --- "I Robbed Other Churches"
The title of this study is a familiar statement from the apostle Paul, concerning his efforts in behalf of the Corinthian church. Paul had planted the church there, and solicited his income from other churches that he might give his time to the ministry of the word in their behalf. The church in Corinth owed their very existence to Paul's labor among them, but were not only ungrateful to him, but even cast unfavorable reflections against him. It is extremely distressing and frustrating to a preacher to give himself fully to the welfare of his brethren, and then experience such undesirable reaction from them. Much of the second Corinthian letter was devoted to this matter.
For many years now, churches have been zealous to send preachers into hard fields where few or no churches exist. Many preachers who recognize the need and feel a personal responsibility to go, will "rob the churches" so they can. Even though results are meager, churches allow for the difficulty of the work and continue to help anyway. Some small churches in such fields have been advertized freely through the "papers" and have had some good preachers and consistent financial aid, but are no better off today than they were fifteen years ago. Yet, hundreds of good sized cities throughout the nation even now have never had the gospel at all.
Small churches should be continually conscious of the liberality of others in their behalf, not only in the tens of thousands of dollars spent for them, but the preachers who forego better things for themselves to go and help them.
The expenditure of large amounts of money and many years of human lives gratuitously is not a thing to be taken lightly nor for granted. Yet, odd as it may seem, even Christians who have long been the object of the efforts and labors of others get so accustomed to it that they often get the "receiving complex" and develop the "something for nothing" philosophy in spiritual living. Without realizing it, churches often continue for years to send help to their brethren where this attitude prevails.
The primary purpose of sending preachers into such fields in the first place is to save souls and build churches. But suppose, as often happens, these small churches don't grow — that years pass without any progress? How long will churches continue such help?
The membership in every small church, as any other church, should set themselves on a definite program of training so that some among them can teach, preach, do "personal work," and perform other duties, so they can carry on their work acceptably without a preacher. Any small church who has a preacher sent by others should consider themselves fortunate and use him fully for their training and development, so they will be ready for the "rainy day" when they won't have him. Small churches expect too much when they expect brethren to spend large sums of money to send them a preacher, especially when they show no evidence of helping themselves. Churches in Bible times sent funds to preachers to establish new churches, not simply to "preach to and please the brethren."
It is a mistaken attitude for a small church to expect financial help until they pay for their building and are able to pay their own preacher. It has happened that small churches keep more money in their treasuries than the church who helps them! When we are dependent on others, we have no right to expect to have everything we want. We need to recognize our limitations and be satisfied to do without some things others have who can afford them. If a small church has used its opportunity while others helped it have a preacher, it will have enough preachers of its own to carry on a good work and enjoy some satisfaction of independence.
I am glad to see churches keep a preacher in a hard place for a long time even when growth is slow, but much money and many years are lost in continuing help where it is not appreciated, where members do nothing to help themselves, and are content to remain on a permanent begging status.
Jesus said, "Freely ye received, freely give." Churches in hard fields who have the good fortune to grow should in turn spread the gospel in their own area where the need is still greater.