The strongest and most effective churches give a lot of attention to investing. They have a biblical mandate for doing so. One such passage is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
We’ve all heard sermons and sat in Bible studies where these verses have usually been used to help individual believers prioritize the use of their possessions for godly purposes. But the biblical principles certainly are valid for congregations, too. And the applications are broad enough to cover much more than money.
As Jesus reminds us, lasting investments are impervious to the effects of moths and rust and other destructive forces. They are valuable to God.
Exactly how does a church invest in ways that are lasting and avoid giving themselves to things that have little lasting value? Christians are in the investment business, investing in ways that store up treasures in heaven.
Invest in leaders
Churches that choose to help their ministers and volunteer leaders become all they need to be in Christ reap a benefit. There are many ways.
Most ministers value the opportunity for study. Churches help make that investment by providing resources for personal study, but they also facilitate professional learning opportunities such as attendance at seminars, conventions, training sessions and the like.
Relatively small investments usually make for tremendous dividends for a church.
More and more ministers, particularly those who have rendered years of faithful service, are being given opportunities for paid sabbatical experiences. These take every imaginable form, from formal study to private retreat to observation visits to other churches or ministries. Some include off-site rest and relaxation, all with the goal of becoming spiritually energized.
These opportunities, though utilized more frequently than a generation ago, have yet to be discovered by most congregations. What a shame.
Invest in the membership
The training and the motivation of the saints in every congregation is significant. The Apostle and missionary Paul exhausted himself in this endeavor all over the Christian world. (He could have used a sabbatical!)
This is the hard work of leaders. We “pew-sitting laypeople,” as at least one person has described us, can test the patience of Job. But the task can hardly be neglected if the church is to be the people of God in the world.
Laypeople need some of the same things ministers do, including encouragement, affirmation and accountability. But they also need help in discovering spiritual gifts and talents that can be used in ministry to others.
Laypeople need training in the disciplines of Bible study and worship — both corporate and private; prayer — especially private; personal evangelism; service; advocacy on behalf of others; and many more.
Most people are more likely to grow in their faith when leaders and peers take a sincere interest in them and communicate significant expectations. Certainly Bible study teachers and ministry team leaders can vouch for that.
These are acts of investment.
Invest in others
The investment in the lives of people beyond the church is proof-positive of the power and maturity of a local congregation. This is where the church rises up to be the church. The true body of Christ cares, and it is deeply motivated to demonstrate care. It is what members do when they realize who they are as empowered believers.
Jesus said in His Sermon that we must love our enemies, all the while knowing that showing love for people who treat us poorly, sometimes with hatred, is not humanly natural. That is expressly why such an act of selflessness is so disarming to the other person. This is when we are at our fearless best as Christians, and there is no other way for a person to understand our love. It could only come from God.
In our office, we are always learning of stories about young people and various adult groups investing in the lives of others in life-changing ways. Sometimes they reach out to the hungry or the destitute or the lonely or the abused or the incarcerated or people who are spiritually empty. They are storing up treasure in heaven.
Be an investing congregation.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.