Every church receives some type of tithes or offerings. Be it via “passing the plate” or setting a box in the back of the sanctuary or some other collection method, a church needs funds to operate. How the church uses those funds is important, as the church has responsibilities to its members, to its surrounding community, and to God.
First, a church has a responsibility to its members. The very first church, the one begun in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, took special pains to meet the practical needs of their members: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need” (Acts 4:33–35). We see that the money was brought to the leaders of the church, who were responsible for the distribution of the money based on need. Food was also being distributed to the widows among them (Acts 6:1).
The apostles in Jerusalem, in affirming Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles, asked that he should “continue to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). So, charitable work to benefit the poor within the church should be part of a church’s budget. Later, Paul gives some guidelines on who should receive aid from the church and who should depend on another source for their sustenance (1 Timothy 5:3–16).
Various local churches in the first century also took up offerings to help other churches in need. Specifically, the church in Jerusalem was suffering from persecution and a famine, and the church in Antioch provided resources to help (Acts 11:29). Paul later took love gifts from Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1), Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:3), and Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15:25–26) to Jerusalem. He was accompanied by emissaries from Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, and the province of Asia (Acts 20:4).
Second, a church has a responsibility to its surrounding community. Outreach is necessary. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). This verse sets the priority—God’s family first—but we are also to seek ways to “do good” to everyone. Of course, this must involve evangelism (Acts 1:8). A healthy church should be sending out missionaries (see Acts 13:2–3) or at least supporting missionaries in various fields of service.
A church that loses its outward focus, as evidenced by where it spends its money, is showing signs of spiritual weakness. Church consultant and author Thom S. Rainer, in his book Autopsy of a Dead Church, states that one of the symptoms of a dying church is that the percentage of the budget for members’ needs keeps increasing, while the money earmarked for outreach decreases.
Third, a church has a responsibility to God. Our Lord knows His church (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19), and He commands that His Word be preached (Romans 10:14; 2 Timothy 4:2) and that “the mystery of Christ” be proclaimed (Colossians 4:3). Delivering the gospel is most important. Anything that furthers that goal should be given priority, and paying the pastor is part of that goal. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17–18). Those who faithfully minister the Word of God should receive due compensation for their work (see also 1 Corinthians 9:11).
Wisdom regarding a church’s expenditures is necessary, and we should be praying for that wisdom (James 1:5). There is nothing sinful about having a fine building or nicely kept grounds, but we wonder sometimes if the money would be better spent supporting another missionary or aiding the poorer churches around the world.
The goal of the church should be to do the work of God in the world. And everything should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Perhaps these actions—spreading the Word, fellowshipping with one another, observing communion, and praying—should be a basic guide to how a church uses its offerings.