In one of those chats where you sit and talk with your wife about your day, my wife and I were discussing a common phenomenon in every church - namely, that people vote with their checkbook, their money. You and I would readily agree that legalism hurts and kills a church. But something that had never before occurred to me was this particular connection between legalism and the church's cash flow and what that connection means for leading a church.
People commonly assess a church's health with its attendance, its offerings, its financial performance (income versus budget and income versus expenses). Interestingly, this can be flawed. Take a legalistic church member for example. This person's legalism poisons your church. However, this person tithes - naturally, because the Law of Moses commanded it. As a consistent proponent of legalism, this person supports the church financially. You can then have a church that is dying from legalism, and yet the tithes of its legalistic members are keeping it afloat on life support. Death by legalism, then, becomes a tragically slow death. When you cave to the demands of these members, your church may perform better financially and enjoy smoother cash flow. But what of the Great Commission? What of your obedience to the voice of God and the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ?
The solution that emerges requires significant faith - the everlasting foe of legalism. Your church's cash flow may tighten. Your church's health, as assessed by conventional standards, may dip. But as you pray for great wisdom and discernment, God will lead you to plot a course that systematically lessens your church's dependence upon legalism and its money and transitions into grace - not only grace giving as cheerful givers but also as a culture. As God leads you, boldly and bravely take the plunge. If you cannot bring the legalistic members around, you have to shift your own understanding to see that God pays your church's bills, not any person or group of people. Your primary loyalty must remain with Him. Let me know in the comments if you have seen this phenomenon affect churches in your experience.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.