Leading a congregation to become debt free is a matter of discipleship. When I came to Oklahoma City, Northwest more than four years ago, I knew it was a wonderful church with unique challenges.
One of these challenges was the financial bondage of a $2.5 million debt from a building campaign begun in 2003. Under the leadership of former pastor Craig Etheredge, the church voted to take out a $3 million loan for much needed renovations and the building of a Ministry and Activities Center (which included a gymnasium). This was a significant move for Northwest, as it was a downtown church without abundant financial means. Still, the church knew this had to be done to place itself in a position to minister in the context of an ever-changing city. In fact, I have said that two of the more significant decisions Northwest made in recent years were the following: 1) go into debt to build a much needed building and renovate facilities and then 2) get out of debt.
Because of varying financial pressures and the need to move beyond a debt campaign, I knew we needed to retire this financial obligation as soon as possible. After some large gifts and the sacrifices of our people, Northwest dwindled its debt from $2.5 million down to approximately $400,000 prior to Thanksgiving (2011). Last November, the Lord placed upon me a burden to move forward on this debt retirement. We took a special offering on Dec. 19, and the people gave approximately $200,000!
Approximately 220 families participated during these months. More donations came in after the new year, and we reduced the debt to $49,000. In response, we decided to have three special offerings over a period of five months in 2012. We could see the finish line! However, we did not need three offerings. In fact, we did not even need two. Before we got to the second offering, I was able to announce to the congregation on March 11 that we had fulfilled our debt obligation. An epic day!
God is willing to teach us many lessons throughout our lives. However, we must look for them, listen and obey. A lesson I learned was actually one that I had begun to learn earlier. The lesson? Seek the Kingdom of God first, and your basic needs will be taken care of (Matt. 6:33). While we await God’s eternal Kingdom on Earth, we must also realize its current form is advancing throughout the world. This kingdom consists of not just our local church, but churches throughout the state, nation and world.
From a limited perspective, one could look at our finances and agree that we could not afford to increase our Cooperative Program (CP) giving, to fund more church plants, more missionaries and more community outreach. It didn’t make financial sense. However, we realized that we could not afford to have anything less than a Kingdom perspective! We realized we could not afford to be disobedient to the Great Commission. I learned that it is never an issue of financial abundance, but one of obedience. I realized that, as a pastor, I was doing more than fundraising. I was “making disciples” within my church as the people grew in spiritual maturity and their Kingdom perspective.
I hesitate to apply Northwest’s situation to everyone, but the general principle of God’s provision is undeniable (Phil 4:19). Live with a Kingdom perspective, and trust that God will supply you with what you need. It really is that simple. As a seminary professor once told me, “The Christian life is simply whether or not we will choose to trust God and obey His Word.”
When I was a child, my dad and I got into a conversation with a truck driver. The truck driver and my dad talked a few moments while I gazed at all of the packages in his truck. I interrupted the conversation with a question: “Sir, who puts all those packages in your truck?” His simple response was, “My boss. As long as I am going where he wants me to go, he will always make sure my truck is full of the necessary packages and enough gas to get me where I need to go.”
It was not until later in my life, when I read the following words from John Piper, that I was able to connect my story with the local church: “If God wants His goods to get to the nations, then He will fill the truck that’s driving toward the nations. He will bless the church that’s pouring itself out for unreached people of the world.” The analogy is clear. When you obey and go where God wants you to go, He will fill your truck. God will provide for the local church that possesses a Kingdom perspective and practices a Kingdom lifestyle.
On May 26, 1887 in London, Hudson Taylor, an exemplary example of one who trusted God, spoke to about 100 new missionaries to China: “Depend upon it. God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so.”
Since the Great Commission is God’s idea, He will provide for those who are intentionally seeking to fulfill God’s mission.
I pray Northwest’s testimony of God’s faithfulness motivates each of us to be the people of God who seek His Kingdom, regardless of whether or not it is convenient. We can trust Him simply and obey His Word fiercely! Indeed, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps. 20:7). May we be those who trust in the Lord and His never-ending provision.
Ben Brammer is pastor of Oklahoma City, Northwest.