Support the Traveling Teachers Too

I have been reflecting upon the flow of finances in my denomination for quite some time. Currently, all of the tithe leaves the local church. The church has defined (or redefined, depending upon your perspective) the biblical storehouse of Malachi 3 as "the local conference through the local church."

What this does is place all control of the tithe outside the local church. The various levels of the church all have some level of autonomy over their percentage except the local church.

I was reading 3 John 2 this morning and I think the elder "presbyteroi" actually supports (to a degree) the intent of our current structure. John is writing to his friend Gaius. In verses 5-8 he mentions a leader named Diotrephes who refuses to welcome the traveling teachers, refuses to assist them (financially) and even puts people out of the church who as individuals decide to assist the traveling teachers!

I can see it. The topic comes up at a church business meeting to give a portion of the budget to the traveling teachers. Diotrephes is the meeting chair. He steers the discussion. By the time it comes up for a motion and vote, support of the traveling teachers is denied. But an individual member still feels convicted that those who labor in the gospel should be supported by the believers, whether they are local pastors, traveling evangelists or missionaries. So the individual member decides under personal conviction to take a portion of what they would give to the local church and they give it to the traveling teachers. Diotrephes catches wind of it and has the member disfellowshipped!

Diotrephes is wrong. Diotrephes is working against the kingdom of God. Jesus said that the message was to go into all the world for a witness. The traveling teachers should be supported by the church. That's what 3 John 8 says, "Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth" (ESV).

As I read this I think, well, we're doing something right. Tithe is being used to support the worldwide mission of the church to spread the gospel to every nation.

I must also say that as I read it there is a clear assumption we can make as well. That assumption being that there was local support for local ministry. See, the challenge here is to add to what's already going on. They were already supporting their local leaders financially. John is saying that you ought to take care of the traveling teacher as well. John was not saying, "Take all of the money away from what sustains a local ministry and give it all to the traveling teachers." He is saying that it's not just about the local, it is about the global too.

My concern is that we have completely flipped the scenario in our denomination. We seem to only be concerned about the "traveling teachers" -- the global. We have lost a real concern for the local.

Virtually all ministry happens at the local level. Periodically souls get won to the church by conference initiatives. This coming week the South Atlantic Conference camp meeting will hold an evangelistic campaign. But that is rare. The lion's share of our members are baptized in local churches. We ought to support the evangelists. Yes, we should. But let us not forget the context of this text. They were taking care of home. I believe when we invest more in the goose that lays the golden eggs, we'll have more eggs to share with "the traveling teachers."

The more I study this thing, the greater my conviction that we need a radical overhaul of the structure of our church!


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