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We need to learn to take financial responsibility for ourselves and for those working under us, without losing our way spiritually.

I have found from past experience that greed doesn't start as a full-blown obsession with becoming a millionaire. It usually starts with something quite legitimate, like taking care of your own family, or in our case, with taking care of the budget within the community. Judas was a treasurer; and all treasurers face great temptation.

During a recent division within our community, there was a serious threat from those who were leaving, to take our finances and our household possessions. I found myself getting uptight about this situation, and finally felt that I should just let go of the money and possessions and tell the others to take what they liked. It worked well, in that it shamed them into not being so greedy. I don't think their motives were all that noble, but God used it to show me that he could trick them into doing the right thing even when their earlier stance had been one of extorting whatever they could from us before they would leave. Anyway, the point is that I needed to look after the finances, and see that they got to the people they were intended for; but I also needed to turn loose of such things when the responsibility that I felt with regard to them was getting me out of the spirit.

As a community, we have found that things go quite smoothly when no one knows where the funds are coming from or going to, except the leader or leaders. As the saying goes, "Ignorance is bliss". Such ignorance is very sensible in the early days of living by faith, when disciples need to concentrate on trusting God and not worrying themselves about exactly how God is providing for their needs. However, as time goes on, people can develop a kind of false faith, not in God, but in the group's leadership. Such a situation is neither good for the followers nor for the leaders.

If people are never going to be leaders themselves, then it might be OK to stay ignorant. Babies don't need to know how Daddy pays the bills. But if they are going to be leaders one day, then at some point, they must start paying more attention to some of the practical realities of God's provision.

We have tried for years to get people to just do something like keeping a budget, and virtually every single person in the community has hated the job. Some have gone so far as to flat out refuse to do it, or to cheat and just count up the money in the till at the end of the day or the week, and write that down as the balance, without ever really knowing where the money came from or where it went (i.e. without knowing such important things as whether the people working under them might be robbing money from the till).

This laziness about financial matters can easily be described as faith... and there is some truth in that. Certainly one of the first financial lessons you learn as a leader is that just knowing where the money is coming from or where it is going makes you very susceptible to worrying about whether there is going to be enough, or being angry about people spending it too quickly, etc. That's what I was talking about earlier, with regard to my own attitudes toward money.

One option is to throw it all in the air and say it's not your job; but the other option is to be a faithful steward, keeping accurate accounts and making decisions based on your understanding of those accounts, while continuing to monitor your own spirit for signs of worry or anger which can usually be traced back to worrying about the funds.

It's very much like any other manual task involved in daily living, whether it be washing clothes, fixing cars, laying out a tract, or setting up a one year plan. We can get out of the spirit with any of those jobs, and we could tell ourselves that the answer is just not to do them; or we could see the need to do them and keep the right attitude at the same time.

One of our ex-members hated responsibility, whether it was repairing a car, keeping a budget, leading a team, or meeting a quota with lit distribution. Every time we tried to get him to take a responsibility, he baulked and spit the dummy. On the whole, he seems to be a nice guy, and fairly sincere. In fact, I tried to adopt more of his attitude myself whenever I found myself getting out of the spirit over responsibilities. It's part of the "forsake all" concept, where you must be willing to forsake any responsibility which is getting you out of the spirit.

But I think he became secretly self-righteous about his irresponsibility, and bitter towards people like myself who did take the responsibility of leadership seriously. Obviously, if you must choose between someone who works hard and gets self-righteous, and someone who does not work hard and gets self-righteous, I'd have to go for the hard worker.

Nevertheless, I believe there is a "more excellent way", where you work hard (in particular, with financial responsibilities) but you stay in the spirit while doing it as well.

We experimented with autonomy because we had more and more people taking the line of doing less and less work because they felt that things like lit quotas were contrary to the freedom they saw as their right when living by faith. When several people started rebelling against lit quotas (i.e. group requirements on how much lit each person should get out each day, including bonuses for people who exceeded the quotas), I decided to push for a return to personal accountability in the form of individual teams being expected to support themselves financially, as well as providing a certain amount of support (which we called a levy) for the work in India.

Ideally, this should have resulted in people gaining greater appreciation for the need for things like budgets. They would have learned to be good budget-keepers, and in turn, good providers for the new disciples God would have given each of them. But instead, we went from people being irresponsible (by expecting others to cover for them), to people being bitter toward the group for making them pay their own way, and/or people feeling that money means power, and if they were going to have to pay their own way, then they didn't need to take orders from anyone.

So there are a few lessons here that we need to learn. I think the first and most important lesson is to recognise that God is the ultimate Provider and Accountant. He alone really knows what we need and how to get it. But the second lesson is that God wants to teach us how to be providers and accountants too.

It's like stress. There's way too much of it everywhere you turn these days, but it doesn't mean that all stress is evil, or that the answer is for everyone to just lie around and do nothing. The answer is to stay very much tuned in to God and to work when he tells you to work and to rest when he tells you to rest. If you're really acting in obedience to him, you shouldn't get self-righteous or bitter towards others who are also following Christ, even if they seem to be working when you're resting, or resting when you're working.

It appears that in order for newer disciples to learn some of these principles, they may need to keep their own budget and be more self-sufficient. They will probably end up living at a lower standard than what we generally live at as a community. (Who knows? Maybe God will still bless them as much as he has blessed us materially, or maybe he will call on us to return to a stricter budget that will be more in line with their own. The important thing is that we each personally listen to God and find his will in the matter.)

Unless we stay in the spirit, and recognise that our unity comes from the teachings of Jesus, any talk of finances will degenerate into a picture of us trying to "buy" loyalty by subsidising newer disciples, or else a picture of us as "dumping" our newer disciples. We don't want to be guilty of either of these things. Our interest is not in dumping the responsibility of caring for and supporting these people, but rather that we want them to be prepared for any circumstances which might force them to survive on their own, away from us.

Obviously, if they were able to become completely self-supporting, it would free us to use our extra resources to help others. And who knows but one day they might be able to help support other teams too. And one of the ways to do this is by learning to be very careful with the funds that God gives you now, spending wisely, and keeping accurate records of where the money is going. The records will also show you where the money is coming from.

Now take, for example, a choice between standing on a street corner and reading the Bible, or standing on a street corner and donying Liberators. Our experience is that very few people actually stop and listen to what you are saying when you try to preach on the streets. Some pause briefly but then walk off. And of the few who stick around, when they leave, what you have said quickly fades from their memory. However, if you gave them the entire passage that you were reading, complete with illustrations, then they should be able to understand the message much better. That's the first reason why we distribute literature. We do it because it works... much better than word of mouth. And, because we produce the literature ourselves, we are able to emphasise many of the truths which have been obscured by centuries of churchy tradition.

Obviously if preaching out loud worked better, then we should consider doing that, and trust God to meet our needs. However, we discovered that people actually appreciated a well-illustrated tract much more than they did a sermon. Even the word "preach" has a negative meaning to most people, i.e. of someone blasting them, and so they tend to steer clear of "preachers" while responding much more positively to "comics". We found, too, that when people paid something for the piece of literature we gave them, they were more likely to read it and treat it as something worthwhile. So suddenly, those who were preaching the gospel were actually making a living from doing so. That's how it started.

In some countries people do not have a lot of money to pay for the tracts. It is difficult to get them to contribute enough to even pay for the printing. However, at the moment, we Australians have funds available from distributing tracts here, where people do have a lot of money, and where they give two or three times the cost of the tracts. So even though these funds may not always be available, for the time being, we in the richer countries may be the source of God's provision for teams in poorer countries. Once again, we are not trying to "buy" loyalty from the poorer countries. We are hopeful that disciples have been attracted to the message and not to our money. Of course, it doesn't hurt to observe disciples (new ones especially) to find clues as to why they are working with us.

We can also experiment with teaching disciples in these poorer countries to be a little more self-sufficient. For starters, they can go on faith outreaches, where they experience God's provision for food. They could continue to sleep out on the beach or at railway stations as they often do on faith outreaches. But I think they are capable of paying the rent on a house from donations received for tracts that we supply; and I think that the extra comfort of sleeping in a bed under a fan will give them more strength to get more of the Word out the next day. It could be that in time we will return to smaller tracts, which we could print, say, for 50p and sell for Re1, thus giving the team enough money to pay for their own printing and still have something left over for themselves. Obviously they would have to get out an awful lot of lit to cover their expenses and still pay for printing, but we're happy to make up the difference for as long as we are able. Self-sufficiency is just something we need to be working toward. I don't expect it to come all at once.

Just one other point, however. We sometimes need to look at what we have available as well as what we feel will be the most effective way to get the message out. We've always found that God provides the material needs to be effective; but if we have an "idea" that we don't have the funds for, it may not be the right time yet for the idea. Trusting God for the provision is the supernatural faith side. Looking at what we have and how long funds are likely to last is more the practical side of living by faith. The two need to work together.

(See also 'Conscience' Issues.)

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