While reading Mark 12 and 13, I was struck by how Jesus was giving a warning about the condemnation of religious leaders before pointing out the widow and her mites.
The Message puts it this way: “He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end."
This translation paints an uncanny picture that is unsettling to me, so much so that I was compelled to take a deeper look at this passage and one phrase stuck out to me. “And all the time they are exploiting the weak and the helpless.” It is translated to “They devour widows’ houses” in other translations.
You have Jesus teaching about poor widows’ houses being devoured by the educated religious leadership, and then nearly in the same breath, He sees a live example of this abuse. WOW – I never saw this passage this way. The story of the widow’s mites, given in the context of Jesus’ condemnation of the scholarly religious leaders, makes me sick. It reveals the repetition of abuses and consequential judgment to come. It convicts me to reexamine how I might contribute to this type of abuse within my own context of ministry. I’m sure that the scribes didn’t start out devouring the widows’ houses, but all fall short of the Glory of God. So I’m asking myself, why might it be different for any given ministry? Ministries are overseen by people with a commonality of sin that are at varying stages in their walk with God.
So the first thing I’m learning is that the financial life of a ministry is as flawed I am. While we are all being perfected in Christ, we’re still sinful and that seeps into ministry. We make poor decisions, we stick our heads in the sand from time to time, and we even fight with other believers to be “right” instead of admitting our fallen state and making necessary changes to the glory of God. While God is sovereign and already knows our sinfulness, His knowledge of our sin does NOT allow us to continue in sin. But God provides grace – unmerited favor, forgiveness, and restoration.
So what am I learning about the financial life of a ministry other than it is as broken just like me? I’m learning that a ministry must see God as the owner of the ministry and all resources. A ministry must reflect the value God puts on the people who support it physically, financially, and spiritually. Ultimately a ministry, even if it is your personal ministry and not through the church or a para-church ministry, is to steward God’s resources to further the reach of the Gospel to the lost. And finally, the financial life of a ministry must include accountability both internally and externally. God expects us to be both helpful and wise. Part of that wisdom involves the accountability that monitoring can help to make sure we are not enabling sin, and the other part of that is having external monitors to help us not become the scribes that Jesus condemned for devouring the widows’ houses.