There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth;
and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
– Proverbs 11.24
I think this proverb applies to churches that are trying to start or sustain ministries to university students and young adults. Often, immigrant churches in America begin to feel the need to do these ministries because otherwise they have a demographic gap between the adults and the children; sometimes, they find themselves unable to retain the second generation’s young folk as they leave for university. For a church trying to maintain itself, how to reach and retain young adults is an important question, and I think God has intended for this need to encourage us to sow generously, knowing that those who do so with a strong sense of God’s righteousness will also reap generously, as St Paul says.
Unfortunately, Christians in a congregation often are thinking first about how to build their local temple (in membership and in building size) rather than the temple of the Lord. What does not appear to help them recruit people into their temple, to sit in their pews and (they hope) to give money to the organization and attract more people, they do not readily do. It does not help matters that people tend to think of ‘missions’ as something that happens away from home, and even abroad they tend to restrict their imaginations to attracting people to the events that are held in a church building. So, rather than trusting God to provide when we yield ourselves to the Great Commission rather than the mandate of the building and the state-registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Christians may be very reluctant to use for local mission (sometimes ‘parachurch’ evangelistic ministries) the people, time, and money they ‘cannot afford’ unless they can see how it translates into higher attendance in their own Sunday morning congregations.
Sometimes, this way of doing things leads to poverty; conversely, liberality for local mission, looking beyond the immediate needs of one temple and to the broader mission needs of the local church more broadly defined, is an openness to God’s work which may lead to both more people and more money for a temple to not only maintain its existing ministry, with new manpower, but also expand it to the lives of more people. The proverb’s contrastive parallelism draws attention to the ends of the alternative paths we can follow, encouraging us to be motivated not by fear of loss but by confidence in God’s work.