Is Your Financial House In Order?
Q. How did Crown Ministries begin?
A. I was introduced to Christ in 1971, and in 1974 my business partner, James Seneff, asked me to join him in finding out what the Bible teaches about the use of money. We both felt the need to operate our businesses from a biblical perspective and teach our families how to manage money. Jim had been a Christian for thirteen years and still felt he didn't understand the godly use of money.
We studied the Scripture for a year and identified over 2,350 verses dealing with money! Subsequently, we categorized them and developed a seminar. Crown Ministries was started in 1985 because we recognized that the small group setting was the ideal environment for people to be encouraged to apply God's financial principles.
Q. What has been your experience?
A. Crown's growth has been steady. Without doing any advertising, we've averaged an annual twenty-five per cent increase in enrollees since then. Four years ago so many Crown students requested training for their children that we developed four additional studies for children seven and under, children eight to twelve, teens, and college age.
The average Christian spends more on pizza than on missions. Moreover, giving as a percentage of income has declined almost every year for twenty-nine years.
We are facing these challenges primarily because people have not been equipped to handle money from God's perspective. Our objectives are to encourage people to experience more intimate fellowship with Christ; to challenge each person to invite Jesus Christ to be his/her Lord; to build close relationships among the participants; and to help students put their financial houses in order.
Q. What is the basis of Crown Ministries' teaching?
A. First, how a person handles money has a significant impact on the intimacy of their relationship with Christ where the true riches of life lie. Getting one's house in financial order radically improves a person's relationship with Christ.
Second, Matthew 6:24 says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other…You cannot serve both God and mammon." Church pews are filled with people who don't believe that; they think they can serve money and still love the Lord. Money is the primary competitor with Christ for the Lordship of our lives. The church has generally concentrated on training people to give ten per cent of their money to the Lord and, by default, have allowed believers to be influenced by the world in their handling of the other ninety per cent.
Third, Scripture gives us a blueprint for how to handle all of our resources. Frankly, we went into our study thinking that the Bible talks only about giving, but it addresses how we should handle one hundred per cent of our money -- how to spend it, save it, invest it, get out of debt, give it, teach our children about it. Many believers have been faithful in one area, such as giving, but don't understand what God says about work. Others might be hard workers but dishonest; still others might be honest but head-over-heels in debt.
Q. How does the Crown Study work?
A. It is a twelve-week course led by those chosen by their church leadership and equipped by Crown to train others. The program is designed to multiply; those who have been faithful in the course are asked to become future small group leaders. We use a small group format because we found that in a large group setting, people get excited during the study but then go home and put the book on a shelf. However, in a small group setting over a twelve-week period, people are loved, held accountable, and taught to apply the principles in practical ways. This causes significant life change.
Each group has two leaders and no more than eight students. They meet once a week for two hours, complete a homework assignment, memorize a Scripture passage, and pray for one another daily. No one is embarrassed by having to expose his financial situation.
Q. What results have you seen from those who have taken the study?
A. About fifty churches have surveyed their Crown graduates and have discovered that giving has increased an average of fifty per cent. Over a three-year period, the average household has eradicated about $20,000 of debt and increased savings about $10,000. Some seventy per cent of the graduates have a more vibrant prayer life. Graduates confirm that their marriages are strengthened, and they are becoming more consistent savers, generous givers, and prudent consumers. Most importantly, people are entering into a closer relationship with Christ as they learn to apply His Word.
Let me give you two examples. Gerald Jones was in my first Crown group, and between his business and personal debt, he owed five million dollars. He thought that was great and was about to take on much more. Through Crown studies, he learned that the Lord discouraged debt, so he began to eradicate it slowly. He eventually sold his company after erasing the debt, then went to RTS and received a degree in counseling. Today he is a fulltime volunteer in crisis counseling at Northland Church in Orlando. Over the last five years he has had the privilege of leading no less than one and as many as eight people a week to Christ.
The second fellow started his company from scratch and it grew to be a large enterprise. When he went through Crown, his goal in life was to sell the business and play golf the rest of his life. He discovered, however, that Scripture does not teach us to live for retirement. We are to work and be relatively productive our entire lives, even while changing to a slower gear during our elderly years. He eventually sold his business, but felt the Lord calling him to continue creating other businesses that would produce funding for God's kingdom work.
Q. How could Christians be more effective in the business world?
A. First, a businessperson must understand fully God's perspective on money. It is crucial to control debt, to work hard as unto the Lord, to commit to absolute honesty in discharging business responsibilities. Christians should view their businesses as pulpits, not only to share Christ but also to generate resources to fund His kingdom. Second, a Christian businessperson should surround himself with a close group of godly people who will encourage each other to remain faithful.
Primarily ignorance prevents a lot of people from doing this; they have not caught a vision for investing their lives to have eternal significance. For most people, getting right with God and the use of money means living a more modest lifestyle and spending one's income more thoughtfully and wisely. One pastor did not realize how much stress his debt caused until he paid it off. He was surprised at the freedom he felt just going to the mailbox because he knew there were no longer going to be any letters from his creditors . The Lord wants us free to serve Him and the people He puts in our path --not our creditors. Proverbs 27 says, "Just as the rich lead the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender."
Dream with me for a moment. Imagine a congregation of financially faithful people. What kind of impact could they have on your church, on your community, and on the world? If that vision excites you as much as it does me, you may want to consider becoming involved in Crown Financial Ministries.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 4, winter 2000