I was adopted in the eleventh grade and transferred from a large public school in the city to a small private Christian school in the suburbs. For the first time in my life, nobody got cut from the school baseball team. Everyone made the team, including me, and the other homeschool kid who was wearing pants that his mom hand made. There was also another kid who played right field, and he was known for taking the cup out of his jock strap between innings and putting it over his mouth and nose and announcing “I can smell it.” Those were his words, not mine. I wasn’t a great baseball player at the big city school, but at the small Christian school I was an all star.
My dad was helping me work on my swing at the local batting cage. He said my swing had matured, my bat speed was there, and I shouldn’t be surprised when I hit my first home run. My dad used to say “son, when you hit your first homer don’t go frolicking around the bases like you are surprised…act like you’ve been there.” There was something about running the bases confidently and slowly that was supposed to intimidate the pitcher on the other team, leaving him demoralized.” Needless to say, when I hit my first home run, it was a line drive over the center field fence. But I did not listen to my Dad, instead I began jumping around in celebration, screaming “let’s gooooooooo!!” and as I was dancing and jumping around looking for affirmation from my coach and rest of the team. In my excitement, I wasn’t paying attention to my feet and I tripped over first base and nearly planted my face in the dirt. As I regained my balance, I continued acting like I had never hit a home run in my life.
Needless to say, the pitcher on the other team struck me out my next two at bats, and I’ve always regretted jumping around like that. I’ve often wondered, why couldn’t I just play it cool and act like I’ve been there before?
In many ways, planting Oasis Church has been like re-living this story over and over again. At every stage of our growth, I haven’t known how to act. I knew there was a reason to celebrate, but I’ve never been able to reel it in and “act like I’ve been here before.”99% of the time, I don’t know what to think, how to lead, what to say, or when to say it because I’ve never been here before.
For example, I didn’t know what to think when I heard how much it would cost to rent the school we’d be meeting in. In the beginning, the school charged us nearly $8,000 per month to meet on Sundays. I tried wrapping my mind around the fact that “monthly” meant a $8,000 check TWELVE TIMES per year. Holy crap, I had never even seen $8,000 once in my lifetime! Most of my young adult life I was just scraping by trying to pull together enough funds to pay off my bank overdraft fees. I had never raised or seen money like this before! One time I used gofundme to raise money so I could buy some KFC for lunch…ok, just kidding about that. I really hate online panhandlers, they are just the worst, even worse than the ones who do it in person at street intersections. What kind of person just puts a bucket in front of a stranger and expects them to drop money in it? Why do people act like they are entitled to generous financial contributions from everyone they come into contact with? My generation was known for its use of online panhandling for luxurious “study abroad trips” or other “living costs,” so I definitely didn’t want to be begging people for money all the time. But how else would I pay for this ridiculous monthly rent?
We settled on buckets; little white buckets with our church logo centered on the side. We just started putting them in front of people on Sundays and God mysteriously filled them up. It’s amazing what God can do when you give him an empty vessel. People dropped pens, bulletins and even some suggestions for how to make the service more bearable. One time an old lady wrote an anonymous note about how the music was too loud and the preacher was too crass. I think it was one of my staff member’s mom. I was too afraid to tell the church that the buckets weren’t for suggestions, pocket trash and complaints. So we started encouraging people to put even more things in the buckets, connect cards and small group sign ups, and other forms of official communication. I figured, “Hey, at least they’ll be putting something in the bucket.” Eventually, we started to see the income increase and we were able to pay rent as well as staff. And since then we even started our own online panhandling website as well, www.givetooasis.com
As the money grew, so did my insecurity. I’m convinced that a growing church does more to reveal the insecurities of a pastor than it does to bolster his ego. Much of what we perceive as ego in a pastor is just a big facade to cover his insecurity. One day, at a business meeting I was making a recommendation on what to do with the money, and one of the smart guys on the team leaned over with a crayon and said, “here Bill, why don’t you color on something while we finish the meeting.” It was a humorous way of reminding me that I wasn’t classically trained in accounting. It was a really nice way of making me feel like I was about as sharp as a marble. So I just stayed out of it altogether. When it comes to business meetings, there are always budgets and bagels. I do the bagels. They do the budgets. In fact, I set up a financial team who sets, manages, and balances the budget without my involvement whatsoever. They count, deposit, and withdraw the money. Ninety nine percent of the time I have no clue what’s happening financially. When people ask me about our financial situation I often quote Kevin Hart, “see we got a checking…aaand we got a savings…”
My name isn’t even on our church bank account. I’ve never been inside the bank we use. Sometimes after church, people will try to give me their offering envelope because they missed the white bucket or maybe they just want me to know they give, but I run from them. If someone corners me and tries to hand me money at church I scream really loudly and spray mace in every direction.
I do whatever it takes to stay as far away from the money as possible. This helps me in a few ways: 1) I won’t steal the money, because I cannot access it. 2) I won’t freak out every day as I look at the amount of money we are spending on expensive stuff. 3) I won’t run our organization into the ground. 4) I won’t kill Judas before he kil…okay, okay, that’s getting personal, I’ll stop.
Speaking of Judas, isn’t it interesting that Jesus had a money manager? Jesus wasn’t some broke homeless guy running around with no shoes on and healing people. He had a fully funded ministry and all his financial needs were met. Otherwise, why would he need a treasurer? Jesus had a great ministry but you didn’t see Jesus counting the offering every Sunday or feeling responsible for the administrative weight of his ministry. You also didn’t see Jesus setting up one on ones with rich guys so he could pander to them and ask for their money, either. Somehow, Jesus had provision and resources for ministry, and He gave Judas the responsibility of managing the business.
I know Judas gets a bad wrap, but by all accounts he seemed to be a great business manager and a good friend to Jesus. His contribution to the ministry was valuable, so much so that even after he died the disciples found it necessary to replace him. Judas wasn’t a real problem for the ministry until the very end after he betrayed Jesus. I believe Judas would have received grace from Jesus had he not committed suicide. Sometimes I wish Judas would have been more like Peter. If he would have just gotten on a boat and gone fishing after his betrayal, then Jesus would have come to find him and forgive him.
Anyway, my guy isn’t Judas. His name is Todd Davis. He has never once betrayed me, or caused me to question his loyalty. He was one of the first people to agree to start Oasis with me; quitting his full time job to do it because he believed God had called him. I will never regret asking Todd to carry the administrative weight of the church. He saved me from drowning by not letting me ever even jump in the water.
At every stage of our growth, I haven’t known how to act. Todd has been a voice of wisdom, reason and faith. I believe anyone who sets out to start a church needs someone like Todd, who knows my weaknesses and doesn’t get butt hurt every time I fail or make a bad call.
Our first church office was at Todd’s house, which was unique. We spent our days waking up and getting dressed so we could sit on his couch and play office. Todd learned I only have a few skills, and time management isn’t one of them. While he has many skills, overlooking low productivity is not one of them. Needless to say, working alongside me was a challenge for him. Additionally, my phone was constantly dinging. Even if I put it on silent, it buzzed and lit up and demanded attention. All the text messages, emails and social media notifications killed my battery by noon every day, so I spent most of my office time nestled in a corner near an outlet so I could charge my phone while also using it.
Sometimes people would text me and I’d be thrilled to respond, but other times folks would reach out and I did not really want to respond because I knew that if I did, they’d keep texting me. The more frequently I responded, the more frequently they reached out. I prayed sincere prayers like, “God, if I get another text message I’m throwing my phone away. Please make it stop.” There was a feature on my phone called “read receipts” which allowed the endless texter to see if I had read their message yet. This feature caused too much drama because people could see that I read their message, and they would get offended if I didn’t respond that day. God forbid I post something on Facebook before responding their texts, because then I get the passive aggressive “I see you are on Facebook after I texted you” bull crap from people. So I turned off the read receipts feature. AND I turned off my phone. And by doing that, I also turned off some people who thought I was their friend.