Influential church pastor Bill Hybels wrapped up a challenging sermon series on Sunday with a call to choose God or money.
And they can't serve both.
"You've got to decide," the Willow Creek Community Church pastor told his congregation. "Who is in charge of your life? You can't serve two masters in your life."
The sermon, based on the familiar New Testament passage on stewardship, was particularly timely for the South Barrington, Ill., church as it approaches its 34th anniversary. The megachurch is seeking to expand its influence which will require more leaders and more members to step up their commitment. The Willow Creek pastor is looking to find potential leaders who have their priorities straight with regard to God and money.
He's measuring them based on the criteria Jesus provided to his disciples when they look for others who could help lead the movement of bringing the kingdom of God on earth, said Hybels.
"Be very careful who you put into the core of these faith communities. These core members have to have their heads on straight, their faith ... deep," Hybels said, explaining what Jesus told his disciples.
Among the criteria is handling money wisely.
Many Willow Creekers may have already failed that test.
A survey two years ago of the more than 20,000-member church revealed that less than half of attendees who described themselves as "growing in Christ" said they are managing their money in a God-honoring way, living within their means and tithing. More surprising to Hybels was the 53 percent of Christ-centered Willow Creekers (who are the most mature based on the study's spiritual continuum) who are managing their money wisely.
"That makes no sense to me at all," said Hybels, who expected the percentage for the Christ-centered to be in the ninetieth percentile.
Speaking to the congregation as a Christ follower, and not as their pastor, Hybels said the money stewardship issue strikes him personally. When he left the multimillion-dollar family business to start church in a shoddy movie theater, he expected to live around the poverty line for the rest of his life.
As the church grew and earnings came his way, including his first paycheck, he was overwhelmed by a sense of joy and gratitude and practically jumped at offering 10 percent of his income to God. "Of course, God. You get the 10 percent," Hybels recalled feeling.
"Is it the same way with you?" the Willow Creek pastor asked the congregation.
While millions live in poverty around the world, here in the West, most of us get earnings, Hybels said. "Does it still overwhelm you once in a while that you get a check and that you're entrusted with stewarding it?"
Financial stewardship is one of the most purifying and dynamic tests in the Christian faith, he noted. "We have some growing to do."
Hybels pointed out that the figures from the congregation-wide study were not provided for them to worry about the church. But they were provided for each individual to figure out where they stand on the issue of money and God.
Those who love God enough to trust Him with their money are also those who will be able to manage the "true riches," he said.
The "Two Masters" sermon was the fourth and last of Hybels' "The Forgotten Way" series which also dealt with pace of life issues, human sexuality and conflict resolution. Through the series Hybels sought to take the teachings of Jesus from 2,000 years ago and focus them on the needs of the congregation today while also contrasting the teachings with the conventional wisdom of today's culture.