Recognizing the kingship and headship of Christ (Col. 1:18) also means recognizing the importance of His will in how a local church is going to work. Previously, we saw four areas in Scripture in which the local group is to function: fellowship in preaching to the lost, edifying and strengthening the saved, helping to provide benevolent help to saints in physical need, and maintaining collective worship to God. We have also seen that the work is primarily spiritual in nature. While there are social benefits to being a part of a local congregation, the reason for its existence is to do the spiritual work of God. As God’s people in a given locality, every congregation has a spiritual work to perform. This work should not be compromised by shifting the focus to recreational, social, or political issues. This lesson will consider scriptural ways in which the work of the local group is to be accomplished.

Principles About Collective Funds

Since funds are necessarily involved in carrying out the work of the local church (nothing is free), principles about those funds are also important. The local church work is going to be funded by the free will offerings of the members of that congregation (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6-8). This is not a forced tithe, and the New Testament nowhere gives a percentage for giving. Rather, Christians give as they prosper, willingly and cheerfully, knowing they are having fellowship in matters pertaining to God and His kingdom.

Is there biblical authority for a collective treasury to exist? Let’s consider the evidence. In Acts 4:36-37 and 5:1-2, money was laid at apostles’ feet, which implies that the apostles gained control of the collective funds in Jerusalem once they were given by the Christians. That is, essentially, a treasury. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, gives directions to the local group and shows other local groups received the same instructions (vs. 1). Christians were to “put aside and save, that no collections be made when I come.” If they did not pool their funds, then collections would have to be taken up when Paul arrived, which is not what he wanted. Paul spoke of the collection as “your gift” (singular) in verse 3. It was a collective gift, again implying a group collection all in one place. Then, in Philippians 4:15-16, we find that the group at Philippi supported Paul in his preaching. The support is said to be from that local group, not just select individuals. The only way this would make much sense is if they had pooled their funds together in some way (cf. also 2 Cor. 11:8).

Once funds are pooled together, they become the property of the group and are purposed for specified work. In Acts 5:1-4, Ananias retained control of his property and funds until he surrendered it to the group. His sin here was lying about what or how much he gave. Whatever we contribute for group use falls under the control of the group, not just one individual. The funds so collected do not belong to the individual any more, but are dedicated for the group’s work.

Any legitimate organization knows that when 1) the organization exists for a particular purpose, and 2) funds are given by its members in order to facilitate that purpose, then it stands to reason that the purpose for which an organization exists and for which it collects funds is also what limits how those funds ought to be spent. Misuse of funds (using them for purposes other than stated intent) is a serious charge (even a crime) in the business world as it goes right to the integrity of those who run the business. This is well understood in secular circles. All we are doing now is applying the same, logical principle to the purpose for which a local church organization exists and for which funds are collected and dispersed.

The application of the principle is as follows: since the group is authorized by God to work in certain ways, then the distribution of the group funds are limited by the purpose for which the group exists (which comes from Scripture). A congregation does not have biblical authority to spend the money any way the leaders desire. The funds are limited by the work which God has authorized it to do; however the funds are spent indicates how the Christians work as a collective unit.

Since a local church is authorized to share in the preaching of the gospel, the collected funds may be spent in whatever is necessary and expedient to do the work — support preachers, provide materials, etc. Since God has not specified every aspect of this, there is some choice as to whom a group may support (assuming the man is teaching truth) and what materials it may procure to facilitate that work. However, if the leaders take those funds and arbitrarily spend them on movie tickets, ball games, or something else unrelated to the work, people would rightly challenge the unauthorized action and subsequently seek proper authority. The same would be true for edification, benevolence, and worship.

The Direct Nature of the Work

There is no indication in Scripture that a local church, by donating their collective funds, went through a para-church organization or institution that did the work on their behalf. No Scripture indicates that a local congregation should be an agency for collecting donations that then go to other organizations. There are no middle-man agencies, collecting funds and making the decisions, between the church and the work being done. Bear in mind that there is no universal organization given in the Scriptures. The universal church, which includes all Christians from all times and all locations, cannot be universally activated or organized.

Local groups are not structurally tied to another organization, nor are they tied to each other through organized centralization. Local groups are independent and autonomous (self-governing, not ruled by other churches or organizations). Congregations were similar as a result of teaching the same doctrine (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:33; 16:1), but they were not organizationally tied to each other. Centralization attempts to activate universal organization and is a component of denominationalism, which is an organized body of religious congregations (i.e., the congregations comprise the body rather than the individuals). This is nowhere found in Scripture.

Each local group in the New Testament collected and disbursed its own funds. While one church may send to another in the case of saints in physical need, there is nothing that shows one church collecting funds from other churches because they decided to do some work that they couldn’t afford. There is no scriptural indication that one eldership or institution should seek to take and oversee funds of another congregation. Elders can only, legitimately, shepherd the flock “among you” (that is, over their own local group, 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Following, we will see this principle applied in the specified works of local congregations:

In the preaching of the gospel. A local group can and should support gospel preachers. The Scriptures show that such support was sent or given directly to the preacher (Phil. 4:15-16; 2 Cor. 11:8). Support was not funneled through another congregation (“sponsoring church”), missionary society, or college that, in turn, decided who to support and how to use the funds.

In the work of edification. The principle is the same for edification and worship. The local group provides the place, people, and provisions for doing the work. In this way, the group “edifies itself” and is not dependent upon other institutions or organizations to do what they ought to be doing for themselves. Each member is to be taught to serve (Eph. 4:11) so that the group is “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” that “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).

In the work of benevolence. A local group has first obligation to its own members (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-26), and so provides help when there is a saint in physical need. Acts 6 shows how the church at Jerusalem handled this kind of situation within their own group. It was not done by collecting funds to funnel or donate into another institution, which in turn provided for itself and other needs according to its own discretion and oversight. Rather, the local group maintained its own work and oversight. When a local group cannot adequately provide its own needs (such as in a wide-spread famine), the Scriptures show that one group may send relief to another group (Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-27). Again, this is direct relief, not funneled through another institution that makes the decisions. This is a temporary situation intended to help stabilize the needy saints in that location (2 Cor. 8:1, 14). This is the only scriptural circumstance we find in which one group sends funds to another. The funds are not redistributed to another institution once it reaches its destination. The group in need then handles what they receive from others.


The way in which we see local churches operating in Scripture is not difficult. There are no complicated hierarchies. There are no centralized organizations making decisions for all the churches. Each local group handles its own work, its own needs, and its own resources. When a church used funds, they sent directly to the work, whether it be a preacher or a needy group when the situation called for it. There were no middle organizations collecting donations to take care of the work for the churches. The independent nature of each congregation reflects the wisdom of God and local groups are wise in maintaining their local work in the same way that is shown in Scripture.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is it important for a congregation to pay careful attention to the way its funds are spent?

2. When an individual gives to the church, what happens in principle with those funds? Why is this important?

3. What do secular organizations understand about spending funds given to them? How does this analogy help us in thinking about congregational spending?

4. Why is the centralization of several churches a problem scripturally?

5. When a local group supported a preacher (like Paul), how did they do it?

6. Read Ephesians 4:11-16 again. How should a congregation seek to do the work of edification?

7. When benevolence is needed, how was the work accomplished both 1) locally, and 2) with respect to helping other groups?

8. Does it matter how a local church proceeds with its work? Why or why not?