“Giving to the budget is not inspiring. Giving to the budget defeats the whole idea of generosity as a fundamental religious principle, of returning to God some proportion of what we have been given and building a stronger faith. Many churches tend to recreate yesterday, the thinking is that if last year in the church was OK, then why change anything. Many parishioners enjoy the familiarity and predictability of church life. Familiar patters do not challenge congregations to dream larger dreams or to reach out to address society’s problems. It is just not good enough for churches to be complacent, for each church year to repeat the one just past, to provide parishioners and potential newcomers with lukewarm opportunities that do not stir their hearts and souls. Let’s replace the dreary lockstep annual budget with a thoughtfully prepared list of what the church could do and even what it should do. The issue is not whether the church will survive, but whether it will flourish.”A collection of excerpts from Michael Durall's Creating Congregations of Generous People.
Today we have a plethora of giving opportunities. At times we may feel inundated with requests from charities. By mail, e-mail, phone, television – we seem to be reminded constantly that there is need and our dollars can help. In our culture of options and opportunities it’s not surprising that there are so many places we can give, and in a hurting world – we are not blind to the fact that there is legitimate need.
As someone who is employed by a donor funded charitable organization I’m grateful for the generosity of others who see value in the work we do – and support us with not only prayer, but also financial resources. I know there are many other good charities out there who are only able to do the work they do because of the fact that people give.
I guess that’s why the question “Where should I give my money” always makes me take pause. Because although I am able to pay my bills because someone gives generously, I also believe we need to be supporting our churches through our giving. And it can be really hard to discern what that looks like.
We are told that our money has power – buying power – and so as we make our “spending” choices we are voting with every purchase. Personally – I really don’t like that money seems to have so much power in our lives. When I was in university a friend asked me what I would get rid of in the world, if I could. My answer wasn’t war or poverty or injustice or any of the typical noble things. It was money. Maybe somewhat ironically my first full-time job after I graduated was working in a bank. I guess I follow the “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” principle. Anyway – yes – money unfortunately has power – but it also has the ability to communicate our values – and in our spending and our giving we speak loud and clear about what is important to us.
This is why I think the first place we should be giving is our church – the local community we are part of. As a participatory member I believe we get serious about the mission, vision and ministry of our worshiping community when we are contributing to it. And I’m not just talking about “meeting the budget”. As the quote above says – that’s dull! I’m talking about giving generously to the church because we know that God wants to use us and our resources to bring his kingdom to earth now. Yes – we have costs associated with our church and those need to be met – but if you can’t vision beyond keeping the heat on then you’ve got bigger issues as a church. The resources given to the church need to be expanded into ministry beyond the four walls of a church building. We cannot be insular communities serving our own needs.
I keep being told that my generation gives where their hearts are moved. We are emotional givers. Sometimes we set up our churches for dutiful giving. We expect that people will give because that’s what they are supposed to do – and since we don’t actually talk about giving, we expect that people will somehow just know that this is what they are supposed to do. And as the dutiful giving wanes, we see more of a panic set in to “make the budget” – and we stop to dream as a congregation, we stop listening for God’s invitation to serve – where he wants us to step out and trust him – we stop growing because “we can’t afford it – we’re not evening making the budget”. It’s this small-minded mentality that is heralded as “wise”, “responsible” and “stewardly” because we aren’t spending beyond our means. Now – hear me clearly – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be wise, responsible or stewardly. I’m just saying we may need to rethink what defines those terms in regards to our church spending. I hate to break it to you, but when your church is stuck in the familiar and just approves the same budget year after year, and there is no intentionality, no process of discernment, no listening, no dreaming – you aren’t really living the kingdom vision.
God invites us to a dynamic reality – inspiring, engaging, encouraging, challenging and sometimes it seems crazy – but it is good. And when you’re in line with God’s visioning, people get excited – and then they want to give!
A final thought about why giving to the church is important: I once heard a story of a woman who decided she wasn’t going to give to the church until the council reversed a decision they made which she didn’t agree with. This is a toxic example of the view of money as power. Guess what – sometimes your leaders might do something you don’t like – but when you’ve committed to being part of a covenant body of believers, it’s not right to “punish” the church by stopping your giving. There is so much wrong with that mentality. When I was growing up my parents made some decisions I didn’t like. But as they were my parents and I was "living under their roof" I had to comply – albeit begrudgingly (and often with attitude. A lot of it). The submission I (eventually) learned then shaped me for life. In a body of believers we need to learn to humbly submit to one another and to God. We must be acting in love, always. We are sinful people and grace is needed in every interaction. I have found that faithfully giving generously to my congregation forces me to trust God more deeply. I may not agree with every decision, and I may wish some things were different, but ultimately I believe that Christ loves the church and wants to use us to glorify God. And because I need to be reminded that it’s not “my” money – but rather it’s God’s and I’ve been entrusted to steward it – giving it to the church is my starting place for giving. A place I believe has an incredible opportunity to show the world what faithful eclectic community truly is, and how love looks with skin on.
When it comes to generosity I believe it gets a bit contagious. As we let go of money and release the power it holds on us we are also releasing it to do God's business and it becomes exciting to be able to share more of it! Though I believe in the “first fruits” principle (the idea that the first of our income goes to God) and that the church is the place for that first fruits giving, I also think we need to give beyond that – and as you see the places God is working, as you become involved in the things he has made you passionate about, you won’t be able to avoid giving your financial resources to bless other organizations. It’s all part of engaging His world and proclaiming boldly with each dollar you give “to God be the glory”.
How do you choose where to give your financial resources? What emotions are evoked by the idea of giving your first fruits unconditionally to your church?