Monday, May 14, 2018

First and Best

I overheard a conversation recently between three employees at the Hershey Medical Center. They had just finished their residency programs and become licensed doctors, and were very excited about increased compensation. All three must have been Christians because they were discussing how much money they could now give to their church.

The first doctor explained his process. “I always go straight to the bank and withdraw everything in cash. Then I take the bills home and pray over how much I should donate to my church. There’s a room in my house where I’ve drawn a circle on the floor. I stand in the middle and throw all the money up in the air. Whatever money falls inside the circle I put in the offering plate at church, and whatever money falls outside the circle I keep for myself.”

The second doctor interjected, “That’s interesting. I have a similar approach, just in reverse. I always withdraw my money in cash and pray over the bills, and I have a room in my house with a circle on the floor as well. But after I throw the bills into the air, whatever falls outside the circle goes to my church and whatever falls inside is for my own use.”

The conversation fell silent for a moment as the first two doctors glared at the third doctor. Feeling the pressure to speak, the third doctor shared his giving practices: “I think I just have more faith than you guys. I don’t draw circles on my floor. I just throw the money up into the air, and whatever God wants, he can have. Whatever falls to the ground I keep for myself.”

New Trends in Church Giving

I’m sorry to report that giving is down in America. And not just to churches, but to nonprofits in general. The Barna Group conducted a nationwide survey in 2016 on giving practices. Then they weeded out those who were not Christians, those whose faith is not important to them, and those who do not attend church - the remaining group was labeled “Interested Christians”. Below are some of Barna’s findings (see Thrivent Financial, The Generosity Gap, 2017).

Less than 25% of Christians gave over $50 in donations last year (Thrivent, 35) Very few people give away 10% of their income away to a church (Thrivent, 9).

Millennials who gave 10%
Gen-Xers who gave 10%
Boomers who gave 10%
Elders who gave 10%

And it’s not enough to talk about generosity in broad terms. Younger generations think much differently about generosity from older generations. For example, being generous for an Elder or Boomer means to donate money or volunteer. For a Gen-Xer or Millennial it means showing hospitality or offering emotional support (Thrivent, 26-27). This doesn’t mean young people are against donations, or that older people are inhospitable; it just means our minds go different directions when we hear the word “generosity”. And truth be told, whatever form of generosity is most meaningful to you (i.e. gifts, time, service, money, hospitality) is going to be considered the most generous act you can contribute.

As a pastor, I encourage people to be generous in every way they can. Volunteer for a nonprofit, sign up to be an organ donor, babysit for free, give a meal to a homeless person, open up your home for a friend, and take someone a meal. But if you are a churchgoer, your church needs money too. And I don’t just mean paying the light bills and the secretary’s salary. Your church - not the physical building but collection of people who follow Jesus and meet collectively as (insert your church’s name) - needs money to survive, especially if you intend to have a thriving church.

Ministry requires money

There is no politically correct way to say it. Ministry requires money. Without money, your pastors will not be paid, the place your church gathers to worship will deteriorate, missionaries will go unsupported, the resources provided to members will not be available, organized community will not happen, the poor will not be fed, and the nursery workers will have no diapers or wipes on hand.

Here’s the positive news: the more money you give to your church, the more ministry they can do with it. (And by “they”, I mean whatever leaders you as a church member have elected into power. If you are suspicious of how money is spent at your church, that is a different conversation. I am assuming that you trust the top-level leaders in your church if you attend there.) At my church, 28% of our annual budget is directed to outreach. If we had more money come in, I’d love to double that percentage. Oh, the things we could do with more money - more resources for families, more church planting, more missions trips, more counseling for hurting people, improvements on our property, higher compensation for our staff, more funds funneled into local nonprofits - that excites me.

Honoring God with our Wealth

This series of blog posts is a result of me wrestling with two simple verses: Proverbs 3:9-10.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, 
With the firstfruits of all your crops; 
Then your barns will be filled to overflowing, 
And your vats will brim over with new wine. 

Mull over those verses for a bit. What does it mean to honor the Lord with my wealth? What is my totality of my wealth? What does “firstfruits” mean? What does this mean in today’s world when most people’s income is non-agricultural? And what about the promise in verse 10; does that apply to me? Is this a bait-and-switch tactic for me to coerce God into making me rich? What is an “overflowing” and “brimming over” life look like?

My goal is to take you along with me on a journey to discovering God-honoring giving. This will look different for every person, at every lifestage, in every financial state. But there are some abiding principles and promises wrapped up in these two short verses that may just change the way you view your money and possessions.

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