There’s a book out there called, The Question Behind the Question. The point is, there is always something going on behind the obvious. Even when a person asks a question, there are all sorts of things lurking nearby that, unfortunately, often went unsaid. And if you can address those lurking, unspoken questions, you are well on your way to success.
Now, you may have noticed our budget is not doing great right now. Normally, churches respond to such news with a big push (a fundraising campaign, a stewardship sermon series, a thermometer in the sanctuary and things like that). We’ve chosen not to do any of those things. Instead, I have chosen to write a series of blog entries on giving. “Ah-ha!” you say. “You are nothing but a weasel. You say you aren’t going to do a stewardship drive, but here it is! It’s just on the website and not on Sunday morning. But it is still the same thing! Lewis, you are a weasel of the first order!”
My weaselness aside, my intent here is not for these blog entries to be perceived as any type of a stewardship campaign (whether disguised or right out in the open). Yes, I know; “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are pretty good that it is a duck.” But I want to assure you, in this case, it’s not a duck. The question I want to address is not, “How can we get people to give more?” That’s a stewardship campaign question. The questions I want to address are, “Why aren’t we doing a stewardship campaign?” “Why aren’t we making a big marketing push?” “Why aren’t we doing more things to raise funds for our church?” The question I honestly want to answer is: “What is a biblical philosophy of giving?” I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t a biblical philosophy of giving just for people to give?” Actually, no. A biblical philosophy of giving is much more complicated and much more surprising.
So, let me recap. Yes, I am probably a weasel, but not for anything related to these blogs. No, this isn’t a stewardship campaign disguised as a modest blog. Yes, stewardship campaigns (especially with lots of guilt and big thermometers) are both, in my opinion, ill-advised and misguided. No, there is no such thing as an anti-stewardship campaign, but this is (at least, in my opinion) as close as you can get. Yes, I think you will be surprised by the answers given in these blogs. No, I am not going to give you the bullet points. Yes, you’re going to have to read all ten
And now that I am done with my preamble, we can go on to the “amble.” See you on the other side!
It may be strange to say, but classic disco-funk at its very best may have happened at the carwash. Sing it with me now: “At the car wash, workin’ at the car wash, yeah.” Now as songs go, I’ll bet “Carwash” made the band Rose Royce millions; but contrary to popular practice, carwashes are not a good strategy for raising money for a church. But that raises a good question, “What is a good strategy?” Oddly enough, several people have asked me this question recently, and so I thought it might be a good idea to take a few blog posts and articulate what we believe about giving. And who knows, maybe in an age of church carwashes, fundraising campaigns, and slick marketing promotions (with big thermometers!), this would be incredibly helpful. So let’s start out with an easy question: why should anyone give their hard-earned money to a church?
Now, we could just quote Malachi 3:8-9 and leave it at that (“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. ‘But you ask, “How are we robbing you?”’ ‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.’”). Kind of makes you feel warm all over, doesn’t it? And it sounds so cut and dried, black and white, Fred and Ethel. But I’m not so sure that is the case. After all, I think a lot of churches are robbing both God and their people by asking their people to give to the church so they can (for example) buy a private jet for their pastor or put in gold plumbing for their pastor or put in air conditioning for the pastor’s doghouse. Now don’t go blaming the pastor, I’m sure his session [elders] forced him to do these things! And I think a lot of churches spend their people’s money on all sorts of extravagant things, including unnecessarily pretentious buildings. Years ago, The Wittenberg Door magazine asked what you could do with 20 million dollars. They listed off many things one could do to advance the kingdom, including help end malaria, feed starving kids, provide clean water for hundreds of villages, educate thousands of poor kids and so forth. After this incredible list of kingdom activities, they wrote five words that brought everything into focus. They simply said: “Or build one Crystal Cathedral.”
See, there are lots of reasons not to give. You work hard for your money; and God wants you to invest it in such a way that it not only advances his kingdom purposes, but also gives a good return on your investment. After all, you are a steward of all the resources that God has given you, and you should use those resources for their greatest kingdom good. In other words, if you can’t trust your church to use your money in a way that truly advances God’s kingdom and excites your heart for God’s work in the world, I would encourage you not to give to that church. Now sexy ROI is not the only criteria. We also have to consider things like faithfulness, obedience, sacrifice and meeting needs (even if those needs aren’t spectacular). But we ought to give to things that are going to make a positive impact for the sake of the gospel. And if that is not happening, here’s my advice: find someplace else to give.
But why SHOULD we give to our church? Here are six things to think about.
- Because giving is a crucial spiritual discipline. You can’t grow in Christ unless you are actively giving of your time, talent and treasure. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6: 1: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” If we truly want to take hold of a life worth living, we will invest in the grace of giving.
- Because giving opens up our hands and our hearts to love. Amy Carmichael once said: “You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” If we are going to be serious about loving God and loving our neighbors, we will need to invest in giving.
- Because giving is all about gratitude, nothing more and nothing less. When we give, we give because we are so grateful for God’s work in our lives. And gratitude demands an expression. Make no mistake about it: Giving is simply tangible gratitude. It is one way to express our thanksgiving to God; and without it, we would do terrible damage to both our sense of wonder and our understanding of God’s grace. Not only that, but giving is one way we share with others what God has shared with us. Jesus says it this way in Matthew 10: “Freely you have received; freely give.” Bottom line: gratitude shares with others.
- Because God has chosen our giving as the way to support his work in the world. In the Old Testament, God supported the Levitical priesthood and the poor and needy through the giving of the tithe. When Jesus sends out the twelve in Matthew 10, he gives them this instruction: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 says: “Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Bottom line: this has been and continues to be God’s strategy for funding his work in the world. God has chosen to use us to partner with him to advance his kingdom far and wide.
- Because our generosity has the potential to change the world. Acts 2 gives us a snapshot of the habits of the early church. Not surprisingly, giving was one of them. Luke says (Acts 2:44-45): “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The result, this was the church that changed the world. Our generosity gives us an opportunity to touch the world with God’s healing grace. It did so in the first century, and it does so today.
- Because our God delights in giving. Now usually when we hear this, we think that God delights in OUR giving, but the fact is God delights in giving. We don’t usually talk about it this way, but our God is a God who gives. The whole story of the incarnation is that God gave us his son. The whole story of creation is God gave us this world. The whole story of Israel is that God gave them promises. God delights in giving and has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus possible. Why? Because our God delights in giving good gifts. Because our God delights in love. Because our God delights in sacrifice. Because our God delights in generosity. Because our God delights in joyous interaction, and our greatest purpose in life is to be remade into his image. We give because God gives, and we want to be like him.
I’m sure there are many other reasons, but these are some of the most important and life changing. In short, giving blesses everyone, while selfishness hurts everyone. Now, there is a lot more to say about this topic, and we will get to it soon; but for now, rejoice and sing: God has given us the privilege of partnering with him not by offering carwashes and bingo nights, but through the giving of our time, our talent and our treasure.