Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Giving to the Church

The Johnson City Press recently conducted an on-line poll regarding church giving. Here are the results:

Do you believe 10 percent is an absolute rule when giving to the church?
Yes33%
No59%
Undecided4%
I don't care5%
Total Votes1120

Being in the Bible Belt I suppose a survey like that in the newspaper is to be expected. Thirty-three percent seemed a high number to me as the survey included all people who may read the paper whether they go to church or not. Of course on-line polls are anything but scientific.

This was a pretty heavy-duty question. I answered No and I am a minister. Had the question been "Is ten percent a reasonable guide for giving to all types of charities and causes," I would have said Yes. It think it is important to be a giver and not just to the church. It is good for the person who gives and it is good for the causes in which we believe. But it is up to the individual to give as they see fit to do so.

But I am not into guilt or manipulation giving. This manipulation can include:

1) Bringing God into the equation as in God = Church. This type of manipulation insists that you give to God by giving to a particular institution or ministry.

2) Using God as a tool to make people feel guilty if they do not give. "Don't shortchange God" and "God will love you if you give, and punish you if you don't" are examples.

3) Making bizarre promises such as if you give, you will get. I have heard people manipulate others by saying if they give to God (read Church), they will be rewarded financially. Robert Tilton ("the farting preacher") is a good example of this type of manipulation. Unbelievably, this guy even after his scandal is still at it.

Tilton's ministry revolved around the practice of making "vows", financial commitments to Tilton's ministry. Tilton's preferred vow, stressed frequently on his broadcasts, was $1,000. Occasionally, Tilton would claim to have received a "word" for someone to give a vow of $5,000 or even $10,000. When a person made a vow to Tilton, Tilton preached that God would recognize the vow and reward the donor with vast material riches.
4) Using fear-mongering to get people to give. Give to "fight the feminist agenda" for example. Pat Robertson is good at this one:

"(T)he feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
You better get out your credit card to help Pat and God fight the lesbos.

We just finished our fall stewardship campaign. I am grateful that our congregation supports the church financially. I was really amazed and impressed by the response of the congregation. It is an indicator that we have a good thing and it is worth supporting. How might the church speak about giving in non-manipulative ways?

1) Distinguish the spiritual practice of giving and personal financial stewardship from the institution of the church. Help people understand giving as a spiritual discipline that is an alternative to our selfish consumer spend and waste culture.

2) Invite folks to give to their "hearts." We give our resources to what is most meaningful in life. Develop a discipline to give to those things as we would pay a bill, etc. This can help folks get out of being self-oriented to being other-oriented. The value I have in life is based on what I give not on what I get is an example of how giving relates to personal growth.

3) In the above contexts, first fruits or percentage giving can be guides and goals, not absolute rules. You can talk about 10% or 5% or 15% or whatever as personal goals.

4) As far as congregations or ministries are concerned, they need to stand on their own merits without appeal to an outside authority such as God or the Bible. In this case, metaphors from the tradition can be helpful as long as they are not seen as rules or as manipulative ways to guilt people into giving.
I wish that mainline churches would have resources regarding giving and stewardship that are more humanist-based rather than based on verses in the Bible. When you appeal to the Bible you are using it as a tool to manipulate others. The days of manipulation are over.

5) Speak about the congregation and its purpose and what it does and what it is. Remind folks why we exist and why we we feel it is worth supporting.

6) Honesty and transparency in what it costs to run the congregation and what is being done with the funds is central.


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