By Chuck Griffin
1 John 2:15-16 (NLT)
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.
It’s obvious that Covid-19 has impacted our ability to worship. What may not be so immediately obvious is that the pandemic also has created a stress test for the typical American approach to church giving.
Folks, at this point it is safe to say the stress test has revealed a lot of cracks.
As a pastor, I was concerned about giving patterns long before the pandemic came along. As Methodists, we do not talk about the link between money and ministry the way we should, and we certainly don’t talk enough about what our relationship with money says about our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let me jump over hurdle number one as quickly as I can. There always will be people who complain when church leaders, particularly pastors, talk about money. But the devil had a good day when he convinced church people to behave as if money is unmentionable.
Sixteen of Jesus’ 38 parables are about how to handle money and possessions. Ten percent of all the verses in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money. How we handle money and possessions needs to be discussed in church regularly.
Now, it’s obvious hard times can affect giving in a direct way. When people lose their jobs, it is difficult or impossible for them to give. These are people possibly in need of church assistance, and they should never feel pressured to give.
I’m convinced however, that there are other factors behind the declines in giving some churches are seeing:
First, there’s what I call the movie theater effect. Giving is treated like buying a ticket, so if you don’t go to worship, you don’t buy a ticket. We see this attitude impact giving at other times, too, for example, when there’s prolonged bad weather in the winter.
Second, there’s the impact of increased anxiety—”We had better hold on to everything we have.” If that’s your situation, I will simply ask you to consider who it is that gives you the greatest hope, and how it is he works in this world through us today.
Third, the vision for what we do as the church is fading. We aren’t entering the building regularly and mixing in Christian community, and we can forget why the church exists. This is largely a communications challenge for church leaders.
The Prayerful Solution
Let me offer us a quick, two-part formula for how to plan our giving. The great thing about this formula is it helps us keep perspective on money and possessions in good times or bad.
Let’s begin by establishing our committed support. Don’t think in dollars, think in percentages. Nearly everyone has some form of income, regular or irregular, a paycheck or a draw taken from a retirement plan.
Make a prayerful, firm decision about what percentage you can share with the church, and then follow through. I encourage people to write the percentage down on a piece of paper and stick it in the corner of a mirror used daily. The number is between you and God.
Here’s why I like for people to think in percentages—your commitment remains the same regardless of whether your financial situation improves or worsens. Years ago, a friend of mine, a committed tither (a giver of 10 percent of his income), lost his job, and was lamenting, “It kills me that I can’t tithe.”
I asked him, “Hey, buddy, what’s 10 percent of zero?”
“Well, zero,” he replied.
“You’re tithing!” I said. “Your commitment remains the same, just as it will when you’re working again.” He’s now doing very well financially, by the way, and I’m sure he’s a tremendous blessing to his church.
We also need to ask God’s guidance regarding our special support. This is when we recognize how blessed we are and go beyond our committed giving to fund something extra we think is important to the kingdom.
When we take committed support and special support of the church seriously, we position ourselves to better understand Jesus’ teachings about the role of money and possessions in our lives. We learn from the experience of planned giving. To some degree, you’ll just have to trust me—try it, as if you’re laying a fleece to receive guidance from God.
Regarding a vision for what the church does: As a pastor, I’m working to do a better job of communicating how churches truly change the world. There are great stories out there. Help me tell them!
Lord, committed givers have sustained your global church in the brightest and darkest days, in the most affluent and in the poorest parts of the world. Help us to better understand how your Spirit provides. Amen.