Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Spirit of Giving

For the last couple of years my wife and I have been praying about and doing a lot of reading and thinking about what exactly constitutes our faith in Christ. Is it just me or does the western version of Christianity not strike one as impressive? The kind of believer I’ve seen in most of the churches we’ve visited the past few years are nowhere near the ones who set the ancient world on fire after Pentecost. I’m no different. In most cases, where you hear statistics on how Christians differ from the general populace (divorce and porn use being the ones that comes to mind) there’s often very little difference. “But everyone’s a hypocrite. I’m saved, not perfect,” you say. I’ve said it too.

One issue that has gotten under our skin is the issue of tithes and giving to “the church.” Not how much one gives but to whom. I’ve heard many pastors say from the pulpit that we should be giving our tithe to the church and if you want to have a World Vision sponsor child or support some radio ministry then that should be over and above our tithe. I’m not finding that in the Bible. It’s almost like they are trying to make sure people continue to give to their coffers so they can have enough funds to pay for the budget that was decided upon by themselves and the elders. I’m not saying that nothing good is being done with this money but it seems overly stuffed. Am I the only one who checks how much is taken out for administration expenses when giving to some ministry? 10-15% seems an average number with the rest of your donation going directly to some need.

Consider the average church. You’ve got salary and insurance for the pastor (and often multiple pastors... my current church has at least three). Then there’s all too often a mortgage for the church building, insurance on the building, heating and cooling for the building, all the audio-visual equipment, telephone and internet service, electricity and water, and who knows what else I’m not thinking of. Then you have a special offering ABOVE AND BEYOND YOUR TITHE for the visiting missionaries. I would seriously be surprised if the average church has administration expenses below 50%.

When we started “shopping” for churches I found it very liberating not to feel guilted into giving all of our offering to one local body so that they could meet their weekly budget, as seen in the bulletin each week (along with year to date in case you feel compelled to give extra). We were able to give to struggling ministries, super-duper-small congregations and even individuals.

Talk about joyful giving (2 Corinthians 9:7)! At this time of year we give gifts to each other and it brings us joy to be able to give presents to friends and family. Perhaps God meant giving our tithe to bring joy and encouragement to our hearts in this same way. In giving we are also blessed. What do you think gives more joy: dropping a check into a plate as it is passes (“I hope the people around me know that I get paid every other week and that’s why I’m not putting anything in this week.”) or putting cash in an envelope and anonymously leaving it in the door of someone who is struggling to both pay medical bills and put food on the table, imagining their joyous reaction as you drive off? James 1:27 mentions visiting orphans and windows and in Matthew Jesus talk about visiting those in prison, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Message Bible adds single moms and out-of-work outsourced middle-aged men.

That’s it. I have no concrete answers, just questions.