The Church in Need – A Hard Look at Giving – Guest post by Vanessa

641084_moneyThanks to Vanessa for this guest post.  For more by Vanessa check out her regular blog: Bible, Beer, and Babies.

No one likes to talk about money. I know of no church elder, pastor or lay member who enjoys standing in front of their congregation to talk about dollars, debts and givings.

Whether we avoid the topic due to fear of accusations of legalism or worry over ties being drawn to televangelists and word of faith scammers who cheat people out of money, promising health, wealth and promises God Himself didn’t make all for a small fee, the fact remains — we suck at talking about money. It’s uncomfortable and perhaps taboo, because we all know, people are to give joyfully, not guiltfully.

But discomfort or not, taboo or not, this is a conversation we must have.

The hard truth is churches are closing, and not because God is punishing them for any lack of faith. For many congregations the doors are locked due to a lack of funds — an inability to pay the mortgage, keep the heat on, or pay the pastor and support staff, let alone do anything “extra” such as support missions, care for the poor, and serve the community.

We could all use a good solid kick in the pants. We are failing. We are shirking our duty as neighbor and church member. We are letting down, not only our clergy, but also our fellow brothers and sisters.

Ah, but yes, church is so much more than just a place or a building, right? God’s Church survives even if bills don’t get paid. True as this may be, it’s a pretty lame excuse. That building? That’s a blessing. That’s a wonderful central location where we can gather with our fellow Christians once or twice a week (maybe more) to receive God’s Word and His absolution. That’s where we are nourished, not only in fellowship, but with Jesus Christ Himself at His Table. Mere rock or brick, perhaps, but let’s not ignore the great blessing of those stones by letting them decay due to our own laziness in giving.

And that man up there in the pulpit — is he not a blessing as well? Appointed and called by our Lord to serve, and not just serve you and me there in the pew, but to serve those in the greater community. I’ve heard far too many stories of pastors having to take second jobs, having to rely on state aid to feed his family, or having to leave the call altogether due to disappearing wages. These men serve us with God’s Word, His Forgiveness, His Supper. They comfort us, teach us, and answer our questions at all hours of the day. They come at the drop of a hat, at the first call of need to serve us. And we laity are to serve them in turn.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn; and the laborer is worthy of his reward. 1 Tim. 5:17-18.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you. Heb. 13:17.]

SC, Table of Duties

Our pastor cares for our souls, we are to care for him and his family.

Trust me, I’ve made my share of excuses for not giving more. I’ve claimed a tight budget, despite the smart phones and the Starbucks runs, the dinners out and that sought-after item that finally went on sale. I’ve even justified giving less to our congregation, because we chose to support other worthy causes instead (even though on top of your normal congregational giving it is “ok” to give to other causes).

But that ends now. Our churches are in need. It’s up to us to step up and give, to take care of our churches — our building, our pastor, our congregation — which cares so greatly for us.

We may hate to talk about money, but in this temporal world it’s a necessity. Money keeps our pastor fed so he can shepherd his flock with joy — that second job may seem insignificant, until we realize it leads to fewer classes, fewer calls to the sick and dying, fewer visits to the shut ins and less overall availability to us sheep. Money keeps the lights on, the heat up, and the water running so we can gather to receive God’s Word and Sacrament together. Money keeps missionaries out in the world so they can share God’s Word far and wide. Money keeps our schools running so we can raise up the next generation in the faith. Money keeps the logistical wheels turning so we can serve each other and our communities as we are commanded.

We don’t give, because we hope to gain more from doing so, as if the totals on the balance sheets would bring us more favor from God or a better seat in Heaven. We don’t give out of guilt, because our pastor nagged and lectured on the matter. We give, because it’s the right thing to do. We give, because we have been given much. We give, because we can.

Not after all our bills are paid, not after that $5 latte is enjoyed, not after that cruise, that beer, that grocery bill or whatever else — but first. We are to give the first fruits off our table, not the crumbs that fall to the floor. In acknowledgement of The One who provides for us, we give back.

And yes, we do so cheerfully. Whether we give 3%, 10% or 15%, we give. Not assuming someone else has it covered, not worrying about what anyone else is or is not giving, not getting pissy over our Old Adam’s perception of fair.

Simply give. First and with joy.

Because how cheerful will we be if our church closes its doors, if our pastor walks away from his office, if we are left without that blessing of a building and a congregation?


Comments

The Church in Need – A Hard Look at Giving – Guest post by Vanessa — 22 Comments

  1. The best motivation for giving to the Lord is our love for Him.
    We love Him, because He first Loved us. As we look at the
    crucified Christ we see His love demonstrated for us on the
    cross as he died to forgive our sins. As we give a sacrificial
    offering to the Lord each week in the offering plate we can
    demonstrate our love for Him. For some 10 percent of their
    weekly income is a sacrificial offering, for others it might be
    12 or 15 percent. The important thing is that we give out of
    love and make a sacrificial offering to the Lord.

  2. Truth, and an apt dosage of needed law.

    Just because the Old Testament tithe is done away with does not mean the New Testament church should be stingy.

  3. Vanessa,

    Great post as always! Confessional pastor’s work their tails off to provide a Word and Sacrament ministry to us. There is little thanks for their efforts and the sacrifices their wonderful families make. We need to take care of each and every one of them since they ultimately provide us with doctrine and practice that’s necessary for our faith.

    To each and every confessional pastor – THANK YOU. To each and every pew-sitter: please support the man, and his family, that ensures Christ Crucified is the center of your/our lives.

    Randy

  4. Working in gift planning the last 16 years, I can’t begin to count the number of estate givers I’ve worked with who never considered a planned gift to their church, while planning gifts to my secular institution. Why? All they heard from their church leadership was about giving in the collection plate each Sunday. Keep in mind that just one properly planned, deferred-gift can easily eclipse all the cash offerings a parish receives in a year.

    And btw, estate giving can be planned so that impactful bequests happen without compromising a penny of what one wishes heirs to receive.

    A recent study by Dr. Russell James (Tx. Tech in Lubbock) shows that though 80%+ of Americans give annually (i.e. tithes and offerings), only 10% do so through their estates. Now that’s twice the 2005 number by the NCPGC (now PPP) survey, but still I’d ask, what’s your congregation’s deferred gift % in the last ten years among its deceased members? Is it close to the national average? Better? Worse?

    Also, do you have an Unrestricted Bequest Policy that is seriously feeding a general operating endowment? If not, what’s in place to replace the weekly offerings of those no longer living? Are you going to wait for Millie to drop a six-figure/unrestricted bequest on your parish before you determine how to allocate it? Word of advice: be proactive and avoid the mess of seeking input from relatives, elders, or finance councils after she’s died. No one will like the result if you wait to figure things out after her bequest arrives and the resulting conflicts that may result can dissuade others from being similarly generous through their estates.

    And lastly, has the President of your congregation and every elder in your parish planned his own generous, impactful bequest of some kind? Can’t lead without example!

  5. Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. :
    @J. Dean #2
    Now where did you come up with “it is done away with?”

    Admittedly this is not agreed across the board by Christians, but I’ve heard many teach (and I think there’s some credence to this) that the tithe as a strict ten percent is not taught as a command to New Testament Christians.

    Having said that, I certainly don’t believe that this is an excuse to be skimpy in financial support.

  6. @J. Dean #6
    Admittedly this is not agreed across the board by Christians, but I’ve heard many teach (and I think there’s some credence to this) that the tithe as a strict ten percent is not taught as a command to New Testament Christians.
    Having said that, I certainly don’t believe that this is an excuse to be skimpy in financial support.

    The tithe was only the beginning of OT giving. It shouldn’t be the end of NT giving. But each individual/family unit needs to work this out.

    Grandfather may have given 3% in cash, but what did he contribute in meat when a hog or steer was butchered, produce for canning for the winter, potatoes when they were harvested? You name it for your region, and figure out how you can help replace these things for the Pastor’s family in your (probably urban) environment.

  7. we need to give, our Lord calls us to reflect his love which we celebrate this next week, For God so loved the world that he gave…we need to give…

    Also giving is not transactional…we give so we get and you can fill in the blank…is horrible theology and leads to spiritual abuse

    Generosity is not what God wants for us…Generosity is what he wants for us…

  8. Great article, Vanessa!!! Thank you for the reminder. It can be easy to take our faithful servants and the churches where we gather for granted. However, the Word and Sacrament rightly administered by a rightly called and ordained pastor is priceless!

    Let’s all support our faithful pastors with great cheer and grateful hearts!

  9. We keep hearing, “We aren’t meeting our budget”. (I am not talking about Pastor’s keep. . .)
    Has anyone ever said, “Maybe our budget should be cut”?

  10. Tithing was commanded as part of the O.T. ceremonial law, which was fulfilled at Calvary. (There was, in O.T. times, even an increase-of-harvest tithe. Sometimes the worshipers were to eat their own tithe inside the temple area.) It appears that it was to remind people from where everything comes. We SHOULD remember, too, and give off the top of our income. Strict tithing causes contention: should I give a percentage from my gross, or from my net? Before or after taxes? Before or after health insurance? What if I am a merchant? Before or after I pay employees? We don’t need contention. We just need to give what we can, increasing as we are able, making our contributions the most important item in the distribution of our available funds.

  11. No church ever made it through financial difficulty by cutting their budget back to nada. Cutting creates a survival mentality and that can be the first steps to a local congregation closing down. People start looking for things to cut rather than opportunities to be generous. Maybe time to retool. So many times the salaries of staff are cut before other items.

  12. I didn’t say cutting back to “nada”. Just some of the things unnecessary for the preaching, teaching and spreading of the Gospel. Many of us families have had to cut spending and our families didn’t end up “closing down”.

  13. Hey Lil…clearly you have been there financially for your congregation, perhaps they need to be there and support you through a thin time…hang in there…

  14. @Marc from Cincy #5
    “Also, do you have an Unrestricted Bequest Policy that is seriously feeding a general operating endowment? If not, what’s in place to replace the weekly offerings of those no longer living?”
    While I agreed with much of your post, I am concerned with large bequests going into the general operating fund. In my years of experience, whenever a church receives such a windfall, giving goes down exponentially among living members, rather than going up to supply the gap. I understand having certain areas where large donations can be funneled, but to add these to the general operation of the church takes the obligation to support out of the hands of the living. The mentality becomes why give, it’s already taken care of, rather than let’s pull together and up our donations.

  15. @LadyM #18
    Dear LadyM,

    But “come on”, those large bequests keep a confessional man in the pulpit for many years, even though the congregation may be down to a few.

    I do know of cases like that, but even large amounts will run out. Then we can complain when the man goes CRM because his Church died. Different issue.

    Yes, I do agree with you. Large chunks of monies like that can cause giving to go down. It can cause a Church to sink more into “death knell and hang on mode.”

    Perhaps better to say, “let’s blow it”, use it on mission related tasks. Hey, get a vicar for a few years. Get a part-time Deaconess.

  16. J. Dean :

    Now… if you would also agree that Jim Harbaugh should come to Michigan and be the next football coach…

    In the spirit of giving… 49ers fan here. You can have him. He is mostly a good coach, but ‘we’ have found his stubborn ego and (blind?) loyalty (to coaches and quarterback) prevent him form making needed changes, so we don’t think we’ll ever get over the hump. I would gift wrap him for you, too, if I could.

    Now on to implementing our increased giving for next year, that my wife and I have agreed to….

  17. Why not give people opportunity to give bequests. Recently in our district we had congregation receive. 2 million dollar windfall. The pastor and board told the congregation they would never use these dollars or proceeds from them for the general operating fund. The congregation even gave the district back their original mission grant from 70 years ago or so. Exercise foresight and don’t back into bequests and larger gifts.

  18. Lady M,

    I hear you. Even so, planning with many churchgoers over my career who are determined to make a philanthropically impactful estate plan, many have told me they are not confident that their church (all denominations) has a plan in place to utilize their large bequests. Very often, they will leave a nominal amount – say $10,000 – to their church, but make the large six and seven figure gifts that will really impact something go to other purposes and institutions. I’m glad to have the business for the secular group I work for, but it does sadden me when I’m sitting across the table from an LCMS Lutheran who feels this way, which has happened from time to time.

    As for dividing up the spoils with a large bequest, my last church had an 8-piece pie chart in place for Unrestricted Bequests. I recall it had different %’s going to various infrastructure purposes like General endowment, capital reserve, staff health fund and training fund, etc. Some categories had as much as 25% of the pie, while others were slated to get smaller chunks of 15%, 10%, and 5%.

    My point is to have a plan in place for bequests and market for gifts beyond cash in the Sunday offering plate (how many of your seniors are utilizing the IRA Charitable Rollover passed this last week?) I’m not calling anyone here this term, but be careful of listening to Fundraising Pietists who would unnecessarily restrict your options based on a lot of scriptural gymnastics.

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