Sunday, September 25, 2011


Financial Generosity

The Bible has more to say about the use or misuse of money than about either heaven or hell! Jesus spoke more about money than any other single subject. In the Sermon on the Mount he says where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Paul, in most of his letters refers directly or more subtly to our responsibilities to share in the costs of ministry or the needs of the poor. Jacques Ellul suggests money is one of the 'spiritual forces' with which we struggle (Ephesians 6:12). (12) It's the only impersonal thing to which Jesus gave a proper name - Mammon. Jesus thought of money in some sort of spiritual sense, competing with God for our allegiance. The only way to break the power of Mammon is to give money away. Money is a root of many evils: for televangelists with their millions or you and me with our thousands or hundreds! Your chequebook stubs are a pretty good indicator of the kind of person you are!

Each of the 'disciples' gave as much as possible towards this relief effort (Acts 11:29). A church that's alive is a generous church; a 'penny-pinching' attitude is a mark of a church that's dying.

As I type the phone has just rung. I've been raising money to send Bibles to Russian pastors and church leaders. The call went like this (we'll call him Frank): 'Rowland, how much was that appeal target?' '$62,500.' 'How much have you got?' 'Well, it's early yet but $15,000 has come in.' Frank: 'I'd like to make up the balance: I'll give $50,000'! In most churches there are millions of dollars lying around in assets and savings: let's use them for the kingdom! Today the average Western family has more than 50% of its income available for what would have been regarded as 'non- essentials' by our grandparents: in 1900 it was 4%.

Money is important for the church, but the church does not exist to raise money. It's a pity that many churches are often seen by the community-at-large to be preoccupied with raising funds. The public exposures they have are geared most often towards this end. One survey among a group of 'nominal' church-people found that most believed the pastor's main job was raising money for the church! (Surveys among pastors show them to be generous givers, but they rate the financial management of the church low on their list of professional priorities).

We came into the world with nothing, and we shall leave the same way. In the meantime we have a responsibility to manage the resources entrusted to us by God. Freely we have received, so freely we give (Matthew 10:8). 'Stewardship' is everything we do with everything we have. Stewardship begins with the idea that God owns all things - so we're not giving to God what is ours, but releasing what is already his. Stewardship is ministry. (So 'if God ever gives anything to you get rid of it quickly' said one person who realized he became covetous for more if he hung on to it too long). A steward (eg. a banker) manages someone else's money or property (Luke 16:1). Christian stewardship is all about responsibility, loyalty, and commitment - being trustworthy (2 Corinthians 4:2) rather than merely raising money. For many churches a 'stewardship campaign' has a sting in its tail. 'Stewardship' is like the word 'blue' said one church leader - 'blue' moods, 'blue' movies etc. A good word, but bad associations.

Stewardship campaigns in 'dead' churches remind me of giving a box of tissues to a pnuemonia sufferer: it may be of some comfort, but is irrelevant to the victim's recovery which depends on other factors.

But that said, let us be as forthright about money as the Bible is. Tithing - the Lord's tax for the use of the earth, because it's his - is a fundamental requirement for all of us. That doesn't mean we're to be legalistic about tithing. The motivation should come from love not law (Romans 13:10), but a tenth of net income given away to others is a good place to start. Jesus endorsed tithing, but said we have to do much more - practise justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). We don't tithe to be 'blessed', although we will be; nor to avoid God's curse: though the Bible is up-front about that too (we have no option to give or not to give, 1 Samuel 8, Malachi 3:8-10); nor to secure our salvation (remember John Tetzel, who even promised pardon for 'the sins you intend to commit' if one bought his indulgences?). Gifts above the tenth are 'freewill offerings' (Deuteronomy 16:10-11, Exodus 36:7, Leviticus 22:21), 'festival tithes' (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, 16:3, 13, 16) and 'charity tithes' (levied every third year for the poor, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12-15). The givers in the Gospels who receive Jesus' commendation are not mere tithers, but people like Mary who gave her precious gift, Zaccheus who gave half his goods, and the widow who gave everything.

A pastor's sermon on tithing was titled 'The Sermon on the Amount'!

This subject is so much a cause of dissension in churches we ought now to face some practical issues.

How to Raise More Money for your Church

Here are some principles:

# Churches where people have truly 'first given themselves to the Lord' (2 Corinthians 8:5) are more likely to meet their financial commitments! Ultimately the truest gift is the gift of self. When our hearts are right with God, generosity follows. In the familiar words of Isaac Watts, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

# You only truly keep what you give away (see Proverbs 11:24, 25).

# God's work done in God's way will not lack God's supply. However we are God's ears, eyes, hands: those in need, or in Christian service ministries ought not to be reduced to 'beggary': that's demeaning, and dishonouring to God.

# If people feel the church has truly been meaningful in their lives, they'll want to give generously.

# The more visionary a church is, with meaningful programs to involve people enthusiastically, the less trouble that church will have raising funds. The church with very few significant activities between Sundays has a big problem! So has the church that tries to get money out of people for programs which someone else has decided is good for them!

# People ought to give thoughtfully - to people and programs, not because there's a fund-raising effort - and faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:2).

# Committed people give regularly and proportionately (1 Corinthians 16:2). However, for any special project there will be some who will give very generously.

# People mostly give because other people they trust ask them to, and give most and most frequently when asked face to face.

# While there may be nothing wrong with 'stewardship campaigns' as such, the need for them is in many cases a sign of the church's lack of on-going commitment. The church should not need to 'drum up business' for its general budget this way. However, a 'faith-promise' scheme has proved effective in many evangelical churches for special missionary giving: the vast majority of these churches then find their 'home-base' needs are more than met anyway when our sights are lifted to God's world-wide mission.

# If raising money for a special program or event, devise a schedule that runs backwards from the completion date, setting deadlines to reach each step at a prescribed time. Set some realistic goals; a time-frame that won't get people suffering from 'donor-fatigue'; and appoint one worker (previous large givers are often the best) for every ten prospects.

# Matthew 10:9-15 suggests that mission enterprises ought to quickly become indigenous: the worker supported by those he or she serves (see also 1 Timothy 5:17). We give 'seed money' then the young church or enterprise takes over. Giving too much for too long is paternalistic: many younger churches throughout the two-thirds world have not been taught to be self-reliant. So new Christians everywhere should be taught the necessity of regular, proportional giving.

The Finance Board

Churches above 200 people need a small (3 or 5 person) committee to handle financial matters. (Churches of any size ought never allow just one person to count offerings or keep the books: this allows too much room for temptation). Above 1000, make it 7 people. This board ought to be accountable to the governing body of the church, and should be composed of people who are either accountants or visionaries, with the balance (maybe the chairperson) loaded slightly in favour of the second group! Accountants are people whose financial foot is near the brake; entrepreneurs have theirs on the accelerator. Each group needs the other. Accountants hold us accountable for the budgetary decisions we have made, but they sometimes don't have the gift of faith: that's OK, so long as you don't allow them to dominate areas of decision-making requiring faith! They help us to be realistic, but when all the facts are in, the extra 'plus' of faith will help move mountains such as 'but we can't afford it', 'we'll never make it' etc.

The finance board should know how the weekly offerings break down: how many give what amount with what regularity? It is not necessary for anyone to know who gives how much (although some churches and denominations have systems which reveal this information).

Guidance for Church Treasurers

Most denominations have a system for guiding local church treasurers, and systems vary. However, here's a check-list: # Always present finance reports that a child of 13 with normal intelligence can understand! # Church budgets should be realistic but with a touch of optimism; present the budget to the church with last year's income and expenditure. # Prepare a cash-flow/liquidity plan to prevent large amounts lying idle: short-term overnight investments can earn interest! # Make sure your record systems (day book, columnar cash books, petty cash etc.) are simple - and a few people should know them well. # Insurances OK? # The pastor should be paid, even if the church has to go into overdraft to do it (though that situation should not go on for too long!).

The Idea of a Church Bank

At Blackburn Baptist Church we figured people had millions of dollars tied up in their real estate or savings which could be used for ministry. So we started a church- bank, invited people to lend any amount for any length of time, nominate the rate of interest (up to State Savings Bank interest - many lent money interest-free). It worked on a pass-book system: they could draw out any amount up to $5000 at call, or larger amounts with 7 days' notice. The finance board of the church figured how much of the total should be readily available in liquid funds, how much invested at higher interest in a carefully balanced investment portfolio, and how much released for various projects. We had access to more than $300,000 through this means. But be careful it's managed properly, and within the law!


I have wept in the night/For the shortness of sight/ That to somebody's need made me blind;/ But I never have yet/ Felt a tinge of regret/ For being a little too kind.

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. But humans, because of their insecurity, tend to be covetous, acquisitive. The desire to possess is very strong, and the more we have the more we want. Deficits, inflation, cutting down forests, the greenhouse effect, the destruction of the ozonosphere - all are caused by greed. It's interesting that Christians who take a lot of the Bible literally don't do that with our Lord's words to the rich young ruler: 'Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor...' (Mark 10:21). (Our reading: 'Keep most of what you have but be nice!'). The Bible is clear that we should provide for our family's necessities (1 Timothy 5:8), and each person and family/community ought to figure out where the threshold is between needs and wants. It's good to have what money can buy, but most important to have what money cannot buy.

# Give up shopping as a form of recreation! If you don't really need it don't buy it! Get by with less. Our grandparents had the slogan 'Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.' # Fast foods are very expensive in relation to their nutritional value. # Some find the graduated tithe a good way to extend their giving: you start by budgeting for the basic necessities, give 10% of that, then 15% of the next, say, $5000 you earn, 20% of the next $5000, and so on. (13)

Bible Study: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. Look at verses 8 & 10. Why 'advice' rather than a 'commandment'? (see chapter 9:7-12). The only obligation they are put under is the Lordship of Christ. Why? Is it true that the poor are generally more faithful givers than the rich? What is the point of the reference to Jesus (8:9)? Can you figure out how verse 15 can apply to your church?

Further Reading: Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1987; Tom Sine,The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1981. Ask your denominational headquarters for their manual for church treasurers.

1 comment:

  1. That was a very balanced and interesting take on the subject Rowland. I'm working my way through the subjects.