Fiscal health is a strength of the church I serve. A reason for this is how we challenge people to give. This article is a sample teaching outline for pastors on the theme of giving. For more help, contact me through the church website, www.wschurch.org, or via Twitter @EddieLowen.
By Eddie Lowen
Some contemporary innovations are nothing short of incredible:
High-definition television has made football and golf so much more enjoyable to watch.
GPS (global positioning system) navigation has transformed travel. When did you last see someone with a folding map?
Smartphones are amazing (my iPhone 5 came today!). I love gadgetry.
Arthroscopic surgery and heart catheters are two of many innovations that have revolutionized health care.
But not every new idea is a keeper—the man purse was—and still is—a huge mistake.
However, history and Scripture are not on my side. Purses have been used by both genders to keep and transport money over many centuries. The Bible reveals that the 12 closest disciples of Jesus kept group funds in (you guessed it) a purse! I see some twisted justice in the fact that Judas was assigned to carry it, though. Don’t picture a Vera Wang, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton purse, however. Most of the disciples were outdoorsmen. Their purse was very likely a simple money bag made of animal hide, a masculine purse, not a man purse.
All of us are very concerned about our financial health these days, and for good reason. Many “purses” are lighter than they were a few years ago. Retirement accounts have been hammered. Median income has fallen. Too many have lost their jobs. Even those who haven’t been directly affected are spending more cautiously. Oddly, the economy is recovering more slowly because we are spending more wisely.
A troublesome trend for many churches is a drop in giving to ministry. While understandable in some places (and certainly for some people), giving is always tied to faith and priorities. To give less when our circumstances are the same or better, simply because economists predict trouble, is something we should consider carefully in light of God’s commands and promises.
1. The Empty Purse
If you’ve lost your income or have seen it significantly reduced, you should make adjustments immediately. Most people attempt to maintain their accustomed lifestyle for a time, even after a major loss of revenue. However, if your income falls, you should immediately reduce expenses. Don’t use reserves to sustain an unnecessarily comfortable standard of living. For example, it’s better to buy a clunker for cash than to use your food money to make loan payments on your SUV.
But what about giving to the church when you have very little? The verse for the empty purse is found in Mark 12:44, when Jesus compared the giving of the wealthy to that of a very poor widow: “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Wow! I would be very reluctant to advise someone to give his last dollar to the church. Reason suggests they need that money far more than the church. How can giving away your last few cents be the right thing to do? Well, it’s not, unless God wants it. It’s not, unless God rewards such acts of faith in amazing ways.
But what do we do with this teaching from Jesus? Well, we should share it and let people discern for themselves whether God is directing it toward them.
A married couple was down to their last $40 as our church launched into a special season of giving in 2010. The man felt compelled to give $40 in the offering that day. His wife wanted to match his faith, but it was a frightening scenario for her. How would they eat? They gave in a rare way that day (one that I would never have asked of them). Since then, God has brought repeated blessings their way. I learned recently what they have given since then—and it blows my mind. Obviously, God has honored their faith and kept his promise.
2. The Shrunken Purse
Some people maintain their level of giving, even after their incomes dwindle. They just don’t like the idea of giving God less. However, if you’ve experienced an income reduction, you are free to adjust your giving downward, assuming you have been tithing (that statement obviously reflects my view of tithing; I realize some disagree). It would be inconsistent for a church to disapprove of people who decrease their giving when their income shrinks, if the church teaches them to increase their giving when their income grows.
God’s expectations regarding giving are high, but they are also reasonable. If you genuinely want to honor God with your giving, you are permitted to do so based on the reality of your current circumstances, not your past circumstances. “If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). So, if you don’t have the resources to give at the level you once did, fine. Don’t stop tithing completely, but don’t feel obligated to give more than your personal economy allows. Again, I believe this principle is valid for those who give 10 percent or more.
3. The Frightened Purse
Some people change their giving habits not because their income has fallen, but because their confidence is waning. But giving less while God continues to protect your finances from being harmed seems neither wise nor appropriate to me.
First Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” God wants me to give in proportion to my blessings, not based on my emotions or the financial climate.
4. The Closed Purse
A minister friend of mine was saddened to learn that 400 families who regularly participate in his church gave little or nothing to its ministry. So, he stood before the church one Sunday and said, “If we had 400 families who were involved in adultery, I would confront it, openly calling for repentance. Well, ignoring the Bible’s commands to financially support the church ministry is sinful, also. So, if that’s you, repent. Do what God wants you to do!”
Over the next few weeks, two families in my friend’s congregation took offense and left the church. But some of those 400 families accepted the rebuke and began to financially support the church. Soon that church’s finances shifted from strained to healthy.
Here’s a verse for the closed purse: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
I am still waiting for someone to come to me and testify, “Eddie, I tithed for several years, but my financial circumstances deteriorated. I couldn’t see how God blessed me for tithing.” Based on my experience, that testimony doesn’t genuinely exist.
Instead, again and again, people come to me to celebrate how God did an amazing thing in their finances when they acted in faith to give. In light of the Bible’s teaching and the many testimonies I’ve heard, I will never stop giving significantly to God’s work, regardless of my income, regardless of tax law. As Paul wrote in the same passage, “God is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Corinthians 9:8, New International Version, 1984).
Eddie Lowen serves as lead minister with West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, and on Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.