By Eddie Lowen
“Our minister doesn’t teach on giving, at least not very directly or often.”
I haven’t counted how many times staff members or elders from other churches have said something similar to me, but I’m sure the tally is approaching 50 by now. It makes me wonder. . . .
During the last year, how many churches have hosted a four-week series on biblical money management that emphasizes tithing (or growing generosity) to the church?
How many churches have asked their members to commit to a new level of giving (or tithing) for the current year?
Some pastors consider their resistance to preaching about money as a badge of honor. But is it? When a church stops growing due to limited space, or a church’s staff members are underpaid, or a church plant goes unfunded, or a community project is bypassed, or a missionary isn’t sent—where is the win for the kingdom of God? Does the comfort of the pastor and the church members take precedence over those things and the generosity that makes them possible? For me, it simply can’t.
Yes, including offering envelopes in your newcomer gift bag is unwise. But treating financial generosity as an activity only for “super spiritual” disciples of Jesus is a mistake. Generosity should not be extraordinary in a church—it should be normal. People should not be expected to discover the joy and importance of sacrificial giving on their own. Their churches should teach it to them.
How Dare We?
She loved our church. For a while.
But then we entered a teaching series called “F1RST,” a series about tithing. After the opening week, she sent this fiery message: “I am so disappointed. I have loved attending your church and thought I’d found a home. I’ve gotten so much from your services and have even invited my friends. But now I see that you are just like every other church—you only want my money.” She reinforced the note with a tweet that rebuked us, including a link to a teacher who claims tithing isn’t necessary under the new covenant.
I’ll state the obvious: money is a polarizing topic, especially at church. Had we handled it poorly? That’s always possible, but the cheers outnumbered the jeers by a wide margin. Scores of people thanked us for the tone and content of the series. Many joyfully increased their generosity.
In fact, I chose the topic for this article because I just watched a video testimony from a couple who responded to the teaching in that series. They are young. They are intelligent. They claim to have drawn closer to God by tithing to their church. And their church is stronger because of their giving. I find it hard to apologize for those things.
Still, every preacher who has dared to challenge the people of his church to give has been taken to the woodshed. Every church that has spent multiple weeks teaching the Bible’s generosity principles has heard that someone was upset . . . or that someone left the church . . . or that someone accused the church and pastor of ulterior motives.
When the church I serve hosts a series on money and giving, a local pastor texts me to say, “You must be teaching on generosity again. Several of your folks are visiting with us.”
Concerning the young woman who zinged us, I was sad she would impulsively walk away from a place where her faith was being reignited. I was sad she couldn’t see the connection between what she had experienced and someone’s willingness to fund it.
It didn’t occur to her that the inviting space where she found us was funded by people who gave in anticipation of her coming.
She didn’t reason that the worship leaders and preacher/teachers on our staff, whose work she praised, are employees who are paid to give their time to the development of fresh content.
It never occurred to her a church that could make her want to invite her friends is a church that is worthy of her enthusiastic support.
Responses like hers often have the desired effect. Pastors don’t enjoy criticism. We normally look for ways to avoid being lampooned. Why plan a series that is sure to be received unenthusiastically, even by some longtime Christians? If a church doesn’t need the money to survive, isn’t it better to accept what is being provided and learn to work with it?
I say no. Status quo is not better than vibrancy. Stagnation is not better than progress. Scarcity is not better than plenty. So, we should teach biblical generosity creatively, patiently, and compassionately. We should teach God’s people to give to God’s church.
However, be prepared for pushback. Expect to be mischaracterized. Expect some highly spiritualized excuses and objections. You might even expect resistance from some leaders. Still, trust the Bible to produce fruit. Don’t let people convince you that you are somehow “selfish” for wanting to see your church well-resourced for its mission.
How We’ve Done It Recently
Below are some details of how we foster generosity in our church. Very few of these suggestions are things I’ve pioneered, so don’t be embarrassed to learn from other church leaders. Let me share the four biggest things I’ve learned (and relearned) about generosity during the last few years.
Do a four-week series. Four weeks is a tipping point when teaching generosity. I know this because the two- and three-week series I’ve done haven’t produced the kind of fruit that four-week series have produced.
Ask for a written response. Use a commitment card. Ask for a commitment to give. If you want a commitment to pray or volunteer, preach a series on praying or volunteering, then ask for a commitment. But when you want people to consider tithing, teach on tithing and ask only for a commitment to tithe. Praying and volunteering are important, but it’s not a replacement for financial participation.
Don’t assume you can teach on generosity only during January or November, the traditional times for it. My friend Gene Appel (Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, California) encouraged me to consider June as the timing for our series. Choosing a season with fewer newcomers means you will offend fewer newcomers. Sure, lots of church families travel during June, but only a small percentage. It’s good to teach on generosity when your most devoted folk comprise a higher percentage of your attendance.
Use someone else’s voice. If another teacher has said things you would like your church to hear, invite the person to speak or seek permission to use a teaching video. For the last two years, I’ve preached only two weeks of our four-week series on generosity. The combination of inside and outside voices has worked well for us. It’s helpful for our folks to see that other church leaders challenge their people to give, just as we do.
Blessings as your church grows in the grace of giving.
Eddie Lowen, lead minister of West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois, writes the “Ministry Today” column semimonthly in Christian Standard.