Up front, the other week, I said “Friends, you know I hate talking about Giving…”, and then went on to say something about money. And one of our members came up to me afterwards, with a look in her eye, and asked, “Why do you hate talking about Giving?”
Which is a good question.
Whenever I have to preach about giving, I feel my heart sink. Since I don’t think I’m alone, it’s worth teasing out why, and what we can all do about it. And since we are all complex beings, and fallen as well as finite, with a unique history of experiences, it’s little wonder that there are a number of aspects to my hesitation.
And, spoiler alert, I do know that Giving is a biblical mark of spiritual maturity, and that teaching on it is my pastoral duty. I’m just trying to be honest about why I find that hard.
1.I’m British, and middle class. That’s an obvious statement, but an important one. It means I, and the church I pastor, come with a number of cultural assumptions. The most obvious is that it’s not the ‘done thing’ to talk about money. I know that there are cultures where people quite openly ask each other how much they earn, and others where you can look that information up about your neighbours online – together how with how much tax they pay. But I don’t live in such a culture, and most of our members share that cultural resistance. Personal money is something which it’s not normally appropriate to mention.
Part of which is sinful snobbery, and you and I need to name that, and kill it. In ourselves, first.
There is a huge cultural downside to our British mock-modesty over money. To state the most obvious counter-example, the US has a consistent public habit of honouring generosity and philanthropy. It is expected that wealthy people give, and that is not a comment about the churches at all. It is a cultural expectation. Now, that in turn has a problem in church if people expect to be treated differently because of their generosity, and they will then need to be taught about ‘left-hand/right-hand’ giving. But that’s a side-issue for me. I work in a culture where philanthropy is not a cultural norm.
2. I’ve seen Giving taught, really badly. Let me be upfront: I am persuaded that tithing is not the model for New Testament believers. I don’t believe we are required to tithe, still less am I persuaded that we are to tithe to our local church. If you find out more about what I think and why, you can find it in here . Just go with me for a moment: a straight transference of verses which support tithing for the sacrifices and priests in the Jerusalem temple, applied to tithing to support the local church, is, I think, inappropriate.
But that has been done so often now, that when people hear about ‘giving’ they actually hear ‘tithing.’ I want them to hear ‘responsible stewardship and generosity’, but I’m not sure they hear me through the static. So if I am to teach better, I have to teach exceptionally well.
3. I’ve seen Giving taught, really manipulatively. I’ve seen pastors beat people up for their lack of generosity towards the church’s ministry – by which is meant the pastor’s ego-weighted vision. The pastor has tied their identity so closely to the visible success of that church, that they give huge psychological force to getting the money behind the vision. And that’s aside from churches where the pastor’s salary is index-linked to the size of the membership. Or the budget.
4. I’ve seen Giving modelled, really manipulatively. In one church service, the collection plates went round three times. The third was for an extra offering to redo the church offices; given the photo that was being shown at the time, with a row of shiny iMacs, they seemed quite well-equipped, but perhaps I was just being snarky.
I can’t do that. I imagine that many of our people are already generous, not only to us, but elsewhere as well. Many of them are on really tight budgets, or married to non-christians who don’t get the need.
5. I’ve seen Giving modelled, really badly. Let’s be honest: fun-runs, sponsored car washes and chuck-a-wet-sponge-at-the-vicar stands do have their place. If you’re trying to get the local community behind a drive to repair the organ, or help the youth group to get an overseas mission trip going, they are quite good ideas. But, but, but, I don’t think it’s an appropriate way to raise money for ongoing ministry in church. Our ministry needs should be placed before the church (and our wealthier partner churches) and we simply ask people to give. No gimmicks, just giving.
6. In Bill Hybels’ phrase, I say people’s ‘No’ for them. I anticipate resistance, reluctance, embarrassment, misunderstanding. I know the surveys that people think churches are always after their money. I expect the misunderstanding that the Church of England is funded by taxpayers (we aren’t, by the way, except for a normal charity status). And because I fear all that reaction, I duck away.
And, as a heart issue, I don’t like being thought of as a ‘charity case’, ‘a needy person.’ I would quite like to be thought of as the pastor of a ‘successful’ church – ‘successful’ meaning, not needing a hand-out. Pride, you see.
7. I’m not perfect. I wouldn’t want people crawling over my bank account and evaluating how I steward God’s resources, but nor do I want to give the impression that I’m the one who has got it sorted. That’s always the trap for preachers, in any area, but it clearly applies to money.
8. I don’t like saying, ‘please’. At least, I’m happy to do it for others – the other evening we had a spontaneous ‘extra giving bucket’ for one of our mission partners in Africa, who badly needed a car for her new ministry role. We’d prayed about this need all day, and that service I just thought,’ Let’s see if we can be the answer to the prayer we just prayed.’ It was actually quite fun, and people were very generous.
But what it shows is that I don’t like saying ‘please’ for us, here. Which is silly, I know. But I do wonder about what my idol of the heart is at that moment.
So, what do we do?
We – no, I – have to get on the front foot on this. As I said at the top, I do know that Giving is a discipleship issue. I teach about it in our New Members class and it’s a hefty part of our Growing Spiritually seminar. We preach about it. We even have baskets going round each week. I just ned to stop feeling awkward abut it. We are not a business. We depend on giving.
But we are not Comic Relief. We don’t ask for spare change, or rack up the emotion. We just tell and teach the truth, and expect the Holy Spirit to change people’s hearts.
And my reluctance to do so is at best silly, probably stupid, and arguably sinful.
How do you do it? Pile in!