Thursday, March 26, 2009

Giving to Charity: a rambling thought

It's tax season. And, for our family, that means re-evaluating our current (and future) giving. I was noticing the other day that I'm not alone in my thinking about giving, so I thought I'd share some rambling thoughts.

1) First, there's tithe. I interpret tithe as some arbitrary amount that we give to a local church. Literally it's ten percent. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, various tithes and offerings to God made up about 1/3 of an income. Today ten percent is pretty common in the conservative circles. I wish we would challenge ourselves to give a full 1/3 of what we make to God's work -- not just the local church, but organizations and people that glorify God in what they do. (Many of us give 1/3 to the government, don't we?)

2) The local church should be the primary recipient of our tithe. The scripture that comes to mind in support of this is the idea that the "laborer is worthy of his wages" (1 Tim 5:18). That is, the person responsible for spiritually feeding us deserves to be paid for the job. So pay the church a fair wage. It makes sense. If I attend this church, I am trusting them with my spiritual well-being at least to some extent. I should trust them with our tithe too.

3) Ministries and individuals outside your local church are also worth investing in. For us, this is over our "tithe", and have given rather careful consideration to the few that we support before we took them on. Do we agree with their mission? Do we think they do their job with excellence (would we hire them for the same position)? Do we see God working through them, etc? In the case of extra-church organizations, if we think the money is being spent poorly, we should let them know, and probably move our money elsewhere -- that's good stewardship.

4) Don't play games. The money we give isn't ours. It's not before we give it, but it's certainly not after we give it. Once it's given, to try to control it seems kind of like manipulation to me. If we decide to give a particular amount, we should give it (not playing the "tithe deductible" game either -- you know it -- "I drive an hour to church, this costs me about $15 each week, so I'll deduct $15 from my tithe, since it costs me that to attend"). God will take care of the results of our giving. Each ministry answers God for how it spent the money it was given. Once I've decided to give, it's not my responsibility.

Here's how some of this works out in my life right now:

Since it's tax season, we're looking at our giving. My wage has increased ever so slightly, so we upped the tithe (we tithe pre-tax -- I don't know if it's necessary, but we think it's right). It's amusing to me that I have almost no idea what money our church has or how it's spent. We don't get updates on it, and we didn't at our annual meeting last summer either. But I'm completely comfortable with that, because I trust the leaders. If I didn't trust them, didn't trust the teaching, or specifically didn't trust what they were teaching my kids, I wouldn't go there. This might be a bit naive, and in some cases it would be. I'm okay with it for now. I do periodically ask a member of the leadership for a bit of a financial update, mostly so that I can designate a special gift toward something that's a current need.

We also try to increase the overall percentage that we give each year. This is a real bugger, because it's starting to hurt (at times like this when we're already financially over-extended....) This is a decision that we made when we got married, and really want to keep though. It's worth it. Sometimes this plays out as sending a nice gift to each of our missionaries, sometimes we take on a new missionary or support a short-term trip. Eventually we'll actually be investing 1/3 of our income (and maybe more!) in God's work.

A couple of months ago, two cute little girls (probably about 9 or 10 years old) came by selling flowers to raise money "for their church". I asked what church it was, and they answered with the name of a nearby church. This church has done me and our neighborhood a lot of good, so I bought $20 worth of flowers, paying in cash. Later, I wondered if they were telling the truth (especially when I noticed what house they live in, and I'm fairly certain it's not a "Christian" household). And so far, no flowers. I was tempted to call the church to find out if they were running such a fund raiser, but decided that I had given the money with a clear conscience, and if I got scammed, I got scammed. It wouldn't be the first time :)

I wouldn't apply this logic to ministries that I regularly support, but in this case, that's what I did, and I'm comfortable with it. God knows where that money went. I don't feel like I need to.

Which leads me to one final thought:

A lot more can be changed by recongnizing Who is really in control here, and making appeals (prayer) to Him. In reality, we don't control how much money we make, we don't control what happens to the money after we give it away, and we only marginally control the other parts of it either. (We don't control how much goes to taxes, for example). But God does. And as I pray, He will act. He can (and will) change my attitude about all this stuff too.

Anyone want to add some experiences, or some Biblical principals (especially with references?)
Leave a comment :)


  1. Something I wrote for the last issue of Propel: Don't remember all of what it says off-hand, but the boss liked it :p

    Your comments are very interesting to me. The article I just noted above started out being more of a thesis (which, obviously, isn't what we're after for a newslettery type blog) discussing whether a tithe (actual 10%) should go to your local church first or if it includes all of your giving. Needless to say there are a variety of opinions from Godly people on this topic.

    My wife is very concerted about giving a fair amount to the local church (growing up as a pastor's kid and all), but we personally don't give 10% to the church. This is in large part because we don't think their missions budget is sufficient (I think Hannah said it was around 7% this year). We don't switch churches because, well, the church supports us. "It's complicated," in Facebook language. Further, we live in a pretty small town and there just aren't that many other church options that seem better, if any. Like we all already know, too, no church is perfect, by God's standards or ours :/

    Like you we tithe on the gross (though this isn't something I'm have an opinion on one way or the other, the wife is convinced it's proper. I go along since we like to give as much as we can anyway.), and we try and increase our giving yearly. That hasn't happened yet this year, and probably won't since our job situation is so tenuous. We don't want to be making a commitment, since a lot of our giving goes to individuals overseas, we can't keep for a reasonable period of time.

    If I could recommend a book on money from a Biblical perspective in general it would be Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions and Eternity; his smaller and more popular Treasure Principle is derived from this book. He uses a lot of Scripture, some of which I might cite here as you suggest except that I loaned the book to a friend about four years ago and I'm not sure he's read it all yet . . .

  2. Thanks for your perspective, Paul. I've read the Treasure Principal, but not the bigger book. I was too lazy last night to actually look up most of the references that vaguely came to mind.

    Missions giving is sticky, isn't it. Our church is so young yet, that we have NO missionaries, nor any missions giving that I know of. I hope that changes. I'll start praying for that too.

    We visited one church (which we would attend accept that I didn't want them teaching my kids that you could lose your salvation). They have about 120 people, maybe 140 at the most, and they give well over $40K per year to missions. (Which is more than they pay their pastor, or put into their building). It was a really, really cool place to visit. I wish we could have agreed on theology :)

  3. What happens when the church that you trust with your spiritual well-being you don't think is trustworthy with your money?

  4. I had a quick reply, that went something like this: "If you can't trust your church with your money, I'm not sure your trust with your spiritual well-being is well placed." But in the 30 seconds of thinking that this page loading allowed, I remembered that this is really a more complicated issue than that. Church leadership isn't perfect -- it's made up of people, after all. And churches are too, making them far from perfect too.

    In the end, God wants us to be good stewards both of our spiritual well-being and of our money. The phrase "where your money is, there your heart will be" comes to mind -- When I give money to something, I am definitely inclined to care about that person or institution -- it becomes a part of my prayers (because I want my money to be well spent). In short, my affection follows my dollars. (And the other way around too, of course).

    So if you truly love your church, and I suspect you do, then give something -- whatever you can give with a right heart. But engage your heart in it -- pray for the leaders, the members, etc. God will use your prayers to make changes (either in you or the church or both).

    It's really the heart that matters -- the attitude behind the giving is more important to God that giving the "right" amount. If you can't give anything with a good attitude, then maybe it's right to take a break from giving there, and pray real real hard. I'm not really sure. But I'm fairly certain that God wants your heart in the right spot a lot more than He wants your money to go to some certain establishment....

  5. This is a great post, Amy. I personally believe the OT example of the tithes supports it going to the local church. gross or net is that of opinion, though. I agree with you in that if you cannot trust your church with your money, then you cannot trust it with your spiritual well being.

    I have friends who literally moved three states away based on the fact they felt called to our church. The husband believed it was more important to seek a good church, and believed God would provide the rest when they got here. He indeed did. I so much admire them going with such strong convictions, ya know?

    ~*~ Wendy ~*~
    Happy Gratituesday!!I thought it was JesusWhat's a "Moses moment"?