It is that time of year again when many churches will engage in their stewardship campaigns. Numerous churches will use a prepackaged plan to increase giving one way or another. Some churches will have a sermon, or a series of sermons, on the importance of giving, then the cards will be passed out to be filled out dutifully and the year will roll on. In most, if not all, branches of the church, the goal will be the tithe, that is to say 10% giving. Net or gross you might ask, according to recognized experts in church health Rev. Clif Christopher and Rev. Herb Mather, the important thing is that you begin to tithe with the goal being to tithe on the gross. (Holy Smoke! Whatever Happened to Tithing?)
Let’s be honest here, none of us likely enjoys talking about church giving. At the same time all of us likely recognize that giving is an important spiritual discipline that Christians should engage in. I won’t pretend to know how to talk about the subject well, but I do know some ways to not talk about it. I want to begin with a few of them here.
1. Please don’t say things like “we trust that you care enough to”…the implication here is that if you do not do what ever comes after, you do not care. This is subtle manipulation at best, and outright guilt mongering at worst. It’s great marketing, and a brilliant way to get people to give, and I would not argue otherwise, but the reality is that you coerce people into giving, and we do not conform to the likeness of Christ through coercion, but through faithfulness. Hallmark built a greeting card empire using this very same approach. When you care enough to send the very best…the implication is, of course, that anything less means you do not care enough. We are the church, the Bride of Christ, we need to be better than Hallmark.
2. Please do teach that giving is an act of worship, but please stop saying that filling out the pledge card is. The pledge card is a financial tool for the church to plan a budget, but filling it out is not, and will never be, an act of worship. We are adults, so be honest. Explain that the pledge card is the necessity in the fallen world for the church to be able to adequately plan a budget. Acknowledge that it is inherently pressuring, and maybe even apologize for the pressure. I have heard the ideas that it is a tool that helps us stay on track by reminding us what we have decided to give, but I don’t buy it. The purpose is to allow the church to have an operating budget. That matters, and is important, but it is not an act of worship, giving is. Those who give absent a pledge card are very much engaging in worship. When you stress the card over the giving you miss the point and actually damage the act of giving as worship.
3. Stop sending the letters. They never sound good. No matter how carefully worded they are, no matter what system or program that you are using, they always sound bad.
4. Quit the cute catch phrases like “it is not about the churches need to receive, but about your need to give”. Really? I have a need to give? In order to be a Christian God requires my giving? I guess I missed that part. In 2 Corinthians we find the God loves a cheerful giver passage. What is referenced in that passage is those who would give to the poor (alms giving in essence) in the temple above and beyond the tithe required under the law. If you want to make a claim that tithing is a part of the moral law, I am all for it, but I would be lying if I said that I thought that you could somehow convince me that giving 10% is a part of the nature and character of God that predates creation since before creation there was nothing to give and no one to give it to. No, I do not believe that God requires me, or anyone else to give. I very much believes that He desires it, and I very much believe that there are principles played out all through the New Testament about giving, but no, I do not need to give, I choose to give as a response of love because I was first loved. IF we give because we need to, then I daresay that is not honoring God, but if we give because we want to, because God has loved us and we are showing that in a tangible way by supporting the church, as an act of worship, then we very much honor God, no matter the amount or if the card was filled out. It is also dishonest to be truthful. The church does need to receive. While I am all on board with making this about the spiritual practice of giving, I am not all for denying the reality that the church is an organization, and until Jesus returns to set things right, it requires money to function. The church as a people need to receive too. That is why there are discretionary funds to help those on hard times. That is why churches try to feed the hungry, etc. The church needs to receive just as much as the church needs to give. Saying otherwise does not recognize the institutional nature of the church or the communal nature of the church.
5. Stop showing me fancy graphics about what numbers in the church are giving what. First and foremost, it is not my business what others are giving. Second, if we are resorting to graphics that encourage us to “keep up with the Joneses”, then we are not trying to enhance the spiritual lives of the congregations, we are selling Amway. More than that, we are encouraging a type of envy in regards to giving, which we are calling an act of worship. When you see the person on the stairs that is higher than you, named or not, then it is only natural to want to be there. If you can not, then it is very much a part of human nature to want to be there and to be jealous and/or upset that you are not. Our giving program should not have the effect of encouraging envy no matter how high the percentage of giving increase is. I also don’t need a handy chart telling me what 1% more looks like. This is another subtle manipulation and it stinks. I have a calculator, and can even use it. Heck, most of us carry one with us every day on our phone.
6. If you call me to get my pledge, or even to attend the all important day where I need to make it or else I am not concerned enough, I will hang up on you. The church does not have my number for fund raising purposes, and no matter how you dress it up, that is all it is. Please stop calling about this.
7. The ever popular guest speaker is pretty silly too. If my local pastor can not talk to me about the importance of good stewardship, then the issues are bigger than my spiritual health regarding giving. The outside speaker is little more than an attempted ringer to bring in the money. It’s something that is effective in telethons, but is frankly beneath the church. I mean heck, get a You Tube channel and have a PBS style pledge drive if that is what you want to do.
These seven things that I have listed are all common themes in most programs that are marketed to churches for stewardship. One of the most popular resources for this that is out there is “New Consecration Sunday Stewardship Program”. It uses all the tactics above and just in case you did not get it, reinforces them with their estimate of giving card.
So if I do not tithe, I am not doing God’s minimum, but I can feel really good about myself by doing more than God’s minimum, but at the very least, I am supposed to give more than last year. The implication here is clear, if I take one step up, it is for Christ and his church, but if I do not, or can not, then it somehow is ok, but doesn’t get the moniker ‘for Christ and His church’. Let’s be honest, the widow’s mite likely did more for Christ and his church than any one step up we can take financially. Good marketing, but terrible theology.
So how do we teach good stewardship in the church? I don’t know. Maybe someone else does. Not like this though. How about we start with the Biblical principle that we give all that we can when we can. That at least isn’t manipulative, doesn’t soft peddle guilt to raise money, and allows everyone, no matter their financial situation, to know and feel secure that they are fulling the principles of stewardship played out in the New Testament. End rant. God bless you, your churches, and may He multiply the funds that are brought in for His purposes, even if we are not using His ways to bring them in.