This is a common question that I have been getting over the last few weeks from committed people in our church related to their involvement in our Beyond Campaign. It takes a few different forms, but it’s essentially the same question. I thought it might be helpful to discuss it here.
At the outset, I think it’s important to note that this question often comes from people who are committed to Second Mile, who love our church, who give their time and energy to our ministry, and who invite their unbelieving friends to join us. I would guess that many of them also are regular givers, though I don’t know or track who gives. These are often owners, not just consumers. This is why this is such a point of tension and concern in these folks’ lives — they own the ministry now and they want to own the Beyond Campaign as well. But, for various financial reasons, they don’t feel like they can.
It’s also extremely difficult (impossible) to communicate publicly, whether written or in a Sunday sermon, in a way that addresses everyone’s specific situation. It’s a scenario primed for confusion. I hope that this post will minimize the confusion rather than intensify it…but we’ll see.
Here are a few thoughts on this question:
Some who think they don’t have enough money actually do. Some people ask this question because they have been devastated by the economy. They really don’t have money. Others ask it because they are committing resources to things that they could give up for the sake of the mission if they wanted to. This is why each person needs to evaluate his or her life individually and make their financial and giving decisions with intentionality (2 Cor 9:7).
Not all people who are in financial hardship are irresponsible stewards. While there are many people in our culture and church who are experiencing financial hardship because of greed and/or poor choices, there are plenty of others who have been good stewards, given generously, and tried to be responsible who have simply had difficult circumstances come into their lives. We must guard against assuming that financial difficulty equals poor stewardship.
There is a tension here that needs to be felt and wrestled with. We struggle with tension. We don’t like tough questions. We don’t like things that aren’t easily resolved. But the Scriptures are filled with tension, especially in this area of money. Consider the tension in the following truths:
Scripture says that we should provide for our families: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). This is serious.
Jesus commends a woman who gave all she had: “And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on'” (Mark 12:43-44).
Paul commends the Macedonians for giving beyond their means: “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:3-4).
Do you feel the tension?
Should we provide for our families or give generously? Both.
How does that work if, like the widow, the money I have to give is the same money I need to live on? I don’t know.
It’s a tension to be managed not resolved. That’s why I keep encouraging people to prayerfully seek godly counsel, follow the leading of the Spirit, and then do what God calls them to do.
One of the places this comes up is related to paying off debt vs. giving. I don’t think there’s a simple answer. Some say–motivated by faith–you should give and God will provide money to pay back debt. Some say–motivated by faithfulness–you should pay back debt first. Who is right? I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to issue a blanket statement that applies to everyone. But I love the questions, because they cause us to wrestle with this stuff and be intentional with our lives.
The gospel mandates that we give out of love and faith rather than guilt. Many in this situation are paralyzed by guilt. They feel like being in this place must mean that they are unfaithful or not committed. Others are overcome with the guilt of their past bad decisions. Here’s the good news: Jesus can deal with the guilt of past mistakes, and Jesus is not pleased with guilt-motivated giving. If you are feeling guilty over past mistakes, go to Jesus. If you are tempted to give motivated by guilt, either let Jesus change your motivation or don’t give. Throughout this series we’ve tried to be positive, talk about the vision, and celebrate God’s glorious grace rather than try to guilt people into giving. I feel confident that this is the right approach.
Most people can give something sacrificial. There should be very few people who give nothing. Most of us should be able to make some kind of sacrifice–no matter how small. My challenge to those who say they can’t give is that they should consider giving something. If $50 is sacrificial, give it–not because the $50 will make a huge difference in the campaign, but because it will make a difference in your treasure-following heart.
A lot can change in 16 months. We’ve been asking for a 16-month commitment to Beyond, with the hopes that we can have the project funded by the end of 2011. In the meantime, some will lose jobs and be unable to fulfill their commitment. Others will find work and be able to give more than they expected. Many will get unexpected money and will have the opportunity to give it (for example, I don’t know what speaking opportunities, weddings, funerals, etc. I will get — but those will be opportunities to give more to Beyond). If a person can’t give now, he or she should pray that God provides in a way that would allow them to give more later. This would be a way of trusting God to provide.
Don’t let not being able to give keep you away from the church or from these moments together. Some might be tempted to skip church the next few weeks (September 19 is Commitment Sunday) or months out of shame or embarrassment that they can’t participate. If that’s you, DON’T! We are a family. We flourish together. We struggle together. And we share these moments together.
What would you add? Other thoughts on how we should approach this?