Many regard giving by church members as a means to an end: the support of churches, ministers, and missions a duty; an assessment; a tax; or, as one member referred to it, "a necessary evil. '' He wished he could find a church that had inspiring sermons, fervent prayers, and beautiful music, but none of this money business.
"I have great news for you," I told him. "Last week I attended just such a service."
"Oh," he exclaimed, "where was it?"
"It was a funeral!"
It seemed strange that this successful merchant, who must have recognized that planning, performance, and financial support are inseparable, would think that the church could provide "inspiring sermons, fervent prayers, and beautiful music" without any financial backing. One might consider this an isolated incident if it weren't so often implied, if not expressed. Frequently one hears references to the "pains" of giving. Why? Here are some reasons.
Lack of commitment
Those who feel some discomfort in their giving are not really committed to the aim and objectives of their church; if they were, they would heartily support it, regardless of the cost. Or perhaps like the man who wanted to attend a moneyless church, they have made their religion convenient by lip service. Ezekiel had some of these folks in his day. "With their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness" (Eze. 33:31).
This is a common complaint. Church administration sometimes soars away from its democratic roots, considers itself a separate entity, and sees its constituents as only a support system. This is often the side effect of growth, and it's common to business, government, and the church. It happens when the governing body isolates itself to the extent that its plans are the desires of a minority without the enthusiasm and support of the majority. In his book Money and the Church (New York: Association Press) Luther Powell puts it aptly: "Hence the institution, rather than a means to a higher end, becomes an end in itself."—page 65.
Even an ambitious pastor, dissatisfied with the snaillike progress of his people, can be a negative contributor. If he assumes the role of dictator rather than shepherd (directing rather than guiding) , he may find himself far out in front without any visible means of support.
One pastor earned the sobriquet of "the church builder." "I built twentythree churches during my ministry," he was often heard to say in his retirement. What probably occurred was that he supervised the construction of twentythree buildings—not necessarily houses of God. Building a church requires a site, plans, and financing, but the requisites to build a house of God are devotion to God and a spirit of sacrifice.
It would be a miracle indeed if anyone (regardless of his leadership ability) could descend on a congregation and instill in the limited time available these basic principles so essential to a successful endeavor. Often the results of these pressure programs linger on in a spirit of disunity and a dearth of spiritual maturity. Unless the building is the direct result of the proper spiritual preparation, it may be just an empty building, a package without the contents, a monument to the ego of its builder.
The wrong voice
Apart from the more visible influences on giving and the problems associated with church support is the possibility that the giver listens to the wrong voice. In our promotion-prone society it is easier to hear the strident voices of men than to listen to the voice of God (the small, quiet sound). A professional man related the following incident.
"When a visitor called at my home to explain the church's program and the funds needed to finance it, I asked him, 'What have you got me down for?'
" 'Nothing,' he said. This surprised me.
"Nothing?' I repeated. This didn't make any sense at all, because I always gave what they had me down for.
"'How am I supposed to know how much I should give?'
"'Oh, you'll have to ask God about that' was the reply. That's a sacred area between you and Him; I would never trespass there.'
"And you know, I did ask," he concluded. "I'm giving twice as much as I ever did. Now I am looking forward to next year. I think I can triple it." It does make a difference whose voice is heard.
Things—the focal point
The substance of giving is some focal point, a motivator. The more common appeals are various support requirements, goals, and (to a lesser degree) faithful stewardship as it relates to duty. One problem shared by these is their tendency to establish the wrong focal point; sometimes they even appeal to selfish motives. The explicit information given in Deuteronomy 26 was to instill in the minds of the Israelite givers the true focal point for all their giving.
The one making the gift was to take it to "the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name" (verse 2). The gift was placed in a basket and given to a priest. The donor was then required to rehearse publicly the marvelous story of the deliverance of his nation from bondage, its establishment in the Promised Land, and the good things God had given him personally (verses 5-11). Even when presenting the tithe, the presenter was to testify that he had not neglected or violated any of God's requirements before he asked for God's blessing (verses 11-15).
It is noteworthy that these gifts were not given to the priests (although used for their support), nor were they designated as temple expense (although used for its maintenance). They were given to God. Too many times projects, objectives, and goals replace God as the focal point of the gift. And while these may all be commendable and worthy of support, they must be only the recipients of offerings given to God, never the focal point of the gift.
Scripture does not record the people as saying, "Let us go up to the tabernacle to hear Samuel preach" or "to hear David play the harp" or "to hear Solomon pray"; the usual reference is "Let us go up to sacrifice unto the Lord" (see Ex. 3:18; 5:3, 8; 8:27; 10:25).
Possibly the reason some people today entertain wrong attitudes toward giving is that they do not understand this vital relationship between sacrifice and worship.
The Bible uses various terms to denote giving. The King James Version uses the word collection to indicate gifts for the repair and maintenance of the tabernacle (2 Chron. 24:6); The New English Bible refers to it as a tax. The same term is used in The New Testament for money raised for the saints (1 Cor. 16:1). In Romans 15:26 this fund is called a contribution (K.J.V.) or a common fund (N.E.B.). However, in the numerous references relating to the giving of money or property to God, the words used are offerings or gifts.
One may conclude that whether these acts of giving are called collections, contributions, common funds, or any other term, they were, if given from the right motives, gifts to God. This would certainly harmonize with the repair and maintenance (or construction) of God's house. Paul supports this reasoning in his reference to gifts for the poor. "Through our action such generosity will issue in thanksgiving to God, for as a piece of willing service this is not only a contribution towards the needs of God's people; more than that, it overflows in a flood of thanksgiving to God" (2 Cor. 9:12, N.E.B.).
It follows then that any act of giving, whether it be for the physical or spiritual needs of another human being or for any project that will further the work of God on earth, is giving to God (if rightly motivated). Therefore, giving is an act of devotion or worship.
Quality can make a difference
One must be careful here. If money is the primary object of the church, it would be relatively unimportant how it is obtained. However, if giving is regarded as an essential part of worship, the quality of the gift and the motive that prompts it must take precedence over the amount raised or the object accomplished. The quality of the gift makes the difference.
It must (1) represent a heart experience (2 Cor. 8:5); (2) be freewill (Ex. 25:2); (3) be the first appropriation (Matt. 6:33); (4) be perfect (Lev. 22:21); (5) represent some sacrifice (Mark 12:43, 44); (6) be proportionate (1 Cor. 16:2); (7) not be a substitute for obedience (1 Sam. 15:22).
One may sing praises, pray, or study diligently, but only in the act of sacrificial giving does one truly express love and devotion. An offering is not merely something external, but the outward expression of the heart. And while praise, prayer, and study are all necessary and laudable, only in sacrificial giving do these find body and substance. Giving permits a person to transmit his inner feelings into an outward expression. God translated His everlasting love for us into a tangible form by the gift of His Son, and in His constant provision for our physical and aesthetic requirements. It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving. This is a divine principle.
One minister disagreed with this principle of giving to God rather than to specific projects. He said that it was pie-in-the-sky idealism and that it wouldn't work because people need some tangible, "seeable" objective to motivate them.
I wish he could observe a pastor friend of mine whom I regard as one of the most successful fund-raisers I have ever seen (he wouldn't appreciate this title at all). His churches can complete building projects, pay off debts, pave parking lots, put in sprinkler systems, refurbish, repaint, and decorate. They have money for public address systems and landscaping. Besides, there always seems to be financial support for an aggressive soulwinning program (possibly they do this first).
He wouldn't allow any of the popular money-making schemes the time it would take to explain them, and still he never mentions financial needs from the pulpit. Plans, yes; money, no. When I asked him for his magic formula, he laughed.
"I don't have a formula as such," he explained. "I just hold up before my people the unfathomable love of God in sending His Son, Jesus, to save us. I make this the focal point of every sermon, every project, every program. In our business meetings we lay aggressive plans for God, then present these as another opportunity to express more love and gratitude. I have learned through the years that I don't need any other focal point—any other motivator."
This reminds me of the advice Horace Greeley gave the lady who wrote him in alarm because her church was going bankrupt. She explained that they had tried fairs, festivals, suppers, mock wed dings, and socials, none of which produced enough money. Did he have any suggestions? He wrote back, "Why not try religion?"
Religion? What kind?
A church has been variously described as an architectural design, an institution, or an organization. In reality, a church is people, a body of believers who have banded together to accomplish common aims and objectives. Christ's church, then, is a body of believers who have dedicated themselves to the spreading of the good news to all the world—the "Go" people. Every plan, every program, every endeavor and outreach will be only some aspect of this "Go" commission. This is religion. It must not be an exercise in programs or rituals, but a people imbued with Pentecostal fever, a people who can say with Paul, "For the love of Christ constrain eth [controls] us" (2 Cor. 5:14). This must be the only focal point, the only motivator.
The thought that only by giving can the feelings of the heart be fully expressed and satisfied is evident in the familiar example of the poor widow who cast her very living into the Temple treasure chest (Mark 12:41-44). Then we have the paragon of a woman who brought "an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head" (Mark 14:3). Add to these the heroic example of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, who dedicated her little boy to the Lord before he was born (1 Samuel 1, 2). In none of these is any other motive for giving indicated than an ardent love for God and the consuming desire to express it regardless of the cost.
Relaxing during a break in a busy seminar agenda, some pastors were discussing the sacrificial element in giving and its relationship to worship. One man listened attentively to all the pros and cons, then related this experience.
A little girl shopping with her mother one day saw the most beautiful doll in a store window. My, how she wanted that doll, but her mother said, "I know, honey, how much you would like to have it, but right now we can't afford it."
Martha knew her daddy had been sick and out of work for several months. Trying not to sound too disappointed, she said softly, "I know, Mama ... I know—but isn't she beautiful?" Every time they passed the store her eyes would stray to that lovely dolly.
Some months passed. She had almost forgotten her dream wish when, to her unbelievable surprise, the little doll came to live with her. She was so excited she could hardly eat her birthday cake. "Suzanne" went with her everywhere— to the market, to school, even to church. This was her "favoritest treasure" as she expressed it.
One Sabbath, while sitting with her parents in church, she listened as the pastor told about the love of Jesus—how He left His beautiful home and came down here to help mamas and daddies, little girls and boys. As Martha thought about this, she wished she could give Him something to show how much she loved Him, but her little purse had only one penny. How much love could one show for a penny?
All week long she thought about it. The flowers, the clouds, the birds, her nice home—all reminded her of His love. Then it was church time again.
Her father and mother couldn't believe their eyes when they saw Martha put Suzanne on the offering plate. People just stared as the plate passed along the pews with the doll on top.
Every day she missed her dolly. The hurt was bigger when she climbed into bed at night; sometimes there was a tear, but then she would think of Jesus and everything would be all right again.
About suppertime one evening the pastor dropped by ("Just a social call," he said) with Suzanne tucked under his arm. "Here, Martha," he said, "I brought your dolly back to you." Martha seemed transfixed at the sight of that doll. She didn't move.
"Go ahead, take her," smiled the pastor. "I'm giving her back to you."
Only the look in her eyes betrayed how much she wanted to take Suzanne and hold her tight. Then, brushing away a tear, she said, "I can't... I can't take her."
"But why?" asked the pastor. "B-b-b-because ... I didn't give her to you."