The local church is an excellent place to discuss saving money: Which type of tractor is cheapest to repair or whether a Costco membership is worth it. Mennonites brag about finding a good deal.
During a worship service or church gathering, there will be announcements and requests promoting benefit concerts, fundraising dinners, bike-a-thons or relief sales. A good deal for a good cause: Count us in!
So we do talk about money at church, but we seldom talk about “giving” money to the church. We should. Why? Because the spiritual discipline of giving is a discipleship question and not a budget question.
Does the following story sound familiar? At the end of the fiscal year, the treasurer goes to the front to announce that the congregation is behind budget. The treasurer dreads this, and so do the people in the pews. Another appeal to guilt and obligation. More money comes in. If it’s not quite enough money, the budget shrinks for next year. Problem solved.
If you write a cheque or put your name on an envelope with cash in it, you get a tax receipt in January. Otherwise, there’s not much difference if you give or not. People might personally invite you to their charity golf tournament and thank you for coming, but rarely will anyone ask you directly to give to the church or thank you for donating.
You could easily get the impression that giving to the church is only for older people with chequebooks who know the unspoken rules. And, in fact, most giving to all churches and charities in Canada comes from a diminishing pool of older donors.
So there is a demographic reason to talk about money: Is your church two or three funerals away from disaster? I’d argue, though, that the survival of your local congregation is not the most important reason to talk about money.
Talking about money is a discipleship question. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The spiritual discipline of giving needs our attention so that our hearts are moving in the right direction.
When I meet with congregations that are terrified to talk about money, I reassure them: “Jesus talks about money; we can too.” Silence and secrecy around giving gives money more power than it deserves. If the church doesn’t talk about money, our culture will fill in the gap.
Relying on the unspoken expectation, ‘You give because you should give,’ does not work for baby boomers and younger generations. Churches assume that people learned to give at home, that you watched Dad counting out cash from his pay envelope into the church pile first. Some people did, but many people did not.
How do we learn about giving if we don’t talk about it? Listening to generous people share how they learned to give is a joy I recommend to everyone. Generosity can be contagious.
I often hear people cite the “left hand, right hand” story about giving, fasting and prayer in Matthew 6. Their conclusion is that we can’t talk about money at church. However, Jesus talked about praying in your closet, yet we still pray in church.
I understand the “left hand, right hand” story this way: When you give money to the poor—not if but when—don’t brag about it. This is not the same as giving money to the church. Jesus and his disciples sat and watched how much people put in the treasury at the temple; he commended the widow who gave two small coins. Jesus proclaimed that salvation came to Zacchaeus after Zacchaeus announced that he was giving half of everything he had to the poor and repaying those he had defrauded. Jesus talked about money often, so did Paul. The Book of Acts begins with stories of public giving. The Scriptures supply plenty of money stories to talk about!
Giving is a spiritual discipline like prayer, something believers do individually and communally, spontaneously and regularly. Giving as a communal practice builds up the church. A budget is not a compelling reason to give.
Tell the stories of what wonderful things God is doing in our midst. How does our giving build up the kingdom?
In the body of Christ, the local church is the heart and lungs for all sorts of ministry. When we only celebrate the hands and feet of the body—programs beyond the church—we suggest that giving to the church is less exciting and less important than supporting programs like camp or mission agencies. Tell the stories. Create generous disciples.
Lori Guenther Reesor lives in Mississauga, Ont., and worships at Hamilton Mennonite Church. She is a speaker, writer and consultant on Christian giving. She blogs at lgreesor.com and is currently writing a book about church and money. Read about how to talk about money in the second part of this series in the Sept. 30 issue of Canadian Mennonite.