Are you a Christian whose blood pressure rises during the fall because your congregation talks about money for a week or two this season? Are you a pastor who is expected to deliver a message about giving so that the church can create a budget (which seems to be a conflict of interest because it affects your bottom line)? Are you a leader in a congregation who feels pressure to get members of a congregation to "step up" in their giving because you stress out about having to make difficult decisions about program cuts, staff cuts or whether you can keep the church building open?
I do not have the answers to the questions that riddle congregations and their pastors in relation to their resources. My goal is to understand the variables involved in giving and that in my preaching I can connect the generosity of God to a Christian's own response in giving. My goal is to diffuse the fear from giving so that giving can be joyful--which parallels my understanding that God gives out of joy.
Last year, I reflected on the theories why people don't give. I am planning to study a book that examines church giving trends. With the help of my colleague, Pastor Orv Jacobson, I've changed my approach yet again this year. Interim ministry has freed me to change my approaches because giving does little to affect my bottom line in ministry. I will be in a different congregation in 2011.
What startled me in my reflection and practices was my negative approach to giving in the life of a Christian and in a community. I do not mean that I've issued threats related to giving or delivered a negative tone in any of my stewardship preaching. However, if I approach people trying to convince people to give, or I join congregation leaders in merely examining why people aren't giving, I'm not giving people an opportunity for growth. What I've essentially done is offered critique without offering a positive alternative.
Think about what many congregations ask their members to do. There's a hope that people in the congregation will tithe--give 10 percent of their income to God's work through the congregation. My experience has shown that not many people in congregations tithe, yet there is a great respect for people who do tithe. Supposedly that is what people in the congregation work toward. I'm not sure if leaders and pastors expect this kind of giving growth through osmosis, because I usually see little, if any support for giving growth in congregational life. Congregations ask their members to tithe, or to commit to a one percent increase in giving in the coming year. The one percent growth can be a difficult challenge, especially if that household is made up of newly intentional givers.
In the discussion with Pastor Orv, here's what we planned.
1. Ask people to try tithing (see Malachi 3) or growing a percentage for a short period of time. Like three months. There will be no "prosperity gospel" promises, like your business will improve or your possessions will increase or your crops will be better. I will rejoice with them if it does happen, but I won't make those kind of promises.
2. Ask people who try giving growth to write down some regular reflections so they can have a prayerful, thoughtful and learning approach to giving.
3. Check in with the people who are trying giving growth--share a little mentoring.
4. Don't give judgment to people who say they decide not to tithe anymore after three months. At least they tried.
5. Keep the identity of the givers (my congregation already does this) and written reflections anonymous and share those reflections with others in hopes that they may learn.
We have three takers (so far) to try tithing for three months since I issued the invitation eight days ago. The blessing for me is the conversation with these people about their faith, their household, and their vocation--conversations I would not have had otherwise. It makes me think the church has created a culture of orphans (in terms of giving) because giving has been clouded by fear.
This idea has already been a win because of the great connections with people about their faith. If you try something similar to this in your congregation, I would love to learn what you learn. If you want to try tithing for three months and want to share your reflections, please let me know. I always find it a blessing to learn about the generosity of God and how that generosity is lived through God's people.