One of the things I love about our Amazon subscription is that they have a very lenient and gracious return/refund policy. Several times we've even been told to keep the defective item and they'd send us a replacement at no cost. It's really good to have when we're trying to buy clothes for the boys and have to guess at sizes.
Earlier today an article ran on Facts & Trends that talked about an emerging practice in churches of offering a "90 Day Guarantee" on faithful giving. The premise is essentially if you aren't being blessed and seeing increases in your own personal life that you can get your tithe back, no questions asked. It's called "No Risk Tithing" and it sounds nice at first, but it's not just (I believe) an unwise practice but a practice that distorts the very purpose of sacrificial, generous giving.
Make no mistake, as pastors we have a responsibility to encourage and teach our churches to be generous. That generosity is more than with money, but it certainly isn't less. Paul even tells the Corinthian church that God loves a "cheerful giver" which is probably better translated as a "hilarious" giver or an "overjoyed" giver. It's not a giver who gives out of duty, but it's one who laughs with joy knowing they are being generous.
With that, I want to encourage pastors to pursue a few steps in teaching about giving:
1. Know Your Church's Giving - I do not believe you as a pastor should know who gives what, but you should know what giving units are giving and how much they are giving. Knowing what someone gives can have a negative impact, especially if it's leadership. But we do need to know giving amounts, giving trends, giving units, and data like median giving, average giving, etc. One pastor friend of mine encourages others to look not just at amounts but the age of givers.
2. Don't Turn God into an ATM - What happens far too often when we come to passages like Malachi 3:10 and we're trying to think of how to connect giving to blessing is that we make God into an ATM who gives back money. Many of us can testify of times God provided for us in ways that defy expectations, even if it's through unusual means (we got rear-ended by a drunk driver and were able to pay our out-of-pocket birth costs for one of our kids). But it doesn't mean that God works like compound interest. Sometimes you can be sacrificial and generous and still default on your car loan. Or you can be denied that raise or promotion.
3. Teach Giving as Investment - I love how Jesus talks about treasures in the Sermon on the Mount. We can either store up earthly treasures or heavenly treasures. Earthly treasures get rusted, they fall apart, they wear down, they go obsolete, they have diminishing returns. But heavenly treasures are forever, they last, they never go away. When we give, we're making eternal investments. We're keeping the lights on so our local church can be a missions outpost. We're forwarding some on to global missions. We're supporting local ministries like pregnancy centers and food pantries. We're giving so the Gospel can go into dense urban settings. It's investing. And the return isn't a dividend, it's in people being added to the Kingdom.
4. Attitude > Amount - One of the indictments of the prophets in the Old Testament was that the offerings were weak and without faith. They were given out of duty and obligation rather than joy and delight. In the New Testament, there's not a mention of the amount we're to give, but there is a lot on the attitude we should have. God calls us to be cheerful, to be joyous, to be generous, to give sacrificially. Our amount should be sacrificial, but not at the expense of our attitude turning sour.
5. Set the Pace - I don't think you as a pastor should disclose your giving amounts, that's not anything we'd force a church member to do, and I don't think yours should be open record. But you should know that you are giving sacrificially and faithfully. You should be able to, with a clean conscience, say you're doing your part to lead by giving. You should expect leadership in the church to do the same as well. Because if you're not willing to lead the way, don't be surprised when no one is following.
What do you do as a pastor to teach and encourage faithful giving?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.