This is the time of year when we all receive lots of requests for donations to many valuable causes, including requests from our local churches to give, pledge, and support their ministries. Sometimes we feel inundated by so many requests, and it requires some prioritizing. Marsha and I prioritize our giving this way (you don’t have to follow our model, but I hope you have your own priority list):
- We tithe to the local church where Marsha has her membership (bishops, like all clergy, are not members of local churches, but I consider her church my “home base”).
- We give to every church we attend for worship or where I am preaching (sometimes it is amusing that when I preach at a church and no one passes the offering plate by me, so I have to search for an opportunity to give them my offering).
- We make annual gifts to a variety of United Methodist universities, seminaries, and mission projects.
- We give to special appeals which we believe are doing good ministry and which deserve our support.
Some years our total giving is nearly a double-tithe, and this year it will be more because we are making the first of our gifts to the “Building Discipleship Centers” Campaign of the Indiana Conference. We are in a season of our lives where we can give beyond our tithe, and we enjoy those opportunities to give. In our early years, we sometimes struggled financially but we always gave our tithe first – and then things seemed to work out.
But as I reflect on our list, NOWHERE IS IT CONSIDERATION OR A MOTIVATION FOR ME TO COMPARE MY GIVING TO ANYONE ELSE. I am not motivated to give because of any sense of comparison, nor does anyone else’s lack of giving deter me from being generous.
That is why I am so baffled by the attitude of some of our churches who want to know if every other church is “doing their share.” That is important information to evaluate the effectiveness, spiritual maturity, and faithfulness of other churches (and their pastors) – but I have never allowed anyone else’s lack of faithfulness to prevent me from being faithful. I give to express my gratitude to God (that is my tithe), and I give to support ministries which are making a difference in people’s lives (that is our additional offerings). I don’t give out of obligation, or simply to help meet somebody’s budget, and I certainly don’t give or withhold my giving because of any comparison with anyone else.
I must be missing something here, or maybe my own motivation for giving is different, because I just don’t understand why anyone would use comparisons as a guide to their own faithfulness.
The recent letter and announcement from our CFA (Council on Finance and Administration) about the financial needs of our Conference has generated a lot of response in terms of “comparison giving” and a lot of myths about “who is not doing their share.” Some people have written to me with the assumption that we have a lot of churches paying $0 of their tithe, and they have assumed that large churches are most guilty of that, but the facts do not bear that out. Most of our churches (over 1,000 of them) are trying to pay their Conference Tithe, but only 94 churches have paid $0 to date this year. Among these 94 churches, 60 are small churches ($276,152 in unpaid tithe), 31 are middle-sized churches ($438,379 in unpaid tithe), and 3 are large churches ($108,771 in unpaid tithe). I am not going to list those churches, but they are probably NOT the ones you think they are. Paying $0 is certainly unacceptable, but we need to check our facts before we judge one another.
We get ourselves into spiritual trouble when we start comparing our faithfulness to others. The truth is that all of our churches struggle at times with stewardship, we have not done an adequate job of teaching our people to tithe, and we United Methodist people have the means and the opportunity to do better with our giving. But comparing ourselves to one another (especially with the intent of finding a reason to withhold our own giving) is a NEGATIVE SPIRITUAL CONCEPT.
My motivation for giving has nothing to do with whether or not you are being faithful with your giving. I am motivated by my faith in a God whose generosity is amazing and bountiful, and a God whose generosity we celebrate this time of year when we focus upon THE GIFT – the gift of God’s own Beloved to be our Savior and Lord, namely Jesus Christ. I give because God has already given to me, and I want to share in that same Spirit.
I invite you to examine your own motivation for giving and to set your own priorities based upon positive spiritual principles, not upon some kind of negative comparisons with others.