There are lots of good reasons to give to your church. (My last post gave seven). Here are seven not-so-good reasons.
- To “give your fair share.” It’s a mistake to think people should give equally. We’re called to give in proportion to our resources, as a response to what we have received. If you’re not sure how much to give, figure out what a tithe (10% would be). If you’re not ready to tithe, start with a smaller percentage and work up.
- To make up the difference. I know of one church with a giver who asks at the end of the year, “How much do we need to finish in the black?” and writes a check. There is nothing wrong with an end-of-year appeal to the congregation. But when one giver makes up the difference, especially every year, that’s overfunctioning. Shared responsibility is better for everyone.
- To get the leadership to do what you want. Givers rightly expect leaders to be responsible stewards. And there’s a time for a principled statement of what you will and won’t do with your giving. Yet I have known givers to say (straight out or by implication), if you don’t do what I want, I will withdraw my giving. This is not helpful, for the giver or for the church. Leaders who give in to blackmail are not good leaders, and those who blackmail are not good followers or mature Christians.
- Because you ought to. “The Lord loves a cheerful giver” is one of the first Bible verses I learned as a child. Grim giving out of duty does not contribute to vital stewardship.
- To get into heaven. Christian faith is all about grace. Giving comes as a response to God’s grace and generosity, not as a condition of it.
- Because you like the pastor. Christian stewardship is not about personality. Of course, effective pastors provide leadership and articulate a vision for ministry. That vision helps motivate givers, as does the pastor’s relationship with the people. But mature givers know that simply liking the pastor is not their primary motive for giving.
- In response to an emotional appeal. Giving at its best is a thoughtful and principled decision. Leaders develop a vision and make the case for it, and members prayerfully consider their response. Special appeals have their place, but are best presented thoughtfully. Our emotions naturally play a part in our giving decisions. But rather than giving to the latest disaster that tugs your heart strings, prayerfully consider how to apportion your giving, and when you should give above and beyond.
Why do you give?
Do you know why you give to your church? Here are seven good reasons.
- Jesus let go of everything. (See Philippians 2.)
- Giving is a way to let go of your money. Letting go is the great spiritual task, and money may be the hardest thing to let go of.
- You are rich, considered globally and historically. Check out http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/why-give/how-rich-am-i if you want to get an idea where you stand globally.
- Money, given well, creates capacity. (Thanks to Charlie Collier for this one.) It’s needed for ministry.
- You believe in your church’s vision. You give because you want to see the vision become reality.
- Giving is a response to all God has given you and to all of us in the wonder of creation.
- It’s a spiritual discipline to give regularly. Giving is the best kind of habit.
Thanks to Marty Thurber for asking if I had this list and prompting me to write it.
Why do you give?
(Image: Flickr user stev.ie)
I recently wrote about things your church needs you to say about money. Here’s another list of things they don’t need to hear you say. I’ve said most of them over the years, or some version of them. But I think I was mistaken.
- You ought to give (or give more). People are not motivated by a sense of obligation, but by a conversion of the heart and a commitment to a clear vision. In your preaching and teaching, stand alongside people in their quest for greater freedom, and stand in front of them telling them where you’d like to go.
- Please give so we can meet our budget. You will receive far less for a budget than you will for a vision.
- Our culture is too materialistic. While your people may need to grow in their relationship to their stuff and their shopping habits, bashing materialism will not help them grow. Instead, try celebrating the alternative vision the Christian faith offers.
- If every one gave (fill in the blank), we would have plenty. No church has givers who all give the same. People do not have equal resources, or equal motivation. The “equal share” approach to stewardship is a fallacy.
- Money is the root of all evil. You know this is not biblical – the quote is “the love of money…” Sometimes we act like money itself is evil, when in fact, given and used properly it can be a great blessing. I’d love for churches to celebrate that blessing more.
- Don’t worry if you can’t give more. At least, don’t say this one too much. If people can’t give more, they won’t. You may need to give permission to those whose circumstances have changed through job loss, divorce or other life change. But don’t make excuses for people.
- Nothing. They need you to say something. It may be that any of the above is better than saying nothing at all. Your people need to hear from you about money.
All of these approaches to the conversation about money make people feel bad or try to constrain them. What we want for our people is greater spiritual freedom in relation to their resources, and for them to experience the joy of giving.
For tips on what you should say, read this.
“Don’t pull the saplings to make them grow.” A few weeks ago, Rev. Judith Sutterlin spoke at my church, First Baptist Church of Portland and mentioned this Chinese proverb. She learned it in her ministry teaching in a seminary in China.
It reminded me of similar words by Dr. Murray Bowen: “You can’t make a plant grow by pulling on it.”
The proverb doesn’t talk about plants, but about people. In our heartfelt desire for people to find their way in life, we so often end up trying to make them grow. It just doesn’t work. People resist our attempts to will them to change.
In fact, our efforts to make people change often produce the opposite effect. It’s counterproductive to be willful. You may want to see growth at church (numerical, financial and/or spiritual). Or you may have a church member or friend who is struggling in a relationship. You have a great idea how to fix it, or you are sure they should end it.
I’ve experienced this. The harder I try to convince someone to do what I think is best, the more reasons they have why they can’t do it. After years of this, I’ve finally learned to say less and listen more.
What if your church doesn’t want to change? I suggest:
First, begin by accepting them as they are. You still want more for them, of course. Leaders by definition are in a position to see the bigger picture.
Second, over time, tell them what you see, the new possibilities — but without that willful energy. You simply say, “That’s just how I see it.” This gives people room to say yes — or no
Third, you work with those who are motivated to carry out ministry. Don’t try to convince those who are naysayers, just stay connected with them.
You can do the same thing with individuals. Accept them, share a few ideas, work with those who are motivated. You might toss off a thought. “Here’s an idea. I don’t know if it’s right for you.” Or give them three ideas. The fact is, you don’t actually know what is best for someone else. They have to figure it out for themselves.Stay in touch but don’t chase after them.
If someone doesn’t want to grow, rethink how much time you spend with them. It feels hard-hearted and mean. But you can spend endless hours with someone who has no motivation to change. Those hours could be spent with people who are motivated to learn and grow and develop ministries of their own.
Like plants, people were born to grow, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Let the light and the water of God’s love and grace do its work. You don’t have to keep pulling to make growth happen.
“Our pastor doesn’t like to talk about money, and we don’t like him to talk about money.” One lay leader said this to me after a recent presentation on churches and money. I’d spent the day saying it was critical for church leaders to talk about money – at least I prompted his thinking.
Whether or not you like to talk about it, and whether or not they want you to, your church needs you to talk about money, probably more often than you do now. Here are seven things they need to hear you say:
- I intend to be involved in church financial matters. Some lay leaders say, in essence, “You stick to preaching, pastor, and we’ll handle the finances.” Even if they don’t want you there, you need to be part of money matters, and to make clear that this is part of your spiritual responsibility.
- We share the responsibility for this church’s financial life. Being involved in church finances does not mean you carry the burden alone.
- Your money life is part of your spiritual life. Don’t talk about money only when you are asking people to give. People desperately need a spiritual perspective on the money they handle every day of their lives.
- God loves you no matter your financial circumstances. People experience fear, shame and guilt about the financial choices they have made. Help them extend their understanding of God’s grace to their finances.
- Please give to our ministry (and tell them why). Don’t hesitate to clearly ask people to give. Tell them the value of the church’s ministry and why they should support it.
- The laborer is worthy of his (or her) hire. Don’t apologize for your salary place in the budget, or about expecting (at least) cost of living increases.
- Here’s why I give. Give your own testimony when you are asking them to give.
It’s not easy to say some of these things, especially if money matters make you anxious. Try one you haven’t said before, as an experiment.
What would you add to this list?
I’m delighted to say that my book Money and Your Ministry out this week!
Remember: money does not have to be the hardest thing you do at church
There is an alternative to non-stop fundraising, convincing people to give more – or simply cutting the budget. It’s what you bring to church finances that you already have and not about learning the latest fund-raising technique.
Learn how you can:
- become more thoughtful about the financial challenges you and you church face
- see money – and your own leadership strategies — from a different perspective
- bring more calm and creativity to recurring and unexpected problems in funding ministry
- concentrate on long-term ministry goals and strategic persistence to get financial support for those goals.
- focus on yourself and what you can impact directly rather than trying harder to convince others to give more or make different financial decisions
- enjoy the stewardship process rather than dreading it each year
- reduce your overall stress about church finance
Praise for Money and Your Ministry:
“In this extraordinary and unique book, Marcuson has brought clear and straightforward thinking to one of the greatest challenges congregations are facing at this moment. Calling on years of insight and thoughtfulness, and using examples from across the church, the secrecy, power and mystique of money is drawn away and the true potential of money to be a means of self discovery and greater maturity is revealed. This book does not leave you where it found you.”
The Rev. Andrew Archie, rector. Church of St Michael and St. George, Clayton, Missouri
“There are many excellent books out there about church financial stewardship and I’ve read most of them. Money and Your Ministry is one of the finest. You don’t need to purchase a better “stewardship campaign program.” You don’t need to be anxious about funding your church’s ministry. You do need this book.”
The Rev. Margaret Lewis, MBA, Director, Center for Career Development and Ministry, Dedham, MA
Where are you looking? Up or down? A speaker I heard years ago recommended looking at the sky more. He said it helps give you perspective. Even when you are looking at a garbage dump, he suggested, if you frame it with your fingers, you will still be looking at 80% sky, 20% garbage dump. That image stuck with me. 20 years later, if I’m feeling stressed, sometimes I’ll remember to simply look up at the sky. I always feel better. Sometimes I even actually hold up my hands and frame what I’m looking at by squaring my thumbs and my fingers. He was right. There’s always more sky.
And of course, there’s a spiritual corollary for church leaders. “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV) Looking up is a way of remembering what is ultimate — not the challenges that are in front of us, but God’s love, care and wider purposes for us. Just like the sky, God is always bigger.
I find that literally looking up helps me remember to look up spiritually. Whether I’m facing upsets at a church I’m working with (or my own), worries about my family, or a writing project that has stalled, a wider perspective always helps.
Here are six ways to use the sky to help you keep your perspective.
1. Literally look up at the sky. Right now.
2. If you’re inside, walk to the window and look out.
3. In a tense meeting, imagine the sky for a moment.
4. Put the sky on your desktop, or smartphone lock screen.
5. Use a glimpse of the sky as a way to remind yourself to pray.
6. Look up and recite the verses from Psalm 121 cited above.
What are ways you remind yourself to look up, to look beyond yourself and your church (or personal) problems?
Are you afraid about the end-of-year church giving or next year’s budget? About whether you will get a raise? Whether staff will be cut? Whether the late-arriving pledges will come in – or not?
Fear about money is pervasive in our society, and churches are susceptible to the infection. For churches on a calendar year budget, this time of year can be anxiety-ridden. Our fear can overshadow the hopeful words of Christmas we say aloud.
I’ve been reading some chapters from a forthcoming book on the brain by neuropsychologists Dr. Angelo Bolea and Dr. Dennis Romig, along with Laurie Romig. I heard Dr. Bolea speak years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. One of the chapters is called “Heal Your Brain and Body: Think and Speak the Positive.”
They suggest that for maximum healing (or dealing with any challenge), we should aim for at least three positive thoughts for every one negative thought – in time of illness or real challenge, aim for four. You’re trying to influence the inside part of your brain, the part that can react with fear and override the thoughtful part of your brain. When you are afraid, your horizons narrow and you can’t see options.
The purpose is not simply to “practice positive thinking,” but to engage the energy of your own God-given brain to face challenges and find creative solutions. It helps you get beyond fear, blame and anger and focus on what you have control over: your own functioning. I’ve been practicing this, and it’s not easy, but it helps.
Here are three examples of how you might reframe your thoughts about money at church.
Initial negative thought: “What if people don’t come through at the end of the year?”
1. I’m grateful for everyone who has given this year.
2. Dealing with this situation is not solely up to me. There are other leaders who share the burden.
3. I’m looking forward to the Christmas services. People always give generously at the end of the year.
Initial thought: “I can’t face another year without an increase.”
1. I’m grateful I have a job.
2. I could ask for what I want.
3. I could draft a resume so I can explore other options when I want to.
Initial thought: “What are we going to do? Our biggest givers are old, and the younger people just aren’t as faithful?”
- Many creative people in the wider church are thinking about this matter and devising approaches.
- I am glad we have younger people in our church, and I want us to begin teaching them more about giving.
- I want to thank those older givers while they are still with us.
You may think, this is a little gimmicky. But it helps us get factual. Every situation has at least as many positive factors as negative, even if the main positive is that we learn to rise to a challenge.
In addition, it is a spiritual exercise, to see the gifts God has for us. I believe God loves us and does not want us to live in fear. As the angel said to Mary, “Fear not: I bring you tidings of good news to all people.” This practice is a way of looking for the good news in all circumstances.
How can you see good news of great joy in your end-of-year financial situation?