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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Generous Living

Tough times ripe for extravagant giving

By John W. Kennedy
June 9, 2013

Some Christians believe they must cut back on contributing to their churches this year because of a variety of economic factors, including rising taxes, volatile gasoline prices and increased food costs.

Other churchgoers are reducing a commitment to giving for the opposite reason: with signs of an economic post-recession recovery in bloom, these people are now more focused on spending on themselves after years of pent-up austerity.

Yet faith-based financial experts say neither scenario is biblical in God’s view of money. External monetary matters shouldn’t guide the tithe.

“God gives us a choice in how much we give to Him, but the government and gas station don’t,” says Phil Drost, senior consultant with Assemblies of God Financial Solutions in Bel Air, Md. “God wants us to be rich toward Him.”

“God never said, ‘Test Me to see if I can be patient enough until you pay your bills and see what’s left over,’” says Mary Hunt, founder of DebtProofLiving.com. “That kind of thinking comes from a lack of true heart knowledge of whose money it is.”

Stinginess toward God is hardly a new phenomenon. Jim Sheppard, co-author of Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church, says since 1950 Americans have accumulated more wealth than ever before. However, in the same time span, church giving as a percentage of income has decreased steadily.

“We’re giving at about the same rate as we were in the Great Depression,” says Sheppard, who is based in Atlanta. “We don’t understand the responsibility of giving when God blesses us. Americans have learned to spend first, save second, and, if we have anything left over, give some of that back to church.”

Hunt, the author of 7 Money Rules for Life, says she doesn’t see much of a difference between how Christians and non-Christians spend their money. Some churchgoers erroneously believe if the government is so deeply in debt, it’s OK for them to take on a personal debt load to purchase merchandise they really can’t afford to buy.

“As individuals, we can do nothing about the national economy, but there is something we can do about our personal economy,” Hunt says. “What a tremendous time to demonstrate trust in God to our children by giving back the first part of our income.”

While congregations may be tempted to scrimp in tough times, Sheppard says a downturn likewise provides a collective opportunity to give abundantly.

In Contagious Generosity, his book with Chris Willard, Sheppard studied churches during the recession and found two basic reactions to the soured economy. Church officials who circled the wagons and slashed budgets unintentionally signaled to those in the pews to reduce giving, and by and large they are still struggling today. However, congregational leaders who decided to be bold in giving away reserves to help hurting people in the community — even though the church’s resources may have dwindled — inspired unprecedented generosity among members.

“The more money you can deploy outside the walls of your church, the more it makes a loud statement about what you’re trying to accomplish,” Sheppard says.

Hunt, based in Orange County, Calif., says Jesus’ parable of the talents clearly indicates that the Lord is looking for followers who can be trusted with resources, not frightened misers.

“The thinking that I don’t have enough money or I won’t have enough to pay all my bills comes from fear,” Hunt says. “That servant was berated, punished and told he couldn’t be trusted with what had been given to him.”

“If we want ministry to increase, this is not the time to sow less seed,” Drost says.

Rather, Drost suggests churches looking to reduce spending shouldn’t target ministry programs, but consider whether “big events” such as Easter egg hunts and Christmas cantatas really are worth the expense.

“Sometimes traditions that spend a lot of money and we think are a part of outreach really primarily attract Christians from other churches,” Drost says. “Churches may need to ask is this really a ministry, or is it just something we love doing?”

Another necessary belt-tightening move for larger churches, Sheppard advises, is to examine staffing expenses, and consider attrition when an employee leaves.

Of course, self-centeredness isn’t the only reason coffers are down at various churches. Revenue also has decreased because some members have lost their jobs. But again, experts say this creates more urgency for the church to provide for the needy, not cut back.

Not everyone who is unemployed or underemployed needs the church to kick in financial help, Drost says.

“But for those who lost a job out of nowhere, it’s a great opportunity for other people in the church to step up,” Drost says. “Rather than hunker down, this is a great time for the church to create avenues for people who are great givers to compassion and benevolence.”

“When times get tough, there are more people out there with more needs,” Sheppard says. “We have to do our part and help.”

Drost notes that God likens money to farming in several biblical references, rewarding those who plan sufficiently and give generously.

Sheppard, a former chief financial officer of a financial services organization, says it’s wise for a church to have an eight-week reserve set aside for emergencies. But he finds the notion of a church keeping a year’s worth of income in a savings account to be excessive. He believes funds should be spent on ministry rather than drawing interest.

Christians need to understand that God is first in fiscal priorities, according to Sheppard. Most churchgoers say they tithe, Sheppard says, but many don’t understand that means giving 10 percent of one’s income, not 1 or 2 percent.

“If we really love the Lord wholeheartedly, would an audit of our checkbook show that we’re living for Him?” Sheppard asks.

“God asks us to be His money managers, and then He promises to bless us commensurate with the level of trustworthiness we demonstrate,” Hunt says. “If we give from what is left over — which for most people isn’t anything — it shows a lack of understanding and trust. We need to give the most when we are the neediest.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

 

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