Last week’s article dealt with what we should do with the money we don’t spend on ourselves and argued that the Bible instructs us to give to three broad areas: ministry, mission and poor-care (with a fourth principle that justice is better than charity). However, that does not end all the questions! Each of these areas provoke complexities that require working through. This month we will tackle some of those that relate to ministry.
Do I have to give to the church that I attend?
I know some Christians who refuse to give regularly to their local church. The reasons vary, but it is not very unusual for some to think that the money will be ‘used better’ elsewhere. Essentially, some people recognise the Biblical mandate to give to the poor or mission and place these higher up the priority list than giving to the church they attend. Although I understand this impulse, it seems clear to me that we cannot evade the responsibility to give to our own church family. The texts seem clear that you should support those who teach and provide spiritual input through the local church (Galatians 6.6; 1 Timothy 5.17-18; 1 Corinthians 9.11). But aside from specific texts, this is also just what it means to be part of a church family together.
Do we want to provide youth workers and groups that invest in our children and young people, to see them grow in to all God’s called them to be? Do we want one another to grow in our faith, be cared for in our trials and reach out to those around us with the love of Jesus? Part of being in a church family is chipping in financially to enable these things to happen. If you think about it, if you don’t regularly give to the church family, what you’re doing is benefitting from being a part of what other people are paying for.
Ok, but how much?
Like many of the issues this article series on money has raised, there is no easy or clear biblical answer on this one. There’s no new law for Christians! In the end, how we divide our giving between our local church, other ministry, mission and poor-care remains a matter of Christian freedom. However, I would make the following points:
But what about dysfunctional or unhealthy churches?
That’s all great, you may reply, but what if my church is deeply unhealthy? What if I don’t trust those who hold the purse strings? What if money is regularly clearly wasted or spent in ways I’m very uncomfortable with?
We must take this seriously. Some churches and church leaders are corrupt and/or abusive. In some churches, giving would be continuing to allow what should be stopped. Some churches do pour huge amounts of money down the drain of activities, buildings and marketing programs that have nothing to do with the gospel and are only loosely related to ministry, mission or poor-care. Accountability is important and necessary – most churches’ finances should be in the public domain (charity commission website) and, hopefully, shared ‘in house’ anyway. There are bodies that exist to provide accountability and ensure financial transparency in local churches.
My primary response would be that if we cannot give to our church, we should probably leave it. It still seems to me a moral issue to be attending a church I don’t give to; therefore, if I cannot give I should probably leave. This is not to encourage church hopping, but to be realistic.
I once attended a church that I came to see was a very toxic church. We initially halved our giving (and gave it elsewhere) whilst we thought about what to do, but left within six months.
In reality, though, most churches are not this bad. A more common issue, I think, is a lack of conversation in churches about financial issues and a distancing of congregations from how money is spent. I’m not advocating spending democracy where we vote on the budget! But I suggest we could all do more to increase the amount we’re able to talk about these issues. Like I previously mentioned, some shared understanding between the leadership of churches and the rest of the church family seems to me to be necessary to get this right in a healthy way.
If you are a church leader (or director, or trustee, etc.), I suggest this week you think about how you could further engage the whole church in owning the way the church uses its money. Could you talk together about how much you want to give away from your pooled funds? Could you provide ways for those who are passionate about this to be involved in identifying charities/mission that you as a church can support on a long-term and substantial basis?
If you are a regular church member, I suggest this month you to prayerfully review your giving to your own local church. Are you being obediently responsive to the Spirit and the scriptures in your current giving? Do you regularly review it? Do you give in a disciplined and regular way? (Direct debit is a great help for those who struggle to be disciplined. Give at the start of the month when you have money, rather than at the end when you’ve spent it all…). I also suggest that you think about whether you could engage more fully with your own church on these issues. If going through this process leaves you with deep concerns about your own church, then having a conversation with your leaders may be a good next step…
Next week: complexities in mission and poor-care.