It’s a Tuesday afternoon as I look over the budget for our youth department. I’m trying to find a way to take our graduating seniors out to dinner to celebrate with them. As I get to the bottom of the page from our finance officer the numbers are all in red. We’re always in the red it seems. For a ministry that serves nearly 100 students, we have one of the smallest budgets in the church. The youth pastor is texting me asking what our options are. It breaks my heart to think that we wouldn’t be able to do something special for a senior class that has impacted our church in so many ways. “We’ll be okay” I text back. “Just plan it”. We both know what that means. I’ll make a donation to cover the cost. I’m happy to. I want to.
I recently took a survey about giving for my church. Actually it was for our entire denomination. As part of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, there is a large global infrastructure for which tithe and offering go to supporting; pastors, teachers, missionaries, administrators, etc. Over the past few years the global church has seen a decrease in giving, prompting the recent survey to members about giving and their thoughts on stewardship. As I went through the survey I was disappointed in the options provided for an individual’s reason for giving. The choices came down to a.) I give because God tells me to, b.) I give because God has blessed me and I need to return it, c.) I give so that God will bless me.
I was a little lost and frustrated by these responses. None of them fit my reasons. I CAN give because I’m blessed, but that’s now WHY I give. I don’t feel this mandated obligation by God to give time and money to my church as repayment for my life and salvation. It angers me to think of it this way. There’s no love in that. It paints a very bleak picture of God which I feel is contrary to what I believe. It reverts to an Old Testament theology of a vindictive and judgmental God rewarding only those who He chooses. “If you don’t pay tithe God will smite you” might as well be the message from the pulpit.
These three options don’t leave a whole lot of altruism in them. Here is where Atheists and non-believers win the morality argument. An Atheist will say no one commands them to give, and yet they do in order to feed orphans or find a cure for disease. Every time a Christian says “I give because God commands me to” or “so God can bless me” reveals their own greed. Is that what God really wants, for you to give because he makes you? In Luke 21 Jesus tells the story of the widow with two mites who gave more than the richest person. Not because of the amount or because she was commanded to. After all, both people gave because they were commanded to. It was the heart. She gave because she wanted to. She gave because she wanted to. Somehow in her meager existence she found a way to give and it brought her joy to know that she was contributing something, no matter how small the gift was. Hosea 6:6 says “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. Mercy is the heart, the sentiment that God looks for. Sacrifice is the command.
I feel like the church far too often focuses on giving as requirement because they’re worried about how the electric bill will be paid. But talk to the most generous people and they don’t give because they feel obligated or because they’re seeking some return on investment. They give because they want to. Their heart is there seeking to make a difference. I give time and money because I want to. I see how lives are changed by the ministry of the gospel and I want it to continue to impact more people; to make a difference in this world that sees so much pain and suffering. Like giving Christmas presents to my kids, there’s nothing I would rather do. And so many times I wish I could do more. Let’s not cheapen that by making it a requirement.