Friday, July 2, 2010

I love Simple Church because it means I don't need to give ... or does it?

Our transition away from a traditional church structure with buildings, budgets and staff to support financially has left some wondering about the place of giving and what it is that God requires of us. What happened to the pledge drive? Aren't we supposed to tithe (give 10% of our income)? Isn't this a chance for the church to prove it's not just after your money?

I have felt lately that in my reluctance to speak much about money, particularly as it relates to the support Carol and I rely upon, we have perhaps missed out on what seems to me to be a foundational aspect of kingdom living ... to excel in the grace of giving (see 2 Cor. 8:7) as a network. Money is a part of all of our lives, when it gets out of place then it becomes a problem. That happens a lot and is perhaps one reason Jesus spoke about money as much as anything.

The first thing I would say is that under the New Covenant, that is for those of us who belong to Jesus, our motivation for giving is to come from within rather than without. It is not meant to be an external rule to be obeyed, but we are to be inspired by the Spirit within who moves us to give generously, even sacrificially, and with a cheerful heart. There are no rules now, but there is loving relationship with a God who gives in this way. As others have said before me, let us be less preoccupied with the percentage we give away and more focused upon the amount we choose to keep and spend on ourselves.

Under the law of the Old Testament, the tithe was a portion of the crops given to support the Levitical priesthood. They were the tribe that received no portion of the land of Israel (unlike the other tribes), so they relied upon the other tribes sharing a tenth of their harvest. This system is now obsolete and so no longer applies. Ironically there were in fact 3 tithes one to support the Levites, one to fund the serious party celebrations that happened in Jerusalem around the Feast Days each year, and one for the sake of the poor (see Deut 14:22-27). I like this mix and believe it should guide us as we prayerfully consider the needs to which we can give.

As you read through the New Testament, again and again you see the priority of meeting each others' needs within the community and giving to the poor, the latter being the primary way we are to 'invest' in a way that lasts into eternity. We get to send it on ahead of us (see Luke 12:32-33). Though we are not bound by external rules as to how much to give, I think that we can benefit from the discipline of learning to give regularly and sacrificially. This is one 'weapon' we have to combat the worldly spirit (very prevalent in our culture) of selfish consumerism and ultimately idolatry, whereby we find ourselves putting our hope in financial security rather than in Christ. When we are honest with ourselves, we find that this often keeps us from the blessing of living in more daily dependence upon the Lord and from experiencing the sheer blessing of giving.

So, what might we conclude from all this? Some ideas that I seek to put into practice in my own life;
  1. Following the principle of "first fruit" (i.e. allocating to others/effectively the Lord - see Matt 25:40 - before ourselves) by setting aside money every time we get paid. This is what Paul would teach in his churches (1 Corinthians 16:2). 10% is not a bad target to aim for or to begin with.
  2. Invest yourself personally in the people, projects and needs you support
  3. Respond to opportunities to give to the three types of needs as identified above - supporting missional/ministry initiatives, relieving poverty and injustice and sharing within your community to meet needs (Acts 4:32,34) and facilitate parties (life is to be enjoyed and celebrated)!
  4. Resolve to grow in this grace of giving so that as the Lord may entrust you with more, you will have greater opportunity to give for the glory of God
My hope for us at BridgePoint, is that over the coming months we will make giving a real priority so that we might develop over time a reputation like the churches of Macedonia in Paul's day;

"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." [2 Cor 8:1-4]

The following article based upon 1 Cor 9:1-14 gives a helpful explanation of how the early church financed 'apostolic' ministry. Click here.

1 comment:

karlimatt said...

Mike, I appreciate this article - I particularly find truth in tying together the lack of a percieved need to give in the simple church model because there isn't anything to support (buildings, budgets, staff, etc). To me that method of thinking is closely tied to the, as you called it, the worldly spirit (of selfish consumerism and ultimately idolatry. As giving to sustain buildings, budgets, and programs serves to support the consumables of that particular body. Giving in the context of a simple church body is far more sacrificial, as you are often not recieving any direct benefit, but rather empowering good works for others through these gifts. I pray we continue to grow in this reguard.