Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Better Plan?

Several years ago my family and I were driving across town after church when a conversation began in the back seat about the church offering. Now it is important to remember that I have been involved in leading local churches for the entirety of my children’s lives. Each and every Sunday they have witnessed and participated in placing money in an offering plate as it was passed down the aisle. Their offering may only be a quarter or a single dollar bill, but they understand the importance of giving. I don’t know why this particular subject came up on this particular trip, but one of the girls asked if the church "had a good offering" that morning. I found that an odd question and answered that I didn’t know. One of the other girls said she thought that it must have been good because she saw “a lot of money” in the plate.

My son (who was about 12 at the time) piped up and asked, “Dad, where does the rest of the money come from?”

“What do you mean, ‘the rest of the money’?" I asked.

“You know, the rest of the church’s money to do things like buy food and pay for electricity and pay all the people that work at the church," he answered.

“It all comes from the offering,” I said.

“What?” he exclaimed, “You mean to tell me the only money the church gets comes out of those plates that get passed down the aisle?"

“Yes, son.” I could have entered into a conversation about on-line giving and direct deposits, but I knew that wouldn't satisfy.

“Dad, you gotta come up with a better plan than that! What happens if people decide not to put any money in there?”

That is a good question. As someone who has fed his family based on the generosity and faithfulness of Christians willing to support the local church through tithes and offerings, I have asked the same question many times. Unfortunately, for many churches it would mean little more than the inability to pay a pastor and keep the lights on. If these congregations stopped contributing to their church's offering, there would be no less money going to missions, feeding the hungry or binding up the broken because they don't give their money to such causes anyway. While calling on their members to be faithful with their resources, these churches are anything but. Tithes and offings are treated more like membership dues, buying the givers services to benefit their own needs and wants. When such wants go unmet, offerings can be withheld or contributed to another church where there is a greater return on investment -- American consumerism at its finest.

One of the most common criticisms of the church today is its seemingly constant demands for money from those who attend. Perhaps this wouldn't be if people actually saw the church using the money it requested in generous ways that clearly impact the greatest needs in our world today. Somehow the pastor driving the newest Mercedes while wearing a thousand dollar suit, leading a church in the midst of constructing a fitness center and gymnasium, asking his congregants to sacrifice just rings hollow in the ears of many. Perhaps church leaders should consider applying the biblical principle of the tithe to their own organization's finances. Many churches teach this idea to their members, so why not model it in their own church budgets? Give the first 10% of your church's receipts to international and local mission needs. Support organizations working to solve global problems like hunger, the lack of clean drinking water, human trafficking and AIDS. If every American church cooperated and gave generously to help meet the needs of the world, perhaps such examples of generosity would unleash the generosity of those sitting in the pews.

Rich American Christians have the ability and resources to solve some of the world's most severe problems. Surely this is why God has blessed us with such unprecedented abundance. When we pray asking God to solve these problems, perhaps we should consider that He may already have answered our prayers in the form of the wealth He has allowed us to amass. Consider how the world's view of Christians might be impacted by such acts of generosity.

Viewing the church’s finances from my son's perspective reminded me what a miracle the church is. Consider what we can accomplish each and every week through the combined generosity of people whose lives have been impacted by the generosity of Christ. We put money in the plate not because we are manipulated or required, but because we are grateful. I can’t think of a better plan than that.