designated giving?

offringI have trouble giving to my church sometimes. My husband is the pastor and I have an (occasionally literal) front-row seat to the good things happening there, but it’s still difficult sometimes to write the check.

Here’s the thing.

I never have trouble giving $5 to a homeless person. (Judge me, whatever.)
I never have a problem buying a supply of groceries for someone struggling.
I never question whether I want to give money to My Safe Harbor, a nonprofit that is mothering single mothers and giving them the skills to live better lives.
I never regret the $38 that goes to support my 9-year-old friend Kelvin in Kenya through Compassion each month.
And after spending time with Adrian and Jennifer Fehl earlier this month at the CMF board meetings, I want to sell our car and give them the money.

I’m as selfish as the next American, but I don’t think a hard, stingy heart is the big problem here. Generosity is not my spiritual gift, but I don’t think it’s my spiritual hang-up, either.

scroogeduckThe problem is sometimes it’s hard to give to a church because often the good the church does seems theoretical. This has always been true, at every church I’ve attended, and is less a comment on their leadership or mission (I don’t GO to churches if I have a problem with their leadership or mission), and more a reality of the way we have designed contemporary American churches to work. I have to remind myself that paying to keep the lights on and the building comfortable means people can be in it and then they can learn about Jesus. I have to remind myself that programs require resources and that staff require salaries and that programs and staff are necessary and sometimes good. I have to create pictures for myself of what money does when I give it to a church–“I’m pretending this is going directly to pay for this ministry”–because otherwise it’s just not as satisfying as giving directly to a person who will immediately benefit.

This is partly an issue I need to get over, I guess, but I think it’s also a problem for the church. Often we feel like we’re giving, often sacrificially and at a literal cost to ourselves, to build a business rather than to add more bricks and mortar to the kingdom of God. And again, this can be true even when we completely trust the church leadership and approve of the church’s trajectory.

risk25-money-jarsFirst question: can you relate?

Second question: What if we could stop pretending? The nonprofits for whom I work as an employee or a board member have a general fund that pays for the utilities and the office supplies, but most of their gifts from donors are designated for specific projects or areas of ministry. Sometimes as a matter of policy they take a percentage of those gifts for the general fund as a way to give donors a choice while making sure the bills get paid. What if the church adopted a similar model? What if church members could give directly to VBS, or missions, or small groups, or the preschool, or Celebrate Recovery, and some percentage of each gift automatically went to handle all the unsexy-but-necessary stuff? Would people be more motivated to give if they knew most of their gift would benefit the cause they care about most? Would it lead to unhealthy competition between ministries jostling for attention? Would it perhaps lead to a natural (and arguably healthy) paring down of the church’s ministries when leaders saw that several consistently received no funding? Or would it just nurture an already-rampant “consumer Christianity”?  Do we have the right as church members to designate our gifts, or should the church function differently from the parachurch nonprofit?

What do you think?

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