October 24, 2013

Giving, Gratitude + Money

Last night I had the privilege of meeting with a large group of leaders from St. Margaret's here in DC. We came together to talk about money. As most Christians in the western hemisphere are aware of by now, church attendance is down. But with that, giving is down as well. Churches survive on the contributions of their members. So, this is a critical subject. Yet, unfortunately, we don't often talk about money as an aspect of Christian discipleship. St. Margaret's seems to be doing a good job of tackling this. Still, it can be an uneasy subject for many people. There is, in my view, three important aspects of financial contributions from a Christian perspective that ought to be highlighted as often as possible when the subject of the Church and money arises:

We give, not to earn favor, but to express gratitude
Throughout the Old and New Testament there's quite the consistent perspective on what it means to give to God. First, we give to God through the religious practice of the faith community. Second, we give of what would otherwise provide for a household (monetary or actual goods–livestock, crops, etc.). But here's what could potentially be a significant difference with other cultures or religious practices around Israel: In the Judeo-Christian tradition we're called to give out of gratitude for what God has done–not to get God to do something. We give not to earn favor or righteousness, etc. but as an expression of gratitude for the mercy and grace already given.

Routinely giving out of gratitude makes us view the world differently
This is more of a personal anecdote but is something that seems consistent with the intent of our religious practices of tithing, offerings throughout Church history. Nonetheless, it seems appropriate to state that a routine act of gratitude makes us increasingly grateful. When we give consistently out of gratitude, our perspective of the world changes. We increasingly see those things we ought to be grateful for. It is in this way a spiritual discipline.

Collectively, routinely giving out of gratitude actually makes the world different
Lastly, another consistent message throughout Scripture–as it relates to money and giving–is that God looks favorably on his people when their collective giving cares for those neglected by others. When what we fill the offering plate so that others may have a plate of food we are testifying to something: that the God we follow cares for the least, last, lost and left out. And in a culture increasingly cynical about institutions, especially religious institutions, this is good news.

We give out of gratitude.

We give routinely in order to see the world differently.

We give routinely out of gratitude in order to actually make the world different.

What about young adults?
A study published in 2012 found that young adults tended to give to those philanthropic institutions that were transparent and which young adults believed that their contribution went towards something that made a difference. Talk about how your faith community uses its resources. Talk about how it can be used to make an impact in the world. Young people want to have these kinds of conversations and will contribute to those institutions that do.

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