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December 29, 2014

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Patrick O

"The church is not just a 501(c)(3) devoted to a common social cause; it is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation witnessing in its life together to God’s new creation."

I think this is exactly true, the trouble is that both the institutional and people sides of the church are participating in a very old system that lives the former while preaching the latter. We want all the advantages of the former, going back to state church models and Christendom civil respectability. And with this, we created structures that are intended to secure those roles in a context.

People who have lives segmented from the rest of their life are willing to do their religious service as (and often only as) contributing to a general fund that in a large part goes towards limited-use facility maintenance.

I suspect that the way past that is both much more engaged property use and drawing people into a regular expression of their broader gifts (not just finances) in community participation. Church structures are often developed to/for the people rather than designed to engage them in active learning and expression.

People don't give money first as an investment, they give money when they are invested in the overall mission. But again, almost the whole system is oriented towards the former element of giving money and being passive about ministry, dividing the task into something professionals do for laity.

The system is no longer tenable like that, but it's not also impossible. The trick is finding how a missional participation can happen in large churches so there is a holistic missional response that includes financial participation.

Scott

Absolutely, Patrick. Thanks for your comments. The giving practices are symptomatic of the larger problem.

Michael

Scott, I think you're right: the "Church" is not just another 501(c)(3). It is not a place we go, but something we are. But that means that the money I give to _any_ non-profit is an expression of who I am as a part of that body. Ie, the money I give to Feed the Children, or Reaching our City, or Community of Hope, etc, is money given as an outpouring of my existence in that body.

On the other hand, Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene _IS_ just another 501(c)(3), and that is what I think pastors need to learn from fundraising professionals. Perhaps the best thing we can do here is to communicate to parishioners the full cost of running a church. People who come every week and receive an essentially free product are more likely to give if they understand what it costs to make that product available.

Scott

Thanks... I get what you are saying. But speaking of the church as a product makes my skin crawl and points to the problem I'm trying to name.

Barry Swanson

I'm with you Scott. I remember so well fairly early in my ministry we had a semi-retired former pastor on our pastoral staff who usually took the offering. He would almost always tie the giving of the offering to some physical need of the church . . ."remember, we have to put a new cooling system in the building this summer." We more idealistic and (I hope) theologically aware younger guys worked so hard to convince him focus on the worship & spiritual aspects of giving. Ultimately the sr. pastor assigned others to that part of the service.

Dave Peterson

I agree with your thoughts here Scott. But for me there are a couple of additional issues:
1. On-line giving: This type of giving is increasing and is a way of life for "bill paying" for many, including me. But the paying of tithes and the giving of offerings is part of the worship service. We should find ways to engage the on-line giver in the worship service element, not just allow the view that on line giving is "a way to pay my bill (dues??)).
2. I believe in your life time we could see the IRS deduction for charitable giving go away. It will be interesting to see how we confront that reality. That might solve the "December" problem, but create others.

Thank you for your thoughts here.

Michael

@Scott: but if you're accepting the ecclesiological shift you start with (namely, we "are" the church), then the local place of worship is just that. It feels like you're trying to have it both ways.

I for one think we try to over-spiritualize the concept of giving to the local church, since it isn't "Church." Just shoot strait with the congregation: here's what it costs to run this thing. If you like having it exist, we have to raise this money. Eg: Wikipedia.

phyllis hartwig

we can't give as much as the IRS gives us credit for..Maybe we would all give more if we had to deduct just what we give. Also, the pastor is in between a rock and a hard place. If he has a sermon on giving, he's begging. If he doesn't mention it, they don't give..what I'm really concerned about is that the older generation is still the givers..they grew up with tithing, but what will happen when they all pass. It seems that the younger generation has to make a lot more money in order just to survive. High mortg., cost of food, schooling, etc. God bless them.

Scott

@michael I want the local church to be the visible expression of the Church. I don't think you (alone) are the church. I think you and I are the Church. So I want you and I to give our money to that place "church" where we are Church together and then we can discern together what to do with it. You (alone) are only the Church as you live as an expression of all of those visible churches. I don't think that's having it both ways. I think people who want it both ways are people who want to call themselves Church without living that out in commitment to a real place called church and withouth being connected to a people who tell them what they ought it do with their money (and their bodies, and their future, and their time, and their...) :)

Scott

Phyllis, you are right. When we lose this generation that lived within their means and gave as a consistent spiritual discipline, the church is in trouble.

James E. Copple

Scott: As a professional fund developer working in the public and private sector with faith-based and non-faith-based organizations, I THINK I want to agree with you but I think there is a key issue missing. To be sure the funding landscape has become narrower and the field is more populated with requests and leaving the Church chasing funds like every other organization. However, in the US, this is not about resources it is about will. If the Church is truly to be the Church it must address the attitude, the spirit and the heart behind giving in the first place. We fund in this country pretty much what we want to fund. We want to send a man/woman to Mars, we will find a way to do it, we want to wage a war in Iraq/Afghanistan for ten years, we find a way to do it, we want to bail out Wall Street and banking institutions, we do it. However, behind these decisions is a will or a decision being framed largely out of self interest. The Church - 52 weeks out of the year must be the gospel it preaches and transform the environment that motivates us to give in the first place. PazNaz and most every other congregation has the resources, but do we have the will? The reason the last week in December may be killing the Church is that the Church you want us to be is not being the Church it should be 52 weeks out of the year. When I look at the wealth gap in this country, the resources are in place, but are we prepared to move beyond the tithe and recognize that God not only demands my 10% he wants everything I have? Discipleship in the US when it comes to wealth is an interesting challenge. Just today, I had lunch with an Ethiopian Missionary that can transform a whole village with just $1,000. In a resource scarce country, a $1,000 is a chunk of change, however, in the US - not so much. We are making choices every day - a Starbucks or a hot lunch for the one in four children in the US that go to bed hungry. Finally, we must create the will!! We must preach, teach and heal in ways that the will becomes a reflection of God's love in our life. All of us make choices - increase our tithe, give to NCM or World Vision, support IRC's refugee work, or vote to increase our taxes to support the poor. In the US, it is not the last Sunday we should worry about, it is the other 51 Sundays we should worry about. People are simply making choices that exclude us because we are increasingly becoming a narcissistic society that has little regard for the institutions of compassion. Thanks for posting your thoughts and allowing us who respect you so much to ramble on - a bit.

Scott

@James - well said. Thanks for your input.

Judy

I don't know what to think of some of these comments, spend more time with major donors,pay close attention to the giving record and write personal notes of gratitude to faithful givers, I don't think pastor should know who gives and how much he should be there to teach Gods word ,that is a lot of the problem to much favoritism

Judy

Way back , talking about the older people who grew up tithing there was the pastor that gave the sermon on Sunday, Sunday night and Wednesday , there wasn't child minister, youth minister , the minister of music ect

Will Turner

Thanks for sharing Scott. I agree with many of your sentiments and the very real struggle that we face. Individualism has rampantly changed the landscape of this issue. Now I choose every way each dollar I give is spent (or at least so many think when giving to specific causes within organizations) and the discernment as a community that you speak of in the comments doesn't happen.
How do we really give parishioners the opportunity to feel (even if they already are literally or representationally, they often do not feel like they are) like they are a part of that discerning process? How do we help catch the vision of what it means to be a part of a larger community, a global church, a royal priesthood? How do the rhythms of the Christian year play into this? What practices remind us of the Story that we are invited into?
There are so many questions to answer! But when I wrestle with these very real issues, I can't help but see incredible potential for the Church to more fully participate with our whole beings, whole lives, in practices that form us into Kingdom people and cause an outpouring of God's hope, peace, joy, and love in the world.

Sarah K

It took a long time to learn to tithe after becoming a Christian. God gave us his best and first. I should offer Him my best and first. If He is my priority, and church is not just another non profit organization, it is clear and simple to me that no other charity or cause can compete for my/His money.
But, for me, it took years of struggles with Word through study and discussion in BSF to understand it. I also needed to watch people giving and serving and slowly practice myself bit by bit since I come from a non-Christian family. Just coming to church on Sundays was not enough to go through the spiritual growth.
I am really thankful to BSF and thankful to PazNaz for providing the place. (See the buildings matter.)

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