My congregation just launched a capital campaign. And we typically do a stewardship emphasis in November. Money and the church. It’s a sensitive topic. So why should a Christian give to their local church? How does a congregation talk about money?
The giving of a tithe or offering is revelatory. It says something about you. For the Christian, sacrificial giving is:
I have been fielding a number of questions and comments from a sermon preached this past Sunday. Are people actually listening? (By the way, I can see you texting in church!). Here's the manuscript. Radical generosity versus reciprocity.
The object of Monopoly is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling property. Monopoly is a system of reciprocity. You pay money, and you get a property in return. You lease your property, you get rent in return. The goal is to be the monopolist in control of the entire economy.
In many ways, our world is dominated by a system of reciprocity.
If I buy you lunch today, you’ve got next time.
If you give me an assist, I’ll pass the ball to you next time.
If you contribute to my campaign, I’ll advance your cause in the legislature.
And in a negative way:
If you punch me, I’ll punch you back.
If you don’t invite me to your party, I won’t invite you to mine.
If you won’t talk to me, I won’t talk to you.
In Luke 6, Jesus presents a radical alternative to the system of reciprocity. He takes the Monopoly board and turns it upside down.
Let’s say you rent a car. You get the full insurance for an extra $20 a day. They call it “the steering wheel” policy meaning you could return the car with only a steering wheel and you’d be covered. So you beat up on the rental. Slam the brakes. Do donuts in the parking lot. Spill soda and leave wrappers all over the interior. Because it’s not yours. It’s a rental.
Let’s say you own a classic car. Unlike a rental, you are so protective and possessive of it, that you keep it tucked away in the garage. You never let anyone else drive it, or even touch it. The sun might fade the interior, so you only drive on overcast days. You never use or share what you have because you’re possessively protective.
At this time of the year, we are encouraged to be generous. Often this makes us feel a sense of duty and obligation. Duty and obligation have their place, but I'd like to propose a better reason for giving. Paul wrote a letter from a cell block in Rome in around 60AD. He wrote this letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi as a thank you note for their financial support. Sometimes we write thank you letters out of duty and obligation. Grandma gave you $20 so you have to write a thank you. One hundred sixty-eight people gave you a wedding gift and so you have to spend 372 hours writing and mailing thank yous.
The organizational guru, Stephen Covey wrote about the “scarcity mentality” in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.”
By contrast, he writes of the abundance mentality: “The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody.” What does this mean?
We're in the midst of a capital campaign at our congregation. Which means that we're talking a lot about money in the church. I'm personally and professionally sensitive to this issue. Personally, because I grew up in a culture where money was a private thing that you managed privately. "Don't ever ask someone how much they make. Don't ask people for money. Don't tell people what to do with their money." Professionally, I'm very mindful of people's perception of the church as a "money-laundering religious scam." Thoughts of Jimmy Swaggert and every other televangelist come to mind.
Last week I heard someone make a comment on money that I've heard before, but forgotten. "Money has godlike qualities." Like security, power, and the ability to change a circumstance. So people seek money in religious ways - yearning, longing, serving, trusting. I don't think that people worship the currency itself, but rather what the currency can do.
Which gets me back to the capital campaign. The church's call for resources confronts my idolatrous tendencies with money. I live a rather modest lifestyle, and yet I sense areas where money is flexing it's godlike muscle. "Will we have enough? What could we do if we didn't tithe? Imagine if we had that . . . or this . . . "
So is the answer to take a vow of poverty? Denounce money altogether? The task with any idol is to subject it to the one, true God. This is the call of the first commandment, "You will have no other gods before me." Its like God is saying, "Trust me. Look to me and no other."
So here comes the capital campaign I'd rather not do. Why? Because it confront me. It reminds me of the task of subduing an idol. I must bring this idol into full submission. I have to beat it into subjection to a greater authority. I must be a responsible manager of it for the sake of the One who gave it to me. I must leash it, control it, and wisely direct it. I don't serve money. I make it serve my Master.