I am going to write about something that I don’t really like to write or talk about: Money. Churches and pastors have been accused of being interested only in money. This image has not been helped by the fact that every Christian ministry and every pastor on the radio or television is dependent on contributions to stay on the air. Often, then, you will hear them asking for donations. The idea gains even more traction because of the few media preachers that are extremely wealthy. They, unfortunately, become the caricature of ever preacher. But that could hardly be further from the truth.
Most preachers I know give sacrificially, live on a shoestring, and don’t like to talk about money. Most preachers I know work far more hours a week in the ministry than they would in a conventional job, and make less money. The accusations would disappear quickly if some of the accusers walked a day in the preacher’s shoes. That being said, money is important and we do need to talk about it.
Perhaps the place we should start is with the question: Why are churches tax exempt? The simple answer to that question is that churches and other tax exempt organizations are tax exempt because they bring value to the community that is worth more than taxes. That, of course, is a debated statement today. Many view churches as disruptive and hate-mongering. Again, this is a caricature based on a handful of unfortunate cases. Historically, we have hospitals, accountable government, lower crime, and less violence in our communities because of the presence and influence of churches.
Money is a powerful thing. It can do a lot of good, but it is also deceptively dangerous. Which is why there are certain biblical principles that we need to keep in mind when it comes to money. While churches in the United States and many other countries are considered tax exempt, there is no biblical requirement to that end. We are grateful to God for tax exempt status as it frees finances to do ministry that is beneficial to the community. We can pray for that to continue, but if our giving to churches and ministries is simply based on what we can save on our taxes, then we are giving wrongly.
The first principle of biblical giving is that we are to give thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully. 2Corinthians 9:7 teaches, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving is to be “as he has decided in his heart.” In other words, it should be thoughtful and prayerful. Consider what God would have you give. Second, it is to be given, “not reluctantly or under compulsion.” We do not give because someone says we must give. We do not give because someone is monitoring our finances to see how much we should be giving. We do not give because the church bills us for what we promised to give. We give freely, without compulsion or reluctance. Third, we give joyfully. If we give grudgingly we are not giving biblically. If we give for the tax benefit we are not giving biblically. There is nothing wrong with taking the tax benefit, but it must never be our motivation for giving. Giving should be done thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully because all we have is a gift from God.
In times such as these we may be tempted to circle the wagons and be safe, but our calling is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Many businesses are struggling. Many are out of work. I have been privileged to watch pastors step up to the plate in these difficult times. Ruby’s Pantry provides food worth $150 or more for a twenty dollar bill. It is a faith based ministry organized by churches and Christians in our community. Other organizations continue to serve the needy, the homeless, and the destitute. Many of those organizations are either Christian, or heavily staffed by Christians. Pastors are providing meals for the homeless, encouraging support of local businesses even when it is not convenient, and helping wherever they can.
It is in times like these that the church really shines because believers know that giving is not about saving on taxes. It is about acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. They know that serving is not about looking good. Giving is about being the hands and feet of Jesus. I am proud of the work that my fellow ministers are doing. May we, as believers in Jesus Christ, continue this good work. It is good for our communities, and it honors our Lord.