“The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6–7, CSB)
Being a pastor entails being asked all kinds of questions. There are the questions adults ask—generally I can answer those. There are those children ask—sometimes I can answer those, but they are always harder. But a specific line of questioning that I want to speak about here concerns Christian financial issues. Specifically, three questions: 1) what should I give? 2) how should the congregation spend? and 3) how do these practices square with our faith?
In our tradition, the financial structure is based on the biblical model of the tithe to fund each level of the church. We ask that each family contributes a tithe of their income to support the local church. The local church is asked to contribute a tithe of what it receives to the diocese. The diocese then contributes a tithe to the denomination. Since this was not centrally part of the ceremonial law, it is a pattern that continues—not a means of salvation but a moral responsibility.
I don’t disagree with that understanding, but I agree with John Wesley who said that such was a miserly way of giving. He wrote that we should ask: “Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?” He lived what he taught. When he was a student at Oxford, he lived on 28 pounds a year. As his income rose to 30 and then to 120 pounds he continued to live on the same amount and gave the rest away. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion…”
Our congregation, like most, prepares and lives by an annual budget. The budget is not just a set of numbers that can be casually assembled. It represents the true mission of the local church. A person’s priorities are easily identifiable by his or her checkbook or credit card statement; in the same way, a church’s true mission is not what is printed on paper but in how it allocates its resources. Do we spend to maintain what we have or to serve the mission to which we have been tasked?
Our finances, as individuals and as the Church, are a vehicle of faith. Therefore, we should sow generously for the work of the kingdom. As you ascertain what you will give in the coming year, think not so much of what is required as much as how may I contribute to the work and mission of the kingdom. The widow’s mite is of infinitely greater value than the millionaire’s tax break. Pray and give as you prayerfully decide in your heart.