Day of reckoning for charitable givers
August 8 2008 by By Norman Jameson

It is easy to list a staggering series of blows the North Carolina and national economies have suffered in recent years, blows that sting individually but combined threaten to bring us to our knees.

A quick list for your memory's sake would include the loss of virtually all textile and furniture manufacturing in North Carolina; a housing glut and mortgage crisis precipitated by lender greed and investor ignorance; an inflation monster stretching and flexing to exert itself; personal indebtedness that puts countless families on a bubble that would burst with a single missed paycheck; a war that is draining both the treasury and a generation even while it slips to the back pages of our consciousness; a loss of confidence in the decisions made by leadership at every level, whether in the white house or the parsonage; a health care crisis; world food crisis from rising prices for staples like corn and rice; pending insufficiency of Social Security and increasing local tax burdens.

That's the short list.

Combined, these realities peck at our confidence like chickens worrying (YouTube) a barnyard trough. Confidence is the foundational mortar for our way of life. We buy a house confident that we will have work to make the payments. We educate ourselves and our children confident that such efforts will lead to the most fulfilling career possible. We make travel plans confident there will be fuel for the planes to fly or at any fueling station where we stop the car.

Churches plan and build larger sanctuaries, education space and family life centers, confident that they will meet both current needs and accommodate growth that is "sure to come." Pastors and staff move their families and lives from one place to another, confident that the disruption is a part of God's plan for them and that the church family they are joining will love them forever and treat them in a way that demonstrates that love.

We base budgets on that confidence. We make commitments to charitable giving, campaigns, pledges, church budgets, missionary support, civic organizations and other non-profits based on the confidence we have that our income will remain stable and a paycheck secure.

The effect of consumer confidence sitting near its all time low is that we draw in. When the gales blow around us, we feel the wind, even if we're in a secure shelter. But what happens to your commitments when confidence erodes?

Writer and priest Tom Ehrich, writing for Religion News Service, says the churches that have taught the proper place of stewardship in the Christian life will do fine in this current confidence crisis.

"This is when faith communities earn their stripes," he says. "People need care. They need to be helped over the hurdle of panic at not having much money, and over the larger hurdle of having to rethink their lives and values. Now is the time for churches to offer career guidance, values clarification, free events that will be just as enjoyable as extravagance, financial and housing assistance, and glimpses of a God whose steadfast love is never tied to prosperity."

"Congregations that taught stewardship will have the funds and staff necessary for such ministry," Ehrich said. It is the churches that let members look at congregational support as ‘charitable giving’ that will find it difficult to keep their budgets above survival level.

Enjoying the love of God demonstrated through Christ and the security of Jesus' words in Luke 12 that the hairs on our heads are numbered and that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside the knowledge of God, Christians are encouraged to have a confident, generous spirit. Through biblical teaching we realize we are stewards only of the blessings God puts in our hands and never owners.

Taught properly, we give first fruits, we trust the church's stewardship even while realizing it is not a perfect organization, and we give in gratitude.

Churches whose members think of budget support as one item among others in their list of "charitable giving," such as donations to favorite museums, schools and scout, will be in trouble.

As Ehrich said, "Charitable giving flows from generosity, of course, but within it is a strong element of control, noblesse oblige, and calculation of tax advantage. That doesn't leave much room for the humble submission of true gratitude."

In other words, “charitable giving” is not from a heart commitment, a sacrificial devotion to the mission of the organization, a response to a command. For five years I helped non-profit organizations raise money for special projects. Many organizations beyond the church do good things and meet real needs, and many generous people support them in good times. But when difficult times strike and confidence erodes, those "charitable donations" dry up.  

Churches whose members see their giving to church as a “charitable donation” will not thrive in the tough economic times that call for commitment and sacrifice. At the very time our neighbors most need a shining beacon, the services only a church can offer, each church faces relentless pressure to cut spending—or worse, to cut giving to missions.

Teach stewardship, not charitable giving. When we realize we are stewards of vast riches and not miserly distributors of limited blessings our generosity will speak volumes to a world that has lost its confidence. When our churches are able to reach out selflessly while others are pulling in and hoarding because we’ve taught stewardship, their light will be bright.




8/8/2008 6:39:00 AM by By Norman Jameson | with 0 comments

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