October 28, 2022
Dear Disciple of Christ,
We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints- 5 and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
We are coming to that time of year when our worshipers will find forms giving them the opportunity to pledge of their time and talents and their financial resources. The church is not first and foremost a business, but the agencies that give us light and water and insurance see us without regard to our “non-profit” status and so they appropriately expect to be paid for services they render us. Each year, each congregation (at least the ones I know), ask their members and partners to indicate what they can give for the expenses of the church. This request is unlike most others we receive. We get requests on TV and in the mail and emails asking for our support of a particular ministry. What makes that different is we seldom have any oversight of those ministries and, sadly, once in a while we hear of inappropriate use of the funds by organizations we have supported. That tends to decrease our trust in giving to all non-profits.
The difference with churches is that the members have not only oversight but also control of the dispersing of the funds. At our church we actually approve our annual budget after receiving the pledges of the members and partners. But we begin the process by asking donors to consider two things; the needs and their capacity to make a difference with those needs. It is our responsibility to design and recommend a budget that divides up the resources to cover the needs of the church (or perhaps it would be better to capitalize that word, “Church”). Our needs are driven not just by the “costs” of operating our church but the mission of Church of which we are a part.
It is very tempting for people to focus (primarily or solely) on the obvious needs of the congregation of which they are a part. We do need lights and repairs and staff to accomplish tasks and provide care for the members and the mission of the church. But there is another part of the Church that goes beyond itself, in mission in the world. Like the Macedonian churches in the lesson above, they were focused on the needs of others in other parts of the world. It was not because they were wealthy but they actually had “extreme poverty.” Those in great need were “begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” That is the nature of the Church that looks beyond the needs of their own congregation for the cause of Christ in the world.
The second part of stewardship (after identifying the needs and causes of the Church) is to consider how each of us has been blessed. This will, of course, not be the same among the members. Some will be blessed with great talents and abilities and will offer them consistently and generously at the church. Some will be able to go on mission and ministry trips in the world (like ours hoping to return to our missions in Peru after a hiatus due to Covid). But not all are able to make that trip yet they have a heart for those in need there. With both physical and spiritual needs evident, they will pray daily for our sisters and brothers in Christ there in Peru and our members going to serve.
What was evident at my vicarage congregation was the great diversity of gifts the members had. The differences in giving could not have been more extreme. We had people with very limited financial resources (like the vicar and his wife) and others who were very blessed financially. We had one member who was the vice-president of Exxon and another who was the treasurer of Johnson and Johnson. You can imagine the differences in the pledging that took place in that congregation. But what that can also be labeled is “proportional giving.” In proportion to how we have been blessed, give! It is not in comparison to any other person’s giving but in proportion to how each of us has been blessed.
I expect we all know the lesson Jesus shared concerning people making donations at the temple, including a poor widow (reported in both gospels, Mark and Luke). What made her mite so mighty and exemplary was not how it compared to the needs in the temple or the giving of others but how it compared to what she had received from God. She gave out of her poverty, putting in her “whole living.” According to Jesus her gift was greater than those of the others who gave out of their abundance. So what makes a “balanced” budget in a church is ultimately not just that income and expenses match but that members match one another in generosity, being a blessing to others as God has blessed them.
Blessings to you as you prayerfully consider your blessings and how you can be a blessing to others.
Peace in His service,
Scripture Readings for Friday, October 28, 2022
Psalm 119:137-144; Jeremiah 33:14-26; 2 Corinthians 1:1-11