Preaching about money – and in particular preaching about giving money to the church – is more risky than walking through a minefield. In my experience, there is no issues on which people are more sensitive. No wonder, then, most ministers rarely talk about giving – they just don’t want to receive the flak!
The story is told of a minister who announced to his congregation:
I have good news and bad news. The good news is, we have enough money to pay for our new building programme. The bad news is, it’s still out there in your pockets.
As I look back on my ministry here in Chelmsford, the toughest period was undoubtedly when we were seeking to raise money for redeveloping our premises. Up until that point the church had never raised more than £27,000 for any one single project; so when the leadership team proposed to the church that we spend £1.3 million on the building, all hell seemed to break loose. For although 80% of the members present at a Special Church Meeting in March 1996 voted in favour of this proposal, 20% vigorously opposed the motion. As a result we delayed the project, hoping to gain the support of all. But in the end we failed, and sadly many people left the church. Thank God, we moved forward – and even though the costs escalated to almost £2 million, we redeveloped our church building, moving back into the redeveloped premises in 2001. It was a tough time – but it was also an amazing time. For we experienced a miracle of giving: people gave extraordinarily generously; many people double-tithed, and one couple to my knowledge triple-tithed. We experienced a miracle of giving – with the result that by 2006 the debt was paid off. What’s more, as a result of people financially laying down their lives, w also experienced the miracle of spiritual renewal: what at one stage had been a highly dysfunctional church became a loving and united fellowship; what at one stage had been a somewhat inward-looking group became an outward-looking missionary church. Not only the building had been changed, but so too the people. Not surprisingly God blessed the church with growth – at one stage our membership had declined to 250, whereas today our membership stands at around 390.
Thank God we don’t face the challenge of redeveloping our premises. But we do face the challenge of meeting the on-going costs of mission and ministry at a time of national austerity. At the beginning of this year in faith we adopted a budget which would require an increase in giving of 8.6 % – currently giving has increased by 4.6%.. So we therefore find ourselves in the situation of having to encourage the church to give more – and inevitably as the senior minister of the church I have a role to play in making this need known.
The difficulty is that many people in the church are – like the Christians in Macedonia – already giving according to their means and indeed beyond their means (see 2 Cor 8.5). On the other hand, there are undoubtedly others who are not. Somehow I need to persuade this second group to step up to the plate and, like the Corinthian Christians of old, give their “fair” share (see 2 Cor 8.13-14). Unfortunately when we talk about the need to increase our giving, the first group feel unduly ‘guilty’, while some in the second group appear to fail to register the need.
The reality is that if every church member were to increase their giving just by £1 a week, then we would have the money we need. Most people can spare an extra £1 a week. But, of course, life isn’t that simple – not everybody ‘plays the game’, with the result that the truly committed are unfairly burdened.
At the end of the day it is about proportionate giving – giving according to our means. It is as simple, and as challenging as that. Every church member, whatever their income, whether on a salary or a pension or indeed just receiving pocket-money, should heed the words of Scripture that every week each of us must put aside some money “in proportion to what you have earned” (1 Cor 16.2). That’s what I need to say as a minister. Why, I wonder, do some find it so upsetting?