[Lightly edited version of piece written for our monthly church magazine.]
I have been concerned for some years about the use in the church of the term ‘giving’ to refer to our contributions to church funds. Giving is a wonderful thing to do – giving presents to people we love, giving money to causes we find important, giving hospitality to friends and those in need, and giving support to friends. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the idea of the ‘gift economy’, sharing with others without expecting a return. And the Bible is full of encouragements to give, especially to the poor and those on the margins.
However, giving is essentially voluntary. However highly we regard it, it’s an optional extra, on top of our other spending. If we don’t give things, we might feel bad, and those to whom we normally give might feel bad, but we have no sense of obligation to give.
I feel this is an unhelpful idea to think about the contributions we make to the finances of the church. I would draw an analogy with a household. To keep a household going requires certain costs – housing, utilities, food, communications and so on. Those members of the household who are able to contribute financially to these costs do so not in the form of ‘giving to the household’ but because it is necessary to do so, to keep the household running.
I suggest that it would be helpful to think in the same way of our financial contributions to the church being something that we do as a result of our membership of the church, an obligation not an act of generosity. Clearly each of us has a different ability to pay, given our income and necessary expenses, and some of us may be at our financial limits (especially given the current state of the economy), and nobody should feel the need to contribute more than they can afford. And many people contribute in other ways than money.
Ultimately we each need to think hard about whether we could increase our level of contribution.