Every year I try to get a member to talk about their giving honestly to the congregation. The ones I ask are not our largest givers, but those that have impressed me by their faithfulness. I asked one man who had lost his job but throughout his unemployment, with a family, mortgage and all the rest, still gave faithfully to the church. He was forced to give less, which he told me regretfully. Frankly worried, I asked if it was the right thing to do. He said if he stopped giving it would be like saying God had abandoned him and this is not what he believed at all.
Once, I asked a solid giver in this church. His family lived on his average income alone, yet, year in and year out his offerings were generous by anyone’s standard. Yet, he was someone that no one in the congregation would guess gave so much. When I asked him about it, he said it was just how he was raised to give thanks to God in all ways.
I asked a young person one year who was just starting out but gives faithfully. With so many bills that college graduates have, I was impressed that she found room in her budget to give thanks to God in worship. I thought it would be helpful for all of us to hear what motivated her. She told me she was taught that before you do anything else with your income, you set aside your offering. This is what she intended to do now that she was working.
I heard these things, but you didn’t, because none of these faithful servants wanted to talk about giving in front of the congregation. Few want to draw attention to their giving or have others think they are lifting themselves up as special. So this year, I am going to share a little of my own story. Now, don’t roll your eyes, because remember I didn’t become a pastor until I was 34 with a kid in high school and two in middle school. As just another guy in the pew, I have held quite a few pledge cards in my sweating hands over the years wondering how much I should give.
It may or may not surprise you that I was no shining star in this area. No pastor ever asked me to talk about my giving in front of the congregation. In my defense, I can remember no Lutheran pastor where we attended ever speak frankly about giving in church, either. Most pastors are as uncomfortable talking about this topic as you are listening to it.
After college, I gave how I saw my parents giving, $20 in an envelope whenever I worshipped. Not only could I have afforded more, but since I missed worship often, the $20 didn’t add up to much by the end of the year. I had a friend that tithed and he told me what he was giving and my eyes got wide. “No way.” I honestly thought he had come under the influence of some shady, sleazy, pastor.
I didn’t think much more was expected of me. We were in our 20’s, with a single income, mortgage, car payments and young kids. We were good people not doing anything evil or even wasteful with our income. My family and I were faithful worshippers and volunteers, active in the congregation. We would admit we didn’t give a lot but we gave something. If I thought at all about how the church funded their ministries, I figured there were a few really wealthy people that were giving a lot and I was fine with that. Several times, when the congregations we were a part had money problems, Paige and I wrote what to us were large checks to help out. Once, we received a gift of money and we used some of it to buy new furniture for the youth room at the church we attended.
Honestly, my view on giving did not change until I became a pastor. Admittedly, as a pastor I worried a lot more about how the church was going to pay for her ministries than when I was just a guy sitting in the pew. No churches I have led have had a few wealthy guys that carry the load for everyone else. I also couldn’t preach sermons about this to you when I wasn’t taking it seriously myself.
Really, though, I wanted to work fully at what our January sermons have been about. I trusted that my life would change if I surrendered all of it, every bit of it, even my income to God. I wanted to be an instrument for God and a part of God’s plan to repair this broken world. I wanted to not only bless God’s world, but be blessed by God. I wanted to go all in and commit. Part of this commitment was beginning a journey of yearly increasing our giving.
Last year, Paige and I gave about $12,000 to Messiah’s ministries. Twelve years ago, there was only one year we ever gave over $1000 to any of the churches we belonged. Our giving has increased incrementally. Our first goal was to set an amount we would notice when we wrote the check. We determined that would be $100 a week. Each year, we have challenged our home budget to surrender more.
Now, I know I am a pastor and I am held to a different standard in your mind, but I have to be honest. Not a month goes by in the Hanf home where I, Paige or one of the kids does not wonder aloud what we could do if we spent that money on a vacation, a car, a bigger house or whatever. It is real money to us that forces us to make real decisions weekly, monthly and annually.
Here is my witness. We have been blessed by our offering to the church. The discipline to be able to share this much, has forced us to get our financial house in order. I am less stressed about money than I have ever been. Paige and I both have a clearer sense of our priorities and what we want to spend our wealth on and what we don’t. We make goals and save for them, something we never did before. We talk more openly about money issues than we ever have. Turning this part of our life over to God has blessed us because money has less power over us now.
A greater blessing is the joy found in being generous. Ministry happens because Paige and I have surrendered our income. People’s lives are changed. They are fed and clothed because of us. They are drawn to worship because of us. They are encouraged to share their gifts because of us and their gifts just add to the blessings of the ministry of Messiah. Messiah would survive without our offering. God’s church would survive without our offerings. Yet, because of our offerings, Messiah is stronger and God’s voice is heard clearer. There is great joy in this. I no longer think there is a wealthy guy that will make it all happen. I know I am the wealthy guy, richly blessed by God that is called to help make ministry happen.
Some parts of my story may sound like your story. Some may be on a faithful journey discovering the joy of being generous and others may want to begin a new journey today. Some may be in the midst of financial chaos because of a job loss or family disaster and just this topic is painful to think about. Wherever you are, dedicate this week to prayer. Prayer for where God is calling you to travel in this year. Prayer for those you worship with to surrender this part of their life to God, too. Then, fill out your pledge card for 2011 and bring it joyfully to worship next week. Confident, that this gift supports God’s ministry at Messiah. Ministry happens when we all yoke are gifts together, surrendering them to God. We are blessed in so many ways when we do. Amen