Separation of Church and Bank, pt. 3
So, giving is a vital part of the Christian life - a response to the grace of God, an imitation of the ministry of Christ, an act of generosity to others, a powerful resource for encouraging the Church, and a means of "taking hold of what is truly life." But it is not an act that should take place mindlessly. We should have godly standards for our giving, because it's not just about accumulating wealth, but rather about empowering others to freedom by the means that God has distributed to us. We should be giving to the spiritual community to which we are accountable, and beyond that to that which promotes holistic advancement of the Kingdom, things we're passionate about, and that which is proven successful or has potential for success.
What should giving beyond the church or as a church look like? Peter Greer and Phil Smith say in The Poor Will Be Glad, “Churches all over the world are rethinking their approach to missions. I have seen a growing movement of churches becoming involved in AIDS by providing hospice care for people who are sick and orphan care for the children left behind when their parents die from the disease. In a similar way, churches around the world are increasing their programs to end poverty, one family at a time.”
All of the examples below are things that need funding and all must work together to the holistic glory of God, but we shouldn’t be frivolously giving hand-outs. The recurring themes in all of these are: be informed, have expectations, and advance the kingdom.
Giving to Individuals
I know that financing modern missions is a gray area. I know because I'm getting a major in missions. I know this because I'm studying global economic development. I know this because I've watched the news. I know this because I have been the recipient of a lot of blind donations.
Whether domestic or abroad, funding ministry is very expensive, and a balance sheet calculating conversions per dollar will never add up. While I would like to say, "It doesn't matter how much it costs when people's souls are on the line," but it is also right to say, "These are God's resources and we should be using them in the most holistically effective way." The fact is that there are billions of people in the world and in our communities that don't know Christ and it's going to take money to reach them. The question lies in the how. So, here's some things to consider:
Short or long-term? A gray area that is even larger than financing general mission works is financing short-term mission work. Millions of dollars fund short-term experiences that are primarily for the person going and not for the community hosting them. I know this because I've been on them. While beneficial, I could have had the same cross-cultural experience a few miles from my house for a few thousand dollars less and I could have served the host community better by working under locals who invited me to serve their purposes that could not be otherwise met by their community. Though I was well-meaning and these trips were part of my motivation to commit to long-term missions, I could not in good conscience support many of the church-funded activities in which I participated in high school. If you're supporting short-term missions you should trust the person, know what they're doing, and know if they are doing positive things in a community through a local Christ-centered church or organization.
You should also have expectations. You should know what's happening to your money because it is God's money and should not be squandered. Mission work is not an all-expenses paid cultural experience. There should be a noticeable difference between one working abroad and being a cross-cultural minister. Kingdom work is going to look different in every location depending upon receptivity, cultural barriers, dominant religion, social issues, exchange rates, and longevity of presence. That's why it's important to know who you're supporting and know what they're doing. Honest and open communication is key.
Be informed. Know the missionary. Know their locale. Know their target audience. Know what they're doing. Have a relationship with them.
I don't think it was an accident that Jesus spent a lot of his time around tax collectors, and even recruited one to be in his closest circle of friends. The Church needs business people. If the Church is going to have an influence in this world we cannot continue to separate it. If we want to stand out from the business community we have to stand out within the business community. The Church should not limit its funds to just those in overt ministerial positions.
Business as missions is going to be the key in brining the gospel to many of the unreached parts of the world. Invest in those that are pursuing nontraditional ways of spreading the gospel and making products that sustainably pave the way for Christ and promote positive change in communities.
Giving to Organizations
Social Groups & Schools
I go to a private university that is heavily funded by donors. They have made it possible for so many to become followers of Christ, learn about his teachings, apply them to their daily lives, and share them with others in their diverse fields. If you’re giving to a club or school make sure that they comply with your giving standards, are promoting Kingdom transformation, and are successful.
The Kony 2012 campaign took the world by storm and raised millions of dollars. Do you know where that money went? I don’t. If you’re giving your money know where it’s going and what it’s doing. If you’re grocery shopping you don’t just hand $25.00 to the cashier and say, “Pick out whatever you want.” You know what you want from the store, you know what you have at home, and you know what your family needs. Have expectations, be informed, and give with discretion.
You may have participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge or a Walk for the Cure. Do you know where your donations went? You may know what organization they went to, but do you know specifically what your money is supporting and whether or not the organization is using it responsibly and moving toward their goal? You should know whether or not your money is doing good for others. Research is needed if we’re going to fight diseases that have taken so many lives and caused so much suffering, but don’t forget about small organizations that are doing small-scale research, serving patients, comforting the families of those who were lost to various diseases, and reaching suffering people with Christ.
This money goes directly to people who are in the midst of disaster. My church has had special contributions on behalf of a relief organization that delivered necessary items to disaster victims in New Orleans, the Philippines, and Japan. This is quick necessary aid to address immediate needs that cannot otherwise be met, such as those that arise during a natural disaster, war, or displacement. It calls for compassion, but not indiscretion. Know what your organization is doing and how long they plan to stay. Aid organizations that stay too long have a tendency to become highly destructive to recovering communities.
Development is something I’m very passionate about. It is initiatives that move beyond aid to a place of long-term empowerment of low-income communities to grow and take care of themselves. This could look like education, public health education, agricultural development (see what Healing Hands International is doing with food sustainability), business development (see what World Vision is doing with microloans), and countless other opportunities for long-term advancement, relationship building, and opportunities to share Christ.
Getting the rich into heaven may be like putting a camel through the eye of a needle, but getting the poor out of poverty may be just as hard – yet equally possible through the power of God. Phil Smith & Eric Thurman note in their book, A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking, and the Business Solution for Ending Poverty, that impoverished communities share a lack of capital, and without capital individuals don’t have a chance to grow their businesses or advance in the modern business world. This is where something like microfinance, which Kiva defines as “general financial services to low-income individuals or those who do not have access to typical banking services,” works powerfully.
When individuals are able to save money they are able to move from a fatalistic trajectory to being able to think about the long-term. Now that they’ve addressed immediate needs of hunger and shelter, they can then consider how will they educate their children, prepare for disaster, and serve their families. It has the power to change their perspective to one that is looking to the future, one looking toward eternity. This works through individual giving through an organization like Kiva, or could be successful through entire congregations. Phil Smith notes in The Poor Will Be Glad that a Tulsa, OK church partnered with HOPE International to provide a microcredit organization in southern Russia. The church trained ministers and then paid them through a microcredit program that allowed the Russian churches to become financially independent as their members improve their incomes. It is sustainable and can organically advance the gospel.
However, it too can have its downfalls. When giving to development organizations make sure that you agree with what they’re doing and that they’re using their money wisely and honestly. Look at interest rates and services offered by microfinance institutions to make sure that they are honest bankers and are reflecting Christ in what they are doing.
Give cheerfully. Give honestly. Give knowledgeably. Give to what works. Give to advance the Kingdom of God. Give abundantly. Take hold of that which is truly life.