Oh, no. Here it comes. An offering plate. Or a chance to give to a person or charity who needs it. You freeze. How much should you give? How much is too much? Should you have given more? Is everyone looking at you, waiting to see how much you’ve given?
We all want to be generous, to give freely of our money, but when it comes down to it, whether you have $100 or $1 million, it’s easy to justify to yourself that you need all of it, or that you can’t afford to give quite yet or that you just haven’t found a church or charity you feel comfortable giving to.
We’ve all heard the reasons people hold back from financial giving. The list ranges from fear to greed, Biblical ignorance, poor money habits and the like. You may have even heard or taught sermons about them.
But in my years of interacting with givers, I have observed more subtle and practical reasons why people seem to hold back from giving a financial gift. So, whether you’re new in the “giving journey” or a teacher encouraging others, here are three things you should stop doing to help you embrace freedom and growth in giving.
1. Stop looking for that “magic moment”
Often, Christians want an experience to accompany their giving—much like a peaceful feeling that tickles their hearts when they drop the check in the offering plate.
When people write a check, or click “Pay Now,” for their mortgage or rent, they’re not looking for a magic moment. Still, they enjoy their homes by working in the yard, sitting on the patio or watching TV.
In the same way, no one is looking for a spiritual buzz when they pay their Mastercard or Visa bill. Still, they enjoy the vacations, dining experiences and stuff they purchased.
Sure, knowing that our financial gifts can please God should bring peace to our hearts and our giving, but if we have the wrong expectation that a warm fuzzy feeling should be there, we are bound to get confused or even discouraged when it’s not.
If your giving choices influence your lifestyle in a meaningful way, you will experience worship through giving all the time—even outside of Sunday service. But if your lifestyle influences your giving instead (by giving leftovers or amounts that don’t really matter to you), your giving won’t be fulfilling. Often this leads to giving less or not giving at all.
So when it comes to writing a check, paying online or dropping the envelope in the plate, stop looking for that magic moment.
2. Stop obsessing about the method
A friend of mine began giving systematically for 12 months straight. Previously, he had always given sporadically and in line with the unique patterns of his business. When he asked for my thoughts on systematic versus variable giving, my response was this: “Give in whatever way allows you to give the most!”
If you grew up giving weekly into the offering plate on Sunday mornings, and that venue is meaningful to you, then continue this practice. If, instead, you prefer the discipline of automating your gifts online, then do that. If monthly or quarterly giving is more practical for your planning and cash flow cycles, then trust the freedom to give accordingly.
Again, the idea is that your gifts cost you in a meaningful way. The overall measure of your gifts matters more than the method or the frequency.
Apostle Paul was very interested in the Corinthians setting aside money systematically (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). He encouraged them to do so weekly, so that the money would be saved up when the collection buckets came around again. Rather than a mandate for weekly giving, Paul’s instructions were to encourage them to be ready when he came back months later to collect the gifts.
While most of us may benefit from the help of such systematic giving, the point is this: There are no rules! As stewards and money managers, we are also gift managers. We are free to utilize the methods that help us to give in line with our circumstances.
So, stop analyzing the gift methods. If you give an amount that matters to you, it will matter to God also, regardless of whether you automate your gifts or write checks, give weekly or monthly, give with inspiring music during church or while paying bills with your kids screaming in the background.
3. Stop looking for the perfect causes
Making gift decisions can be difficult because there is no shortage of places to give. Needs are rampant. Kingdom vision-casting abounds.
So how do we determine where to give? Who deserves our help? What recipients are worthy of our support? The answer: relax!
God is not standing behind certain “cause curtains” waiting to see if you’ll walk through the right ones. Instead, He is paying attention to your gifts directed to Him.
If you have been on a mission trip, you probably recall spending most of your time before the trip thinking about the “effective work” you were going to do. But after the trip, you probably spent most of the time talking about what happened to your heart. That’s because when it comes to missions, often God does more in us than through us. The same goes with giving.
To help us in this area, consider the Biblical instructions to support two groups through financial gifts. The first being the “seed-sowers,” which includes the local church, missionaries, word-based organizations, and second being the needy—the poor, orphans, widows, hungry and lame.
While the matter of tithing and “church-first” giving is a beefy one and can’t be fully addressed here, we are commanded to not neglect giving to where we are fed spiritually—and that means supporting our local church. And as scripture makes very clear, we are to remember the poor with our gifts as well.
We should give freely and openly. Don’t complicate the giving process and overthink the needs by trying to give everywhere—you can’t. Remember, God is the primary recipient of our gifts. Do not let your giving be driven by need for an experience, or search for the right method or understanding the “right” gift recipients.
Instead, look up to God. As you develop in the giving journey, you’ll learn to sense God’s leading to be more discerning and selective and in line with a clearer giving purpose. The generous givers I know tell me they rarely, if ever, regret a gift—even when the outcome may not be as effective as they envisioned.
In time, you’ll likely discover a lifestyle experience that fills you, a giving method that motivates you and a heart transformation that is worth more as much as any effective work.
Jeff Anderson has worked with churches and nonprofits for nearly two decades, in his own church, as Vice President of Generosity Initiatives with Crown Financial Ministries, and currently as leader of AcceptableGift.org. Jeff continues to consult and speak, and is the author of Plastic Donuts, Giving the Delights the Heart of the Father, published by Multnomah/Random House.