Facing facts. That is what I have endeavoured to do in this column. There is, I repeat, a crisis in giving to the Lord’s work by Christians – and giving to mission in particular. My concern is that we face up to this challenge.
But I acknowledge that this monetary crisis is only one expression of a deeper crisis within evangelicalism. For example, lack of clarity over the nature of the gospel; theological fluidity and subjectivism; the general lack of spiritual reality coupled with disappointing levels of discipleship; more secularised lifestyles – these are only some of the features of this deepening crisis.
It is from within this wider context that I am highlighting the crisis in giving and suggesting some answers.
One answer, of course, is a radical biblical approach to giving. Here I confine myself to two aspects; namely, proportionate and sacrificial giving.
Christian giving must at least be proportionate to our income. That is a clear biblical principle. In Acts 11:29, for example, the Antioch Christians contributed ‘each according to his ability’ to support Judean believers suffering severe famine.
Another example is in 2 Corinthians 8:10-12. While the Corinthians had been the first to give to the poor churches in Judea, Paul now urges them to complete their giving. But how? ‘According to your means’, he explains, and with ‘willingness’ so that ‘the gift is acceptable according to what one has…’
Allow me to apply this principle to our own situation.
According to surveys carried out in 2005 by Christian Research, Evangelicals in the United Kingdom give on average 7.5% of their income to churches and a further 3% to Christian charities (including mission societies).
In addition, they give about 1.5% to secular charities so the total giving approximates to 12%. This is roughly the same as in 1997. For the average Christian family, this means that something like £3,000 per year is given from their net income.
Such giving can be regarded as proportionate, but there is evidence that younger people tend to give less than older Christians, even though their incomes are often significantly higher.
A related principle is sacrificial giving. Three real-life examples may help us here. An elderly Christian was exercised in prayer recently to give sacrificially in support of mission. But she already gives beyond her means – what more could she do?
Not only did she donate most of her savings but she also auctioned her cherished silverware in order to give the proceeds to the Lord. It was a sacrifice for her.
Or think of a teenage boy who, in his own poverty, chooses to go without some necessities to sustain an evangelistic outreach to street gangs in his local area. It is a moving story.
Then there is the young family who deliberately decide against indulging in elaborate house decor and the purchase of new gadgets. To the further consternation of their Christian relatives, they cut back on a planned holiday in order to give an even more significant (and sacrificial) sum of money to a missionary in immediate need.
And that is exactly the spirit in which the Macedonian churches gave – despite their ‘extreme poverty’ and ‘beyond their ability’ they first gave themselves to the Lord and then to his people sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Is this where we are weakest? We may give proportionately but do we give sacrificially? To what extent do we sacrifice in order to give away to the Lord’s work?
My second answer involves a number of questions and requests to church officers.
About 31% of Evangelical Christians in the UK now give more than 10% of their household income to their church. This is a significant trend and compares favourably with America, where the corresponding figure is only 23%.
But this presents a huge challenge to church leaders. Is mission work high among your church’s priorities? Are the monies entrusted to you being well spent in biblical terms? An additional 15-20% giving from churches to mission work would make an enormous and immediate difference.
Again, what about taking discipleship even more seriously in your church? Do you give the impression that the Christian life only involves attendance at selected meetings and abstaining from a few bad habits? Where is the biblical emphasis and detailed guidance on radical discipleship, regular self-denial and the cost of following of the Lord?
In this context, can I press on you the need to mentor younger Christians? I know of young people who would value this if done wisely by respected leaders in their churches. It involves spending time with them, sharing and advising both prayerfully and patiently.
If well done, it can accelerate the spiritual development of young Christians and encourage older ones too. We need to invest time and energy in nurturing these believers.
Finally, we need to recapture a sense of the wonder and glory of the gospel of Christ in our churches. While preachers must lead in this respect, it is nevertheless a responsibility of the whole church.
Members should especially pray for the Holy Spirit to empower the preaching and quicken believers with a new sense of amazement – that God in Christ should have loved and saved sinners like ourselves.
It is only from a full heart of love to Christ that we can truly say, Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. That, after all, is real giving.