It's not up to me to tell another what to do. I’ll always have fingers point at me suggesting that I’m the problem. It's only when I decide that I am, in fact, “the problem” or part of the solution that I’ll make a difference. What I can do is share what I do as an effective way of proclaiming the Gospel and being a disciple.
I always had a coin or two for Sunday School offering! Once I started earning my own, I had to connect the dots a bit ... Mum and Dad didn't stick a quarter in my pocket anymore! My first real encounter with a call to giving came during a meeting with a summer supervisor while in divinity studies. Now, paid by the Church I served, my question to my mentor: "How much should I give?" The appropriate answer, "That's between you and the Lord, my friend." Not much help.
Of course, it's different for me as I rely on the Church for my living. Or is it? I'm paid a "fixed income" every month to use as I choose. I "choose" to keep food in the cupboard and fuel in the car, among many, many other things. Holy orders or not, a buck still only goes so far.
Soon after ordination to the transitional diaconate, my income stabilizing a bit, I pretty much set the approach I've taken ever since. I've never regretted it. I give to God out of the first dollars I receive. It is much easier to decide upfront what my financial commitments are going to be. I tithe.
There seems to be a rampant misunderstanding about that word. "tithe" comes from the word "tenth," so it’s a proportion, that proportion being specifically one-tenth part of the whole. I'm regularly confused by those who claim they "tithe 14%!" Isn’t that a tithe and an offering of 4%? Praise the Lord! God has got to be far more joyous about the four percent than the ten. One is the biblical assumed standard, the other a gift. I also habitually make gifts (offerings) at Christmas, Easter, to PWRDF, at times of special need, and to other causes both inside and outside of the Church.
There seems to be a rampant misunderstanding about that word.
Do I give to the Cancer Society and the Alzheimer's Society and others? You bet. I think it's all good and important work and don't mind being part of it in the least. Do I count it an "offering to God" for the proclamation of the Gospel? No, I don't, because it is not. If I were to do that, my commitment to our Lord would be less than my understanding of the biblical expectation. We twist, turn and squeeze that one, making it far more complicated than it need be. Unlike many issues, Holy Scripture is far from vague on this one. The only way I can assure that I own my money and it doesn't own me is to be willing to consistently put the part that belongs to God where it ought to be.
I can't be in a church pew or stand at the Altar on a Sunday and watch the faith community to which I belong and within which I enjoy the blessing of acceptance and membership, struggle with financial realities and challenges while I give some of my first dollars to another cause. My commitment to supporting the proclamation of the Gospel comes from the first of my earnings while other charities, I'm afraid, get some of my last. Its interesting, though, how I always seem to have some for them too.
Does my church giving matter a hoot to my eternal salvation? I don't think so. If I had to buy myself into the good graces of God, I couldn’t begin to afford it. One-tenth plus, however, is a small price in recognition and thanksgiving for the mountain of blessings I enjoy – a healthy number I experience by way of walking the journey of faith, shoulder to shoulder, laugh to laugh and tear to tear, with others also called to be among the ranks of the baptized.
Am I bragging? No way. I could do much more ... but often don't, and I'm seldom very pleased about that. I am convinced that we all need not be ashamed of witnessing to what good is done for God and for others. We need desperately to share the priorities we hold dear. And maybe that's what its really all about? The financial stresses and strains we experience as members of the Body of Christ, the Church would not exist at all if we just got to it, and take a step toward giving sincere and honest witness and encouragement to one another about the what and why of what we do. It's not up to me to recommend, or even suggest for that matter, what someone else should do. The best I can do is share what I do and rest assured it makes a difference.