by Jerald C. Wulf
Why do we give to the church? Is it because it makes us feel good or because everything we have is the Lord’s?
It is suppertime, and the telephone rings. With a certain amount of apprehension, you pick up the receiver. Caller ID does not show a familiar name, so you wonder, “Which will it be: a telemarketer, a political poll or an appeal for monetary support from a charitable organization?”
Across the phone line comes a plea to help victims of some disaster or other. The story pulls at your heart, and when the inevitable request for a gift is presented to you, usually proceeded by, “If only you make a donation, how good you will feel because you have helped someone in need,” you cannot help but respond.
But if we only give because it makes us feel good about ourselves, have we failed to acknowledge the Source of all things?
It is important for Christians to acknowledge that God is the creator—and owner—of everything. If you do not believe this important truth, read Job 41:11, wherein God, as He is talking to Job, lays claim to all of creation. Or read Ps. 24:1, where the Psalmist acknowledges God’s ownership of not only the world, but all who dwell therein. Christians must realize that they are merely stewards, not owners, of the bounty that our God has bestowed and continues to bestow on us. The Lord gives. Christians merely manage. Only when this basic truth is understood can Christian giving occur.
The most important element of Christian giving is trust. When we place our Sunday morning offerings on the altar or when our member congregations share with their districts, we trust that the officers will administer those gifts in a God-pleasing way. So, too, when our 35 districts send a portion of the resources that God has entrusted to them to our beloved Synod, they trust that the officers will use those resources in supporting the ministries and other activities that have been delegated to Synod.
The key term is trust. We first and foremost put our “trust in God above all things,” as the explanation of the First Commandment bids us. We trust that our congregational leaders, our district leaders and our Synod leaders have all been selected with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we trust that the Holy Spirit guides those selections, why are we hesitant to allow those servants the latitude to administer our gifts to meet the needs of the ministries we have decided to do together, as a district or as the Synod? It is time for us to return to the Lord, putting our trust in Him, confident that He will reward those who are “good and faithful servants” and will deal appropriately with those who are not.
At the same time, we must realize that at least a portion of each gift will be used to pay for utilities, postage and other administrative needs of the soliciting organization. These activities are vital to the support of the organization. This is true for congregations, districts and the Synod. The challenge is to be as efficient as possible so that the administrative support costs are kept to a minimum.
In the past few years, total giving (both restricted and unrestricted) to districts and to the Synod has decreased. While restricted gifts have been declining, yet they have increased since the early part of the decade. (That dramatic increase in restricted funding—it should be noted—reflects the outpouring of gifts in response to Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.) Both kinds of giving are needed and certainly welcomed. But church members must understand that it is not always in the best interest of the ministries to receive a majority of restricted gifts.
Gift restrictions do not allow the flexibility to address ministry opportunities as needed. For example, if gifts are donor directed solely for the relief of victims of the Japanese earthquake, but an earthquake occurs in New Zealand, resources received for Japan cannot be directed to earthquake relief in New Zealand. A generous portion of unrestricted gifts are necessary to allow leaders to address needs and ministry opportunities as they occur.
Study the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed and its explanation. Reflect on the Scripture citations above and consider the many blessings the Lord has poured out upon you, the greatest of which is the assurance of the forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, who willingly wore the crown of thorns that we deserved so that we may wear the crown of life.
> Unrestricted gifts are funds the Synod can use where needed most.
> Restricted gifts are funds used only for the purpose designated by the donor.
About the Author: Jerald C. Wulf serves as the Synod’s chief financial officer (CFO).