Guidelines for Group Giving
The Bible is a very practical book, it teaches us how to live well. Reading through its pages we find specific teaching on a wide variety of subjects. That’s not to say that the Bible addresses every possible subject, but it does give us principles that can be applied to every situation you and I face in life.
For example, the Bible doesn’t give us a command, “Thou shalt not play the lottery.” But Proverbs 13:11 warns, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” And First Timothy 6:9 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” To me, those verses speak clearly about whether or not I should “play the lottery.”
Deuteronomy 22:8 commanded the children of Israel “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.”
Immediately, someone will say, “that’s Old Testament, we don’t need to follow that anymore.” Not so fast! It’s true that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and we don’t need to build railings around the roof of our house; unless, of course, it’s a flat roof we use as part of our living space. But there’s a larger principle here; it is to show proper care for those around you.
We follow this principle by removing hazards on our property, covering a ditch, or cutting down a dead tree. Most of us carry liability insurance to cover any injuries that someone might incur on our property. We’re concerned about the welfare of others, so we take steps to lessen their risks when they are on our property.
For the past few weeks on The Voice of Hope, we’ve been learning about giving from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Today’s text is II Corinthians 8:16 to 24. These verses provide details of a gift that was being gathered by the Believers in Asia Minor for the poor and persecuted saints in Jerusalem.
These verses also provide practical guidelines on how a gift of this type should be managed. While this teaching may not seem so practical to our daily lives as Christ-followers, there are important things we can learn as we attempt to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. I believe these final verses of this chapter apply especially to the recipients of financial gifts, like churches, evangelistic ministries, missionaries, Christian schools, and other Christian organizations.
I’ve titled our study, “Guidelines for Group Giving.” Listen carefully as I read our text, Second Corinthians 8:8 to 16. This is God’s Word to us.
This text gives several important DIRECTIVES that will help us use best practices in group giving.
The First DIRECTIVE is,
Engage Trusted Stewards
When Titus heard from Paul about the needs of the church in Jerusalem, he immediately set out to remind the Corinthians of that need and to receive a gift from them. The last chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians informed them of the need, but they hadn’t done anything yet. Because of his zeal, Titus took it upon himself to go to Corinth to collect their gift.
Titus was accompanied by another brother who was well-known among the churches of that day. We don’t know who that person was, perhaps Luke. But when we get down to verse 22, we discover that another faithful brother has been added to this team. Here is a key principle; administration of a gift like this needs to engage trusted stewards. Having multiple people responsible for the gift is a safety mechanism that protects everyone involved.
Look at some of the words that are used to describe the men on this team: earnest, willing, approved by the churches, gifted administrators, diligent, cooperative, and Christ-glorifying. Those seem like men who could easily gain my confidence. I would call them trusted stewards. But let’s also think about some words that aren’t used to describe them: thrifty, polished, business-minded, or focused on the bottom line. Do you see the difference? These don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive, but they often tend to be so.
Too often today, when a church or organization is raising funds for a particular need, they focus on men with this second group of characteristics when the character qualities of the first group should be of greatest priority. Character really does matter.
I think it’s important to notice that, with the exception of Titus, these men weren’t chosen by Paul. They were chosen by the churches. The churches had a vested interest in this process. They chose men who had a track record, who had proven their integrity, men who could be trusted to handle a gift of this size. I’m amazed sometimes at the confidence people place in those they don’t really know. They forget that money tends to have a very corrupting influence.
Paul has no reservations about the character of these messengers. He actually refers to them as apostolos. Now, granted, that is “apostles” in the general sense of “ones being sent,” not those who had seen the Lord face to face. These men were being sent by the churches and were given responsibility for the proper accounting of the funds involved in this project. And they were committed to doing it for the glory of God (verse 23). What a good example for us to follow!
The Next DIRECTIVE (that will help us use best practices in group giving) is,
Avoid the Appearance of Impropriety
This is so important in our day. Notice that Paul had requested the gift for the Jerusalem church, but he had nothing to do with the administration of it. No one would be able to accuse Paul of favoritism, mismanagement, or lining his own pockets. I believe this is a good pattern for us to follow. Pastors of churches shouldn’t have anything to do with the handling of finances in their congregations! That’s the work of deacons or elders. When I see a pastor who handles the church finances, immediately the red flags go up in my mind.
I receive a regular email from an organization called Ministry Watch. They’re a non-profit whose mission is “to restore transparency, accountability, and credibility to the evangelical church, to the end that the world might glorify the God we serve.” Almost every week their emails report on pastors involved in the mismanagement or theft of finances. It’s a blot on the name of Christ and His church! It gives unchurched people a reason to justify their refusal to attend and participate. Jesus said, and I paraphrase Luke 16:11, “those who are unfaithful in handling finances are not to be trusted with the Gospel either.”
One of the reasons for having multiple people involved in a giving project like this is to avoid the appearance of impropriety. This isn’t a matter of not trusting people, it is a matter of protecting them from accusations of unfaithfulness. If you are given responsibility for a project like this, you should immediately insist that others be appointed to help you. They may catch some innocent mistakes you make in the process and spare you from accusations of mismanagement or even the loss of your reputation.
I know of a situation where a church treasurer had almost exclusive control of the church finances. When some questions were raised about the status of funds and the suggestion was made to have an audit of the finances, he became very upset and defensive. He accused the questioners of not trusting him. His defensiveness only aroused greater suspicion and the situation didn’t end well. Oversight of finances is never threatening to someone who is honest.
In the matter of giving, you and I need to avoid the appearance of impropriety at all costs.
The Final DIRECTIVE (that will help us use best practices in group giving) is,
Evidently, the men who were in charge of carrying this gift to Jerusalem were also charged with soliciting in the churches along the way. According to verse 24, they were to be welcomed by the local congregations and to be given the opportunity to share in the need. I know from personal experience that some churches can be very jealous of their finances. Paul was encouraging the churches of Asia Minor to share generously with their needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
In the group of churches that I’m part of we have a procedure for helping individual congregations with financial needs that are bigger than their ability to handle. It involves several steps of vetting and accountability. When those requirements are met, the need is then sent out to all the pastors and deacons who are part of this larger group of churches. Some give out of the church benevolence fund or take a special offering for the need. Others choose not to participate. But our people are encouraged to be generous. Finally, a report of how the need was met is to be submitted by the local church where the need originates.
Many of us know what it’s like to have large medical bills, the losses caused by a house fire, or some other financial burden. What a blessing it is to have the church, the body of Christ, come alongside and help to lift that burden! After you experience something like this, you know what it feels like, and it makes you more willing to share in the needs of others. Because, as Paul stated in the earlier verses of this chapter, the circumstances could easily be reversed someday and the ones in need now will be the givers then.
In the last verse of this chapter, Paul writes, “Therefore show to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf.” The word picture Paul creates here is of a great host watching how the Corinthians will receive and respond to these trusted stewards chosen by the churches to oversee the collection and distribution of this gift. You may already know this, but generosity begets generosity. Paul is using positive peer pressure to motivate generous participation.
As I said at the beginning of this teaching, I believe the directives in this text apply beyond the church, especially in the world of Christian non-profits. But please be aware that the definition of Christian varies widely, so make sure you know what is meant when the organization uses that term.
Do you know how the finances are being used by the charities you support? You should. And that information should be readily available whenever you request it. If you get stonewalled or are given the runaround when you seek information from an organization, that should raise your suspicions. A healthy organization will be eager to answer your questions and provide additional information without delay
Has the organization been a trusted steward of the money donated by others? Do they, or the people who staff them, have a track record of trustworthiness? Do they avoid the appearance of impropriety? What’s the lifestyle of the administration and staff? What do their headquarters look like? Those are all valid questions and concerns.
Once these questions are answered satisfactorily and you believe in the mission of the organization, be generous. And remember, generosity begets generosity. May God bless you as you understand and apply these directives to your giving.