Generous giving often requires sacrificial living.
What happens when a Christian sacrifices to give to someone in ministry, but the person in ministry doesn’t sacrifice to the same level?
- What should you do when you cut eating out from your budget to support a missionary who you hear is eating out?
- What should you do when you stop taking vacations to support a ministry, and the key leader is taking vacations?
- What should you do when you downsize your home to support a pastor who is upgrading his home?
- What should you do when you economize your household spending so a church can have the latest and greatest?
From the Perspective of a Missionary
I’ll start by addressing this from the side of a minister and missionary. Until 2012, my annual salary has always come 100% from the donations of Christians.
People in ministry are put under a microscope and live in houses made of windows. Everyone sees, judges, and evaluates their actions.
After we had been in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years, we were really looking for an opportunity to take a vacation and recharge our batteries. We were feeling a lot of pressure from many different sides. We talked frequently about taking a family vacation to Brisbane, Australia, but our biggest reservation was – what would people think, say, or do? We knew many individuals were sacrificing to support us, but we also knew that vacations were vital to our emotional health.
In the end, my parents ended up using some of their points to get us a week long condominium vacation in Brisbane. For some legal work, the two of us had to fly to Port Moresby, PNG to process some paperwork with the government, so we decided that was the time to do the trip as economically as possible. It still cost us about $3,000.
A part of us felt guilty about it.
To be frank, one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about working for myself is being outside of the analytical eye, where either everyone is judging me, or I think everyone is judging me based on how I spend my money.
In the end, we concluded that we were living responsibly and frugally. In light of how we managed our money, we felt comfortable with the expenditure.
From the Perspective of a Giver
We’ve always done our best to support missionaries in the work they do. We’ve made it a personal goal to divide our extra giving into equal thirds of church, missions, and works with the poor.
I’d be lying if there haven’t been occasions where I’ve felt like we sacrificed more than the people to whom we’re giving.
I’ve known missionaries who bought things I’d never consider buying, and they’ve paid prices I’d never consider paying. Here I am back home practicing missional frugality, and those on the field sometimes live as luxuriously as the people back home.
That’s the rub. Both parties (the giver and the recipient) have a legitimate concern and legitimate issues.
So, what do we do?
The Two Parts of Giving
I believe that our motivations to give can be broken down into two main categories: personal benefits and ministry benefits.
When we give, we are blessed. I’m not talking about health and wealth gospel, but we do receive a return for what we give. Another benefit is that we free ourselves from the love and grip of money. Giving is not just a method God uses to fund ministries, but to allow our hearts to change and to allow us to experience the joy of giving.
These personal benefits can never be taken away from us no matter how the funds are used by others.
We all hope not just to experience the personal blessing of giving, but to help fund an important ministry that ultimately advances the kingdom of God. The question is – where does my stewardship end and another person’s stewardship responsibility begin?
I’d focus my stewardship efforts on the results and benefits of a ministry. Some ministries spend money on things I wouldn’t spend money on, but the ministry is effective. In those situations, I think I use my wisdom to support the ministry, and then trust their judgement as they are now responsible for overseeing the funds.
Thus, I’m happy supporting people and ministries who are doing good work – even if their financial management is different than my own. Obviously, there is a limit to this allowance. I would never support a televangelist who owns a multi-million dollar home. Thus, there is a limit to the financial freedom I give to those I support.
The Poison of Judgment
Our family recognizes that we take this frugal living thing a little further than most people. We also realized that that could harm our relationships with people if we didn’t openly admit to each other that this is a lifestyle choice we are making, and we won’t hold others to the same standard.
At the root of this is the poison of judgment.
The reality is that we all think we are the prefect center. People who spend money in ways we spend money are good financial managers, and people who spend money in ways we wouldn’t dare spend money are wasteful. That seems to be the case with Mary in John 12. According to all their wisdom and sensibilities, the funds were wasted. Jesus disagreed.
One of my all-time favorite financial quotes is by Elizabeth O’Connor:
Proportionate to what? Proportionate to the accumulated wealth of one’s family? Proportionate to one’s income and the demands upon it, which vary from family to family? Proportionate to one’s sense of security and the degree of anxiety with which one lives? Proportionate to the keenness of our awareness of those who suffer? Proportionate to our sense of justice and of God’s ownership of all wealth? Proportionate to our sense of stewardship for those who follow after us? And so on, and so forth. The answer of course, is in proportion to all of these things.
See what she’s saying?
I’m more likely to spend money on vacations than most people are. You might like eating out. Another might like decorating her home. Someone else might have a thing for fancy cars.
The danger is for me to think I’m the perfect center and judge people who spend money in ways that are different than myself. Sure, they may spend more on cars, but perhaps there are other ways that they spend less money than me.
I guess what I’m advocating is strictness in the judgment of ourselves and liberty in the judgment of others.
I write about topics on this blog that I’d never initiate in a conversation with a friend or family member. I think for me to challenge them or question them based on my assumptions would be unfair. If someone asks for my opinion, I’m always willing to give it, but I try to lean towards being liberal in my judgment of others (but it can be hard at times).
We are all very unique members of God’s creation. Not only do we have different dispositions, we also have very different experiences. Those things shape us.
I believe in something called conditional judgment. That means that we will all be judged differently. James 3:1 says we shouldn’t all strive to be teachers because teachers are judged more strictly. Matthew 7:2 tells us that in the way we judge others, we too will be judged.
God knows all our experiences. All our lessons. All our personalities. Everything. And he is going to responsibly judge us based on what he’s given to us and allowed us to experience.
When it comes to giving, focus the majority of my effort on my home because that’s something I can control. Outside my own home, my thoughts are merely judgments (usually based on my own unique experiences and beliefs).
If I support a ministry where someone uses money more liberally than myself, I believe I’ll still be blessed for that gift and that ministry will be blessed as well.
How do you deal with situations where someone in ministry lives more extravagantly than yourself?