September 2014
Sharing Our Gifts

Do Not Give Money to God!

Can you imagine the confusion on the faces of the congregation when they hear that?

Do not give money to God? But that is what we are told Sunday after Sunday. "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee."

Why give money to God? What is God going to do with it? God doesn't have a bank account, a savings account, or a 401k. God doesn't have a mortgage to pay, kids in college, or elderly parents to care for. So do not give your money to God.

That is what the folks at St. Paul's in Greenville, North Carolina, are being told this fall.
Instead of putting the emphasis on our giving, we are emphasizing our doing. Instead of focusing on funding the budget, we are asked to fund God's work. We are asked to transform our money into ministry. We are asked to use our money, not give it.

We have divided our ministries into five categories: Outreach, worship, parish life, pastoral care, and Christian education. We have calculated how much of our annual budget goes to each of these ministries. And we are asking our congregation to transform their money into these ministries. We are asking our congregation to fund God's work. We do not describe our budget in terms of salaries, utilities, or maintenance. To do so misleads the purpose of our giving. We don't give to pay salaries; we give to provide pastoral care, worship experiences, and education for our children. We don't give to pay utilities or maintenance; we give to provide classrooms and worship spaces and gathering rooms for outreach programs.

Because we know that donors appreciate knowing how their money will be spent, we are allowing donors to designate up to 50% of their pledges to one of the five ministry areas. Any contributed money in excess of the budget for any one ministry will be used in the area of greatest need. Donors of designated money will receive special updates on the programs to which they have given support. All donors, of course, will receive regular reports on the church's five ministry areas.

From giving to using

We are not giving our money to God. After all, the young rich man was not told to sell all and give the money to God; he was told to sell all and give the money to the poor. That's transforming money into ministry.

At the same time, the words tithe, and proportional giving, and stewardship have disappeared at St. Paul's as well.

Being told to tithe scares the hell out of people (perhaps not a bad conversion technique, but not a good way to fund the budget!) Proportional giving is just a device to get people "on the road to tithing" - and we are back at the tithing concept.

We too often forget that old words sometimes take on new meanings. To those in our congregations not raised in the church, and even some of our older members, stewardship does not equal tithing. To those unfamiliar with church language, stewardship today means taking care of the environment, recycling, global warming and reducing our carbon footprint. It certainly does not mean pledging to the church coffers.

So at St. Paul's, we talk about funding ministry. We talk about doing God's work. We talk about each of our five ministry areas and exciting successes in each. We talk about how our money can transform our ministries in the next year. We spend extra effort on telling potential donors exactly how we will use their money and whom it will benefit. And we promise to measure its effectiveness and report to them.

The parable of the three stewards

Yes, now at St. Paul's we talk about using money, instead of giving it. We take seriously the Biblical parable of the three stewards. The rewarded ones were the ones who used the master's money. The rewarded ones multiplied the master's money. They used it for the master's benefit. The chastised one merely gave it back to the master. By the same token, God wants us to use the resources we have been given (in this case, money) - not merely give it back. Not even to give God 10%.

At St. Paul's, we are partnering with God, using the money that God has given us to enable
God's vision for a more perfect world - a world where we worship, care for each other, learn, and reach out to those less fortunate.

Try This: At St. Paul’s, they identified five categories of ministry: Outreach, worship, parish life, pastoral care, and Christian education and reorganized their budget to fund each of their ministry categories. At a vestry or finance committee meeting, create a list of all of your congregation’s ministries, perhaps writing each ministry on a post-it note or index card, and then grouping them together into categories that work for you.

At your next meeting, look at your list with fresh eyes and see if you’ve left anything out or if you want to make some adjustments. Next, look at your budget and begin to talk about/calculate the portion of each line item (salaries, heat and utilities, etc.) that goes to support each ministry area, assigning a percentage of your fixed costs to the appropriate areas. As you get further into this process you may find yourself ‘tweaking ‘ these lists – and amounts - as you begin to use them as a budgeting and planning tool.

Sandra Swan is the director of resource development for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenville, NC. In this volunteer position she is responsible for coordinating and expanding the use of all of St. Paul's resources: human, physical, capital and financial. Sandra retired as President of Episcopal Relief and Development in 2006, and currently serves as a trustee of Church Pension Fund.


This article is part of the September 2014 Vestry Papers issue on Sharing Our Gifts