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Archive for Giving


Secrecy vs. Confidentiality

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It’s common to hear a church leader struggle with the challenge of developing and discipling their givers when their church’s giving records are closed. My company, MortarStone Generosity, provides data analytics and intelligence software that measure the recency, frequency, volume and tenure of givers so that church leaders can encourage givers to take steps toward a lifestyle of generosity. But the elephant in the room is that dollars are associated with names, which can create heartburn for church leaders who are unaccustomed to privileged information.

Many, if not most churches have strict rules about who has access to information, citing Matthew 6:1-4 as the reason for strict observance of secrecy. Let’s look at it.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, NLT)

Jesus began this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with a thematic statement that would serve for the three points that follow: giving, fasting, and praying. So right up front, Jesus wants us to know that he assumes that his disciples will give, fast and pray, but these practices should be done in a way that is not self indulgent. The word hypocrite is featured in the text, and is borrowed from the secular world of theater. Actors in Greek theater would wear masks (think “comedy and tragedy”) and assume the role of whichever character they would play. So the word simply means “one who wears a mask,” but came to colloquially refer to a person who pretends to be someone they are not, or a hypocrite. Those who act with hypocrisy receive their apecho. Apecho, translated “reward” is a business term that refers to a receipt that is provided when a transaction has been paid in full. Jesus is literally saying that when we give in a way to be noticed by others, we have our receipt.

Having said that, Jesus instructs his disciples to not let their left hand know what your right hand is doing. Scholars are divided about what this means, but the general idea is to not give with both hands because in so doing, you draw attention to what you’re doing. If you think about how you may have passed notes in Jr. High School during class, you will get the idea of what Jesus is saying.

His admonition directly follows this instruction, where Jesus directs us to do our giving in kruptos (as in cryptic). Every English translation will interpret kruptos as “secret,” except the New Living Translation which translates the word as “private.” The word kruptos is used in the New Testament to mean secret when it is describing concealment. For example, Jesus said what we do in kruptos will be shouted from the housetops. (Luke 12:3) He also describes the person in the parable of the talents who took his one talent and buried (kruptos) it in the ground. (Matthew 25:14-30). But the definition of kruptos is not limited to concealment. It can also mean “to escape notice.” And this is how Jesus is using the word as it relates to our giving.

If you think about it, there are many examples in the Bible that describe the amount of a particular offering. Solomon’s gift offered on the day of the Temple’s dedication is itemized. Then there’s the woman who gave two coins, and in Acts we have Barnabas’ gift given as the result of the sale of real estate. Unfortunately in the next chapter, we know all about the size of the gift presented by Ananias and Sapphira.

The point here is that there is no single passage in the Bible that calls for confidentiality of giving. Giving confidentiality is a fiduciary responsibility of any not for profit organization who closely holds information that has been entrusted to them by contributors. Most not for profit boards routinely talk about both donors and the size of their donations. In fact, Pastors and church governing boards who are ignorant of their members giving are among the exception to this generally accepted practice. But however this is practiced within churches, it should be based on the church’s governance as fiduciaries. Whatever you do, don’t say “this is what the Bible says.” Because it doesn’t.

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Peter Oakes is the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester. His recent monograph, titled, Empire, Economics, and the New Testament*, provides a couple of resources for generosity that I wanted to share. I hope that you will find them beneficial.


0.04% of the citizenry would consist of the “Imperial Elites.” This would consist of the local royalty and those on retainers, such as their family members and dependents. If you think about the Netflix series The Crown, Princess Margaret would be an example of one on retainer.

1% would be the “Regional or “Provincial Elites” who governed agrarian areas beyond the city limits.

1.76% of the people would have been the “Municipal Elites,” including some merchants who were highly successful.

7% were those with “Moderate Surplus Resources.” This group includes some merchants, some traders, some freed persons, some artisans/craftsmen (successful enough to have employees), and military veterans on pension.

Then comes the break between the haves and have nots.

22% in this group were “Stable Near Subsistence,” possessing a reasonable hope of remaining above the minimum amount of income to survive. Examples include merchants, traders, regular wage earners, artisans, owners of large shops, and some farm families.

40% lived “At Subsistence Level,” often below the minimum amount to sustain life. This class was composed of small farmers, laborers, those employed by artisans, wage earners, most merchants and traders, and some small shop owners.

28% lived “Below Subsistence Level.” This would be the unattached widows, orphans, beggars, the disabled, unskilled day laborers, some small farmers, and prisoners.

If I read Oakes’ data correctly, 68%+ of the Roman empire was either unemployed, underemployed, or unemployable. Their version of the upper class would have consisted of roughly 10%, leaving 22% to comprise the middle class.

The reason this data is important is that this is the context to which the Apostle Paul writes his letters and is the audience he is addressing when he writes about generosity. The data reveals that those who are being challenged to be generous had the least capacity to be generous, yet most responsive to his appeals. The sheer stratification does not take into account soft data such as the persecution and isolation of Christians in the Roman Empire under Nero. Yet Paul makes the case for generosity unashamedly.


Paul’s argument for a culture of generosity was not uninformed. First century Roman citizens would have been familiar with the cultural practice of patronage (patrocinium), which was a social construct known throughout the preindustrial world. Oakes defines patronage as, “a nonmarket relationship between socially unequal people in which dissimilar benefits are exchanged” (Oakes, 109). Patronage was the way the economic elite disseminated their wealth to those less advantaged in urban areas. These benefactors may give by constructing public buildings as well as providing public entertainment, such as festivals. This culture mimicked generosity cultures in that everyone, regardless of their financial status, had the felt need of giving to those who had less. Certainly the elites made the biggest impact, but those who lived at or below the poverty line also desired to contribute to those in need.

So it would not have been uncharacteristic for the Apostle Paul to (1) solicit funds from those at or below the poverty line, (2) ask for funds on behalf of those who were suffering (e.g. the collection for the famine in Jerusalem, and (3) encourage them to make sacrificial gifts with joy. If Oakes is correct, perhaps Paul baptized the Roman culture of patronage and used it for Kingdom purposes in what we now call generosity. 

*Empire, Economics, and the New Testament, by Peter Oakes, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2020.

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In the twelfth century, a Jewish scholar and Torah expert named Moses ben Maimon developed a philosophy of giving ranking the lowest form of giving to the highest form. Like rungs on a ladder, Maimonides, describes eight levels of charity as progressions that are accomplished through spiritual maturity. Jewish thinking viewed charitable giving as an act of righteousness, especially in caring for those who were poor.

The first level, or the lowest one, is where the giver gives reluctantly or begrudgingly. This may include embarrassing or shaming the recipient.

Level two is giving cheerfully, but not to the degree that is needed. Here, giving is measured and insufficient.

At level three, the person gives cheerfully and adequately, but only when he or she is asked. In level four, the person gives without being asked or before being solicited.

Level five occurs when the recipient knows the donor, but the donor does not know the recipient. Here we are beginning to see anonymity come into play. The next level, six, flips the paradigm. The donor knows the recipient but the recipient doesn’t know the donor.

The seventh level occurs when neither the giver and the recipient know of each other’s identity. Number 8 then, is the highest level, which is the donor empowers the recipient to become self sufficient. This could be done through a major gift, an interest free loan, time offered in mentoring, or any number of ways that enable the recipient to become self reliant and in turn, become of service to someone else.

Let me make a few observations about Maimonides’ list. First, since making a gift is a part of each level of charity, he’s really describing the way a person makes a gift. It’s true that the gift may indeed increase in size over the progression, but the main growth comes in the form of humility and anonymity. Second, while the gifts offered are helpful to the recipient, the ultimate goal is for the person to become self sustaining. The easiest thing one can do is write a check, and the most difficult thing one can do is give their time. Finally, the eight steps provide a tangible way to measure our own giving attitudes. Aspiring to become a better giver is not just having the desire to give more, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s aspiring to reproduce yourself as a person of generosity. For when the recipient is self reliant, they too will become persons who give.

Categories : Generosity, Giving
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The Eight Pockets of Stewardship

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People who regularly attend church services or who have joined a local faith community have particular giving habits and patterns. It’s important that those who steward the financial resources of a congregation understand that donors are not motivated equally by every appeal. In my pastoral experience, there are eight different pockets of giving in a congregation.

First, there is the regular giver to the general fund. These are the people who are committed to the core values and mission of the church and support the operating budget on a regular basis with their tithes and offerings. These funds represent the basic support structure for fixed expenses as well as the program ministries of the church.

Next is the giver who supports the building fund or the debt retirement from a previous capital campaign. They are motivated by capital improvements whether it is new construction or the renovation of a facility that needs modernization.

Third is the donor who values missions and missionaries. They are generous givers to annual mission offerings through their denomination and/or toward individual missionaries that the church supports. These gifts are usually significant and rightfully so, given the fact that many denominations require their affiliate missionaries to raise their own support. Some church members may be giving to missionaries directly, bypassing the church offering plate.

Then we have those who support benevolence ministries or social programs within the community. Churches may make appeals for these funds above and beyond the operating budget. These needs will touch some of the members who will in turn give generously of both their time and money.

Giving pocket number five is those who support the program ministries of the church. Ministries to children, youth and music are often underfunded because that’s how churches balance their budgets. Fixed expenses are, well, fixed. At the end of the day, utilities, insurance and payroll are not going to be cut for programs that can either reduce or even eliminate their plans for the year. Some congregants will provide support to these ministries out side of their regular giving because they know they are the key to vitality.

Number six is the giver that supports parachurch ministries such as the Gideon’s International, Focus on the Family, or Operation Shoebox. While churches may have some of these organizations in their budget, some people may be motivated to give directly to them.

Seventh, are the financial supporters of memorial funds. These can be tricky for pastors and stewards to navigate for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the memorial has to be honored in perpetuity. Every established church has to determine how to maintain an item that has been given in memory of a person regardless of whether or not anyone in the church remembers the decedent. Another reason it is tricky is that the family of the deceased may want to direct memorials to an item that the church either doesn’t need or toward and item that is out of the price range of the request. Wise and gentle leadership will need to work patiently with families to help provide guidance and support as they make their decisions. Memorial gifts can be an excellent opportunity to seek win-win solutions that honors the member and helps the church.

Finally, there is the member who has committed to remember the church through a planned gift. Planned giving can make a significant impact on a church’s financial well being. Pastors may be surprised how willing faithful congregants will be to remember the church in their estate planning if they will simply plant the seed with a nine word question. “Have you considered including our church in your estate?” Perhaps they have on their own accord. Perhaps they are willing, but haven’t been asked. Pastors do not have to be attorneys or financial planners to ask this question. If the member is motivated, they will do the rest.

So what are the takeaways from knowing about eight pockets of stewardship?

  1. People have finite resources, so choose wisely how they will give. Every offering appeal will diminish the ultimate goal of advancing the mission and ministry of your church. Churches are wise to limit endless appeals in favor of a unified budget that is inclusive of the values and partnerships that have been established.
  2. Evaluate the number of appeals your church makes each year. Pastors will focus primarily on the offering appeal during the service. But the wise pastor will also do his or her best to eliminate giving fatigue. Your coffee and hospitality counter is an ask. The missionary offering is an ask. The youth bake sale is an ask. So is the $10 for the kids to attend Bible School. The benevolence need is an ask, right down to the canned food drive and the request for gently used clothes. How many “asks” is your church making on a given week? In a month or year? We should not be amazed that people complain that all the church does is ask for money even if the pastor preaches on giving once or twice per year.
  3. Not every donor is motivated by all requests. In the aforementioned list of eight, some will give generously toward two or three, while someone else may give toward a different three or four. Seldom will you find a member who will generously support all eight. It is critical to know your audience and to time and make your appeals strategically to maximize impact.
Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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The Future of Giving

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One of our members who has not for profit board experience shared this infographic on THE NEXT GENERATION OF GIVING. If you are involved in fund raising at any level you need to check this out!

Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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Check out this article from Church Executive Online. Do you write checks to your church? If not, how do you give? Does your church offer online giving or provide a giving kiosk?

Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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I came across an important article this weekend that is worth your time. Barna has released yet another study on charitable contributions in America, including comparative numbers between evangelicals and other faiths as well as other useful information. If you have interest in church finances either as a minister or a volunteer you need to check out these IMPORTANT STATISTICS.

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According to Ken Stearn, the answer to the question is yes. According to his article published in The Atlantic, the top 20% wage earners in America give only 1.3% of their income to charity while the bottom 20% give 3.2%. Not only do America’s wealthiest give the lowest percentage of income to charity, they seldom give to poverty initiatives. Their gifts are more likely to be directed to private educational institutions, hospitals, et al. You can read the full article HERE.

Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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Recently I’ve been teaching on generosity as a part of our annual stewardship promotion and budget adoption campaign. Through the years I’ve enjoyed teaching on stewardship, and according to my record keeping I could comfortably present on this topic more than I do. I’ve hit all the major passages on stewardship, and a few obscure ones too. But the one thing that I’m convinced of is this: the most important principle in understanding stewardship is that God is the owner of everything. If we can grasp that, much of what follows falls in place.

I believe the Bible teaches that God is owner of all things. Every blessing we have has come from Him. We can’t take credit for anything or claim that we possess anything because we have earned it or deserve it. It’s all God’s and all that we have is from God. God is owner and we are stewards.

Stewards? What does that mean? A steward is a person who manages the owner’s possessions in a way that is consistent with the owner’s wishes. A steward doesn’t manage based on what he or she sees fit, a steward manages in a manner that is consistent with the goals and desires of the owner.

Last Sunday I illustrated this principle by placing 10 apples on the communion table. The 10 apples represented the blessings of God in our lives. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing about stewardship in terms of tithing (the practice of giving God 10% of your household income through the local church). God gives us 10 apples and wants 1 in return. That’s simple math that any elementary student can understand.

The problem with teaching stewardship that way is that it seems to suggest that if we give God His “one” apple, we have 9 remaining that we can use however we choose. That’s simply not how it works. They’re ALL God’s apples. You can give one or none, but they’re all His. Furthermore, people like you and me are accountable to the owner for how we use all 10 of them, not just whether or not we have given one to Him on Sunday.

James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift we have has come from God. He has entrusted those gifts to us, and we’re accountable to Him for how we use each of them. If we can wrap our minds around that, we’re on the way to good stewardship and free to be generous.

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State of the Plate 3

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This weekend the Washington Post published an article that reveals giving trends in the American church. Citing a 41 year record low in giving, the article explores the uncomfortable statistic that churches are spending less on missions and outreach and spending more on the ministries that take place inside the four walls of the church. To read the article, click here.

Categories : Giving, Stewardship
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