We've been discussing giving in Sunday School over the last several weeks. It's an interesting topic on many levels. Who and when and how much and for what are just the basic questions. The deeper questions behind giving involve the why.
I don't know when I decided to structure my giving around the membership pledge at church, but that's essentially my personal framework. When you join as a member of the United Methodist Church, you pledge to support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, (and recently added) your witness.
When I do sit down to ponder my relationship with God and giving, I find this framework mentioned above useful. I pray for my church. Sometimes it's for members, sometimes it's for the minister, sometimes it's for my Bible study group, sometimes it's for a current project (like upcoming VBS). I should commit to praying for my whole church, and the Christian church in general throughout the world everywhere every day. Note to self, do that.
I support the church through my presence. When we are in town, we go to church. Even if our kids are sick, we generally take turns. One of us goes with the well child and the other stays home with the sick one. We attempt to go to as many opportunities at church that appeal to us--Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, special services for Lent or Christmas, Wednesday night speakers that interest us, church committee meetings, and so forth.
I guess if I were to truly examine what presence means, it might look differently. Do I change my vacation schedule so that we can be back in church on Sunday morning? Do we attend services at other places when we are traveling? Do we visit other churches to give our children exposure to the many different types of worship there are in the world? I have a feeling supporting the church by our presence means more than just showing up on Sunday for the 11 o'clock service. But that's a good place to start.
We support the church through our gifts. Now most people would assume that "gifts" is a euphemism for money. I don't know why we don't just say, "by our tithe" but we don't. There are other forms of monetary giving that fall outside of tithing I suppose, so the church didn't want to miss out on those opportunities I guess. (I'm joking gently I hope.) We give towards camp scholarships, Christmas giving for the needy, sponsorships of families who need assistance, etc. In our house, this type of giving while through the church comes in addition to our attempts at tithing.
I also consider gifts in a more spiritual way. Sometimes gifts and service bleed into one another. Some people are gifted in teaching, so they give of their time teaching Sunday School. Some people are gifted with singing, so they sing in the choir every Sunday. This donation of time is more than just a service opportunity for the church. These people are sacrificially giving of their time to something greater than themselves. Sacrificial giving is really what God has in mind.
God meant for gifts to mean, whatever spiritual talents you have use them for the glory of God. Which is of course where service comes in. I think we're all fairly well acquainted with service. Remember all those dinners in the fellowship hall growing up? The church ladies back there warming up casseroles and pouring tea behind the long church tables? There are of course, a multitude of other ways to serve your church--hospital visitations, shut-in visitations, the alter guild, the parsonage committee. You name it, your church will have a committee for it. Just say yes to one thing, and your phone will ring off the hook for about three years. I'd say we have the service part down--as long as we're glorifying God, and not just our skills in multi-tasking.
Then there is that new component of witness. I'm not a shy person. I'm not particularly challenged in the sharing department in any way shape or form. I am however, terrible at evangelism. Upon further reflection, perhaps witness has multiple components? If we live our lives so that others will know Christ is active in our lives, do we not witness to others? Good deeds and good works that come from true believers are more likely to have positive witness results than all the street corner preaching in all the corners of the world. I'm rather Methodist in this regard. Our church missions tend to be oriented in the model of work first, share faith when asked. And I think that's how it should be. I think a true conversion experience will always have a component of, I saw how others lived and believed and wanted to know what that was like. Like I said, I'm a little uncomfortable in this area, so I tend to cherry pick my evangelism opportunities and pray to be enlightened as I go.
I happen to think these principles can be found in all organized religions. The Christian church doesn't expect us to be perfect at giving. The church says give because Christ gave to you. Religious-based or not, you can practice these five basic principles when giving to local charities, global charities, and other institutional giving (like your college or university). I've been inspired over the outpouring of love, concern, and giving to foundations and charities around the world that base their organizations on these five basic principles of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
You can also practice these five basic principles when giving to people in your life. Your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to them--and them to you is the foundation of lasting community and relationship in this world. The world would be a bleak and lonely place without the gift of giving. So I give. I give because it is the "right thing to do". I give because I want what I do to matter to someone. I give because I'm inspired by others making sacrifices in order to make the world better. I give because I yearn for relationship and community with people. I give, ultimately, because Christ gave to me.