Charitable Conundrums

Where should I give? How much? What are my priorities? The recent Giving Tuesday and the onset of December raises such questions like few other times.

If you are anything like the Yoders, you’re currently receiving a flood of mail (both the “snail” and electronic kinds) asking for your financial donation. Some of the senders represent organizations or ministries to which we’ve previously contributed. Others represent groups with which we’ve had relational or experiential contacts. And still others are a mystery to us. Regardless, the mail piles up and the internal wrestling begins. How should we prioritize? To which groups should we give?

A brief read only adds to the complication. You’re being solicited to give because “our mission is the most important” or “people are in need (dying/starving/exploited/neglected)” or “your values are being eroded” or…well, you get the idea. Every appeal and organization claims to be top priority. Whatever the appeal, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the requests, ashamed that you can’t give any or much or more, or annoyed that you’re even on the list.

Where do we start? Put more directly, how should genuine followers of Jesus make decisions about their charitable giving, especially at this time of year when everyone seems to have access to your mailbox? Here are some suggestions as you seek to practice godly financial stewardship.

First, prioritize giving to your local church.

“Of course you say that,” you respond. “You’re a pastor!” You’re right. I’d say the same thing if I was the pastor of another local church, and the same thing if I wasn’t a pastor at all. For many reasons, I believe that the primary vehicle through which to invest our financial treasures is the local church. Why? Randy Alcorn, esteemed author and founder of Eternal Perspectives Ministries, explains:

Giving should start with your local Bible-believing, Christ-centered church, the spiritual community where you’re fed and to which you’re accountable. In the New Testament, giving was not directed to the Church at large, the universal body of Christ, but to the church, the local Christian assembly. Even gifts that were sent to other places were given through the local church. For fourteen years I was a local church pastor, and for twelve years I’ve directed a parachurch ministry. I believe that both types of ministry deserve support, but the church should always come first. That’s why we give more to our church than to our ministry.

The local church is God’s central plan for the advance of the Gospel and the growth of believers. True, many of its patterns, people, and programs may seem less “flashy” than well-marketed and fruitful parachurch ministries. But the local church remains the backbone and braintrust of Great Commission ministry. So thanks to you who give to the local church—on an ongoing basis, with special gifts this time of year, and even as part of your estate or asset planning.

Second, focus on ministries that emphasize the power of the Gospel and Jesus’ Great Commission call to “make disciples of all nations.”

Many organizations and nonprofits work to alleviate human suffering and physical deprivation. These things are commendable and indeed reflect the Gospel, but only the Gospel itself changes lives, and it’s a message to be proclaimed.

Luke 16:9
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Among other things, this verse exhorts us to invest God’s money in the lives of people—including ministries, initiatives, churches—that proclaim the life and eternal change through the Gospel. Invest in efforts to see people come to faith in Christ. Why? So that when we arrive in heaven, we will be welcomed by those very people who embraced the Gospel because of our investment. Global mission workers, campus ministries, and training efforts for Gospel advance are excellent recipients of our giving.

The apostle Paul refers to financial giving when he commends the Corinthians believers, saying that “men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else” (2 Corinthians 9:13).

Third, give to ministries and organizations that highlight ongoing presence and disciple-making.

Presence ministries are not “hit-and-run” by nature, but longer-term. Discipling highlights Gospel proclamation, but it also emphasizes Gospel growth. New believers are proactively taught the Scriptures, learn to walk in the Spirit, connected to the spiritual community of a local church. Some niche and compassion ministries actually do these things quite well. They are worthy of investment.

All such decisions and priorities should be immersed in prayer, since we are called to be stewards of God’s money. We should also do our homework to ensure that organizations are biblically faithful and financially wise. God uses many ways to guide and direct us to special opportunities. You probably have a unique connection or story about a charity near to your heart…and checkbook.

For the Yoders, charitable giving has meant several very practical steps for many years. Please consider this an example, not a mandate.

  1. We’ve made it our pattern give a monthly tithe of our income to our local church. This giving of our “firstfruits” reminds us whose money it is: God’s! At times this has been quite a financial stretch, but we’ve never regretted it.
  2. We then try and make available some money to give to opportunities and situations that rather spontaneously arise during the course of the year—a person in need, a special mission opportunity, compassion for people involved in natural disasters, a new ministry project.
  3. At the end of the year, we take stock of the appeal letters we have received from people, organizations, and ministries who are “storing up treasures in heaven” by spreading the Gospel, growing believers, and demonstrating Christ-like love to people in need. We usually choose an amount and divvy it up, trying for annual increases.

In recent years, our joy in giving has genuinely increased. Yet we remain on a giving journey. Many people, not the least of whom are our parents, are examples of generosity, regularity, and sacrifice. They taught us as children to give, and our giving follows in their footsteps. We have much to learn and more trust in God to display, but we’ve experienced joy in giving.

There is not only great blessing, but great delight, in giving. The writer of 1 Chronicles 29:14, 16,17 says:

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand. …O Lord our God, as for all this abundance…it comes from Your hand, and all of it belongs to You. …And now I have seen with joy how willingly Your people who are here have given to You.

As you consider your finances and your charitable giving this season, may your delight and generosity before God be great. After all, “where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Mike Yoder and his wife, Letitia, moved to Columbus in 2011. He became the lead pastor after a decade of missionary service in Berlin, Germany and later working in cross-cultural leadership training. Mike has educational background in sociology and communications (Grace College), theology (Grace Seminary), and intercultural studies (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). In his free time, Mike enjoys basketball, water sports, travel, and being a news junkie. He also roots for all Chicago sports teams including the World Series champion Chicago Cubs! The Yoders have four children.

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