The other day a friend asked a question on social media about financial support for Christian projects. They asked whether or not it was okay for doners to attach theological strings to their donations. They then gave two examples of how this might come into play.
- You are given funds towards a specific project but later as the details of the plan are discussed, the doner makes it clear that they expect you to pursue the plan in a very specific way in line with their theology otherwise the funding will get pulled.
- The doner decides that because they disagree with you theologically then they will move their funding to a similar project in order to block your efforts.
I was interested by the responses given by people and I thought it might be helpful to sketch out some thoughts here, particularly for those of you who read Faithroots with church planting and revitalisation in mind because it is highly likely that you are going to have to think about the money and giving/receiving question at some point.
When it comes to giving and finance, I think that the following principles are helpful.
First, I encourage people to prioritise giving through their local church first. Give as a member of that church and because you are happy to be part of that church. I assume that if you are a member then you are happy with the overall vision, direction and theology of the church. If you disagree on the fundamentals then you probably in the wrong church.
Second, it is important when it comes to giving to your church that you do not see giving as a means to shape and influence decisions. You should never indicate that your giving will be dependent upon the policies of the church. And yes, I’m sadly aware of situations where giving has been tied to a particular constituency within the church being given a greater say in things. I’m also aware of people threatening to stop giving if the church doesn’t change its position on this or that issue. There are proper and transparent ways of taking part in a church’s decision making. Use those methods.
Third, in general, and almost always in the local church, I would encourage people to give into a general fund, supporting the overall vision and direction of the church. I don’t think it’s a good idea to set up funds for different aspects of the life of the church except perhaps to help a specific person or community through a crisis or a big project like a new build. This is to discourage people from moving their money around in order to shape the decisions and priorities of the church.
Fourth, it may be that you are choosing to support a specific Christian project or initiative outside of your church. This might be a mission organisation, a charity or a church plant/revitalisation project somewhere. It is right that you give to people and organisations that align with your heart. This means you’ll want to give to those who agree with you theologically as well as considering how their specific approach aligns with your particular thinking.
Now, some people will set the parameters fairly broad. They’ll give to people whose motive is sharing the gospel with others or putting God’s love into action. Providing there is unity on first order matters -specifically “what is the Gospel?” and “why did Jesus die?” they’ll not be too worried about what comes below that in terms of secondary issues. Others will be prepared only to give to those who are reformed, baptistic, complementarian. Others will be all the more detailed/prescriptive here, they’ll only give to those who are strict Baptists and they’ll have a very particular view of what complementarianism should look like in practice. To be honest, there isn’t a right or wrong answer but you should be up front in terms of your expectations. And once you have given, providing there isn’t a major departure from that agreement, you shouldn’t be seeking to intervene, micro-manage or withdraw your support for the commitment period.
Fifth, we should always check our motives for giving. We shouldn’t be giving to one thing in order obstruct something else. Our motive should be that we can see the benefits of what the recipient is trying to achieve.
Now, quite a few of us find ourselves sitting the other side of the table. We are the recipients of support. To those receiving, my advice would be as follows.
First, be up front and clear about your mission, vision and your theological position too. Don’t leave things to chance and don’t make assumptions about what people want to know, need to know and expect to know. It is their prerogative to ask questions and to choose to keep on giving as well as to withhold giving. We do not have a claim on them.
Second, it is absolutely the right of the donor to state that they will only give to certain kinds of project. At the same time, you should feel under no compulsion to attempt to adapt your position in order to keep donors’ sweet. If they have conditions that don’t fit your circumstances then thank them kindly for their offer of generosity but explain why you won’t be able to accept the donation. You may even be able to point them in the direction of someone who will be a better fit for their partnership. Healthy partnership depends on a generous spirit on the part of both donor and recipient.
Third, take whatever advice comes your way and listen to it but never put a price tag on it. Just because a donor is advising you doesn’t mean their advice is faulty. If it’s good advice, listen because it’s good advice. At the same time, you are not under compulsion to follow their advice just because they give a lot to you.
Fourth, keep those who are supporting you up to date, not because they are entitled to special treatment but because you want to encourage them to keep praying for you. It’s also important to be up front with them about anything that changes in terms of your vision, plans and theology.
Fifth, if they choose to give elsewhere, then don’t lose any sleep over it. That again is their prerogative. There is usually plenty of space for a whole host of initiatives. There’s certainly enough room for plenty of urban church plants.