Writing a post about giving in the local church comes at sort of an odd time for me. I am sitting in the back seat of our car, driving somewhere through Texas, typing this out with my thumbs on an iPad. In the last three weeks my wife and I have sold everything we have, packed some remaining clothes and household needs (and my iPad) into our car, and headed from Boise to New Orleans to move into an impoverished neighborhood to learn from and love the people there.
A lot has changed in my immediate relationship to a local church, at least at it is traditionally understood. We belong to a tiny community now, which is probably different from the "local church" as most people understand it, but I have been entrenched in the local church for the last 25 years. Over the last year or so I had the opportunity to examine the scriptures about money, possessions, and giving and to write TheMoney Experiment: A Community Practice in Financial Simplicity. Reading the scriptures and writing the book have completely changed the way I live, especially in the last three weeks, but I still don't have it all figured out. But maybe there is something I have learned that is helpful to others.
The central thing I think about when it comes to giving in the local church is actually the last thing I wrote about in The Money Experiment. It is not a percentage, which I think is what most Christians first think about. It is not a rule or a specific command. It is community. If the local church is not a community of people who share, both within the community and with those in need outside the community, then I don't think the rest really makes sense.
In the early church, we see a community of people who pool together their money and resources: “No one claimed that any of his possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). They were content with food and clothing (see 1 Timothy 6:8). The amazing result of this practice was that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). Apparently, it is possible to eliminate poverty.
The church today, maybe especially the church in the U.S., has come a long way from the early church. And rightly so. We aren’t called to be the early church; we’re called to be the 21st century church. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to learn from the early Christians, those who lived so closely to the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In a world of iPods, iPads, iPhones, and iLife, individualism reigns king. Looking out for “number one” and not giving a second thought to how we can love our neighbor with our money, we have largely forgotten the inter-connectedness that we have been created to live in and need. As we look back at the loving community of the early Christians we recognize how far we have come from the community that God created us for and the community that proclaimed there is enough for everyone.
We don’t have to be the early church, but today’s church is still called to be a weird community, showing the rest of the world how to once again live in God’s ways. We need churches who will humbly offer a new way that counters individualism with love and sharing. Pooling our resources and money together in order to distribute to those in need doesn’t make sense to the world (it likely doesn’t even make sense to most of us). But as we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves as the world watches, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
God is looking for people who are ready to lay down their lives for the sake of the world, showing the world God's way of life once again. Laying down our lives requires much more than 10%. It requires everything. And it requires local churches, weird communities, who are willing to spend and view resources in ways that participate in God's mission.
The way we view and spend resources directly affects the way we view what God is doing in the world. Our goal should be to spend our resources, both individually and communally, in ways that contribute to God’s mission to restore the world to what it was created to be.
May we live with open palms, holding onto possessions loosely as we seek to place all our resources and all our lives into God's mission to redeem and reconcile this beautiful and broken world.