Friday, August 25, 2006

Pass the Plate?

What do you think of the business of taking collections weekly at worship services? Today's reading doesn't exactly say, "Don't do it," but it certainly suggests another model:
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Paul seems to recommend that each individual set aside some amount of money and then offering it for special needs; he doesn't seem to be addressing regular, ongoing support of religious professionals. Jesus Christ himself said, "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (Luke 10) and Paul said, "those who preach the gospel should receive a living from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9).

But notice how practical Paul is: set aside something from your income each week. I'm going to guess (I'm on the train and not near any reference materials) that many people were paid weekly -- or maybe daily -- in those days. These days, many of us are paid monthly, semimonthly, or biweekly -- but it's eminently practical to set aside some money from the paycheck to give. Whether to a local congregation to support the staff (pastors, faciities people, secretaries, et al), to missions, to relief and development in the name of Jesus -- it's a good idea.

I don't know how it is for you, but for me, the best thing to do after setting aside that money is to give it away before it burns a hole in my bank account and I spend it on something. We have a regular giving plan, which our bank makes very convenient. For example, there's a standing order to send some money to our local church after every paycheck and it just happens; we don't have to remember to write a check, find an envelope, etc. One mission agency just pulls money from our account monthly.

This plan isn't for everyone -- if these things feel like just another pile of bills, then you don't get the experience of giving, you may not remember to pray for them, etc.

But for me, it's very important that the money get to the church and to mission and relief and development workers around the world. The way I figure it, it's better to pay very regularly and pray sporadically than to pay irregularly and pray somewhat less sporadically. Because let's face it, if I had to write a check, find a stamp and envelope and the little forms they always ask you to send to them (etc), that wouldn't guarantee that I'd pray more for these guys.

Is that my lack of faith, an unhealthy preoccupation with the practical? Or is it rather an acknowledgement of my own limitations (as the theologian/philosopher Clint Eastwood said, "A man's gotta know his own limitations")? I like to think it's the latter, but I know my heart is deceitful.

It's good to depend on God. It's good to have the experience of giving, and for it not to feel like another bunch of bills. But it's also good for missionaries (some of whom I know personally) to get a regular paycheck.

Imperfect world, imperfect solutions. May the Lord lead each of us to a way that's good and that pleases Him.

actually posted 2007-07-31

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