Friday, December 03, 2010

Making Decisions in the Ministry of Giving

Making Decisions in the Ministry of Giving
From the Gburg PO
by President Michael Cooper-White
On my desk at home is a stack of a dozen or so letters and response cards, offering multiple opportunities to share a portion of my tithe.  I know that before Christmas comes, more fund appeals will arrive in my mail slot, as well as via email.  With so many worthy causes in desperate in need of contributions this year more than ever, how do I make decisions regarding an appropriate allocation of my financial stewardship? 
I continue a long-time practice of being most generous with the place of ministry to which I am called—Gettysburg Seminary receiving the largest portion of my charitable contributions.  In addition to the worthiness of our mission, I believe that other donors appropriately expect the school’s leaders to demonstrate a high level of personal commitment and generosity.  We are blessed indeed that a high percentage of our faculty, staff, board members, and even some financially-challenged students generate a significant portion of our “annual fund.”
The congregation to which I belong needs and deserves strong financial support, as well as a portion of my time and talents as they may be called upon from time to time.  I also try to be generous as I visit other congregations, though I have discovered that in many places where I serve as guest preacher the offering plate is never passed in the chancel area where I tend to be seated!
Taking pretty literally Jesus’ insistence that we must be generous with “the least of these,” the ELCA’s World Hunger appeal has been another personal giving priority area throughout the three plus decades of its existence.  In the course of my ministry, I have been privileged to visit a number of ministries in this country and abroad where World Hunger support is truly a matter of life-and-death.  This year I felt a pang as we made our WH commitment given the fact that my son,  who worked for the appeal until recently, was among those laid off in the recent round of ELCA churchwide budget cuts.  While I remain confident in those staffers who are left to allocate funds among the many domestic and global hunger relief and development efforts supported by our contributions, I confess to some less than charitable feelings about fellow Christians who have withheld or withdrawn their mission support and thereby caused disruption in the lives of so many as a result.  In recent years, my wife and I have been expanding the circle of friends and family members to whom we give “Good Gifts,” a special holiday season opportunity for second-mile designated giving through our church’s hunger and development-related programs. 
Many effective, efficient and important local agencies cry out for my attention, as do my college alma maters and other causes.  While in general I tend to give more to a few recipients rather than a host of smaller gifts to many, I also recognize the importance of “loyalty gifts,” which demonstrate to grant-making foundations that a high percentage of a school’s alumni make at least a modest contribution of record.  I also tend to be a bit more generous donor when “matching funds” promise that added value will result from my gift. 
In the senior “Integrative Seminar,” for which I am the instructor/leader again this year, December’s second session will focus on pastoral leadership in congregational stewardship.  Based upon my personal experience and that of many colleagues, “declaring oneself,” i.e. being transparent about one’s own financial stewardship commitments, is a key to effective leadership.  Regardless of one’s financial capacity and income and indebtedness levels, some measure of giving is both possible and a necessary component of spiritual wholeness.  As important as current giving is signaling one’s desire and commitment to grow in generosity.  And most crucial of all is to genuinely exude a spirit of joy in giving—not as mere duty, but as response to God’s incredible graciousness in the gospel. 
In this brief P.O. piece, I’ve shared a few personal perspectives about and approaches to giving.  I’m eager to hear how you steward your gifts, and how you have been blessed by and found joy in giving.  

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