Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Giving and Autopay: What's the Point?

In Melissa Jenna's post, Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay, she discusses the purposes behind giving money to churches and charities. I really liked her post and it raised a lot of thought-provoking questions, which I will elaborate on here.

Image source.

To summarize her post: She says, "I don't think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving." In other words, it does not matter to God what amount you give or the practical effect your monetary contribution has- instead, giving is a spiritual discipline which should teach us to "maintain a loose grasp" and remember that everything we have doesn't truly belong to us.

And because she holds this perspective on the purpose of giving, she also claims that using autopay (when money is deducted from one's bank account automatically every month) to give isn't right. Because you can just set up autopay and then forget about it. Instead, giving should be something that requires discipline, something that actually affects us and matters to us, not something we can just set up and forget about.

(Her previous post, You Won’t Even Notice: My Problem With “Easy” Charitable Giving, is also worth reading. It talks about the importance of "giving sacrificially.")

First of all, I can't get on board with this "using autopay for your tithe is wrong" thing. Anytime someone labels a piece of technology as inherently sinful, you should be very suspicious. Technology exists to make our lives easier, and we can use it to do good or to do evil. Technology itself is morally neutral.

I believe what Melissa means is that, for her, setting up an autopay system to donate money automatically would negatively affect her attitude toward giving. It would cause her to forget about giving. And if it affects her in that way, I agree that that's a problem she should address. But I don't agree that everyone who uses autopay will end up with that same problem.

Actually, let me spiritualize this in the other direction. I personally do not like money automatically going into or out of my bank accounts. I like to be very much in control of my money and know EXACTLY how much I have at all times. I would be very resistant to the idea of using autopay to give to church or some other organization, because I like to keep control of my money as long as possible.

So for my spiritual outlook on money and giving, it would probably be better for me to use an autopay system. In order to teach me to give up control, to make a commitment to give every month, instead of holding onto my money as long as possible, entertaining the idea that "maybe I won't give this time". Because none of my money truly belongs to me, right? It belongs to God. (I will refrain from challenging that idea for the purposes of this post.)

Next, let's examine this idea that "God doesn't care about the amount/ practical effects of your giving; he only cares about the attitude of your heart." I agree that the attitude of one's heart is important. But to say that's the ONLY important thing... I'm not sure about that.

I suppose this idea comes from looking at The Big Picture. God is in control of everything, the whole course of history, and he doesn't really need my help. No matter what I do with my money, God's love and justice will go forth.

Psalm 50: 9-12 backs up this "big picture" view (this is God speaking, by the way):
"I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it."
[emphasis mine]

Over and over in the Old Testament, prophets criticized people who dutifully gave their sacrifices, but whose heart wasn't in it. Sacrificing animals wasn't the point- God doesn't really need that.

And, I have heard Christians say many times, God doesn't need our help to fix the world's problems, but he gives us an opportunity to help, which is great.

And also, we have The Little Picture. On an individual level, what does giving mean? Melissa mentions Mark 12:41-44, where Jesus notices a poor widow donating a few coins to the temple treasury, and points out that she was actually giving more than everyone else, because she gave all she had. Basically, it means God looks at a giver's heart and is more appreciative of a poor person who gives sacrificially than a rich person who puts in whatever extra money they have- regardless of the actual dollar amount being given.

2 Corinthians 9:7 also points to the importance of The Little Picture. It says, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." God cares about the condition of a person's heart and the motives for giving, as Melissa said.

Okay so we have The Big Picture: God doesn't actually need our help. We have The Little Picture: God cares a lot about the attitude of a person's heart. So... is that it? Since God doesn't actually need our help, the only purpose of giving away money is so the giver can learn to be a better person?

No, we mustn't ignore The Medium-Sized Picture. Which is that your donations actually make a real difference in the world, and that matters.

For the question of autopay, churches and charitable organizations generally prefer their donors to use it. That way, they know that they're definitely going to get the money, and they can plan out their budget with a clear idea of what resources they will have.

To decide not to use autopay because your own spiritual outlook on giving is more important than the needs of those receiving your gift... something seems horribly backwards about that.

James 2:15-16 says, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"

Exactly. What good is it? It's worthless to have good intentions if what you're ACTUALLY DOING isn't helpful at all.

(Is it "worthless", though? From the "little picture" point of view, maybe intentions are all that matter? And we've seen that The Little Picture does matter to God...)

When I wrote about how Operation Christmas Child is inefficient, I didn't say "yeah, it's inefficient to have individual people gather up all these shoeboxes of cheap toys and then pay for the shipping BUT it's still a good thing because the givers having fun and feeling a personal connection with the children who receive the boxes is MORE IMPORTANT than doing what's best for the children."

No, I said it's still a good thing because the fact that it's fun will make MORE people participate. Also, Operation Christmas Child seems to be widely publicized in American churches in the months approaching Christmas, and it's a way to introduce the average American Christian to Samaritan's Purse and the needs of the world in general.

The gimmicky make-your-own-shoebox approach is, in my estimation, overall a good thing because it encourages people to get involved in helping people around the world, in other ways besides Operation Christmas Child. As a result, there will be MORE money sent to those who need it, MORE real-life impact on problems like poverty and hunger. And that's what matters.

Soooo in summary, I've kind of been all over the place in this post. From the different ways to spiritualize autopay, to The Big, Little, and Medium-Sized Pictures, to Operation Christmas Child. Many thanks to Melissa Jenna for her thought-provoking blog post. (It provoked lots of thoughts.)

1 comment:

  1. The problem with the logic of "it's too easy" is that you can very easily take it too far. We conscientiously take a tithe off the top, and write cheques to put in the collection plate. I know I sound like I'm bragging, but the problem is that that's actually an incredibly easy & painless way to give - you never have the money, you know from the instant you get it it's for the church. Heck, we look in the budge to see "how much do we owe the church?" before writing a cheque. Whatever happened to giving joyfully? Making it painful isn't a good way to encourage that.