Alan Wildes

Alan Wildes

Four Concepts of Giving

When it comes to giving, there are many different ways and reasons to go about it. It could be tithing, it could be buying a candy bar from someone doing a fund-raiser, or it could be a quick donation after a natural disaster.
In a speech entitled The Way We Give, Daniel Paul Matthews, former rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, identified several of these giving concepts. He names four specific concepts and describes each of them in turn:

Charity… is a response to a crisis or an immediate need. It sees the victims and their needs and responds with gift-giving. The heroic efforts of the Red Cross bespeak volumes about this form of giving.

Philanthropy, on the other hand, is like an investment. It is an act of giving money for a specific reason with the intention of improving the welfare of a community or an organization over the long term. The recipient is obliged to show results. It has some of the characteristics of an investment, as if it were a loan from a bank officer. Reports are required on how the money was spent, including periodic progress reports so additional grants might be made.

Fund-raising asks us to give to a project such as a building or a capital investment, but rarely to an annual budget. The average parish is sometimes tempted to teach fund-raising rather than stewardship. It is a necessary procedure for developing hospitals, schools, and the arts. But if it becomes the norm for raising the annual parish budget, it profoundly diminishes the theology of the old liturgical words at the offertory, ‘All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee.’

Stewardship in our culture is a radically different way of thinking about giving. Charity, philanthropy, and fund-raising all treat the individual as the owner of the money. Stewardship on the other hand treats God as the owner, and the giver as one who simply returns a portion of what God has given. The Church in its theology offers each of us an opportunity to give out of gratitude. Stewardship is giving with no strings attached. It is related to creation and my place in it. The church says to its people: “God is giving you a chance to give God a gift because you delight in God’s very existence and the blessings in your life.”

How is giving treated in your church culture? How do you shift the culture to where stewardship and generosity are a normal part of the conversations?  Let’s talk about that.

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