This sermon is part of the sermon series "Harmony and Humility in the Church". See series.
When I mentioned the title of this sermon to a group of pastors at our monthly denominational meeting, it elicited considerable response. One pastor leaned back in his chair, laughed, and said, "At my church they would probably edit that to read 'Should a Pastor Think About His People's Giving?'" The pastor next to me chimed in: "Some churches would say, 'Dare a Pastor Think About His People's Giving?'"
It's obvious pastors think about their people's giving. If you listen to them talk or preach about it, you can easily figure out what they think. Pastors that harangue, make long drawn-out appeals, brow-beat, or use guilt manipulations obviously think their people are reluctant to give and must be pressured by "stewardship programs" every year if they are to part with their money. Those who publicly record donation amounts in the bulletin or in some event program must think people will give if they get some recognition or notoriety for it. Pastors who plan raffles, bingo, or other fund-raising activities, clearly think people will give only if they have a chance to win even more in return.
It's obvious pastors think about their people's giving. If you listen to them closely, you can figure out what their thoughts are. But what should their thoughts be. How should a pastor think about his people's giving? We can find the answers in the end of Paul's letter to the Philippians.
A pastor should be glad for his people's giving.
In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul writes that he rejoices in his friends' giving, but not because the ministry depends upon their gifts. The truth is that their giving was not critical to the ministry; God could have continued the ministry whether they gave or not.
When Paul writes that he is glad the Philippians have "renewed" their concern for him, he uses a word that would have brought to mind an image of a flower blooming again, renewing its display. In other words, the Philippians have again acted out their concern for Paul. That particular church had given Paul money on several occasions. The first time he went to their city, he brought the gospel to them. After spending time there, they supported his mission elsewhere with a good sum of money. Over the years, they continued to support Paul's teaching and traveling with repeated gifts. In fact, they were the only church to support him financially.
Then something interrupted that pattern. It wasn't that their concern or desire stopped, but that something interfered with their ability to act on it. Paul indicates this when he writes, "you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it." It might be that they went through a tough time financially and didn't have the money to send. It may be that they simply lost touch with Paul; he did move around a lot. Regardless, once the Philippians received word that Paul was under house arrest in Rome, they immediately sent Epaphroditus with money to help.
Interestingly, although Paul rejoiced that the Philippians had renewed their concern for him, it was not because their gift met his need. Paul had experienced times in his life when he was keenly aware of his needs. He had experienced other times when he realized he had plenty of resources. Ultimately, he found that neither condition seemed to affect him much—his personal stability and internal contentment didn't depend upon whether or not he was healthy and well fed. Paul had discovered that an internal strength was compelling him independent of his financial circumstances. Christ was inside him and moving his life forward, so these externals were of secondary concern.
How should a pastor think about his people's giving? He should be glad, but not because it meets some need in the ministry. The truth is, giving is not critical to ministry. God can continue the ministry whether we give or not. The driving force of ministry is Christ. That's where a pastor's thinking ought to start—God has a ministry for us to do regardless of the level of our income. The church might feel the pinch and the pain, or it might feel flush and full. What matters is that Christ is in the people, and he can move his ministry forward regardless of the finances.
Giving indicates participation in ministry.
A pastor should be glad for his congregation's giving, because it tells him that they view themselves as partners in the ministry. He should be glad that they care as much about the ministry as he does. Twice in verses 14-16, Paul speaks of the Philippians' sharing in the ministry. What made him glad was not the amount of money they gave, but rather the evidence that they felt ownership in what God was doing.
While I was serving in a previous pastorate, it became clear the church property was woefully inadequate to meets the needs of the church's ministry. The small land size wouldn't accommodate parking, and the city would not allow the church to build a sanctuary if they couldn't provide sufficient parking. After I had served a few years, the church decided to sell its property and find a larger piece of land. The church identified the new site, wrote a preliminary contract, and then began the process of seeking funds from the people to finish the purchase. People gave as they were able. One particular individual sold a building he owned and gave the entire proceeds to the church. Without any fanfare, he sacrificed a sizeable amount of his retirement fund in order to help God's work move forward. My first thought when I heard about his contribution wasn't, Wow! That's a lot of money, but Man, he really believes in this church. He really wants it to do God's work. This matters to him.
We don't support God's ministry; we share in it. God's ministry does not depend on your support. But if you would like to share in it with God, he'll let you. When a pastor sees that spirit in his people, it makes him glad.
Giving is evidence of spiritual growth.
There's a third thought a pastor should have about his people's giving. Paul indicates in verse 17 that when a pastor sees his people giving, he knows they're growing spiritually. Just as quarterly investment statements give you evidence of financial growth, when a pastor looks at his people's giving, their spiritual growth is apparent. When a pastor thinks about his people's giving, his thought should be, "How godly they are becoming!"
Why is that true? Because the pastor knows that giving indicates God has become more important to the people than money. Money is important for security—it can provide a nice retirement. But which has the greatest influence on my security, money or God? Which has the most control over what my future will be like, money or God? Obviously, Scripture encourages us to plan for our future. But the one who gives generously and trusts less in her finances for future security shows that her spiritual account is growing and that God is becoming a bigger factor in her life. Money could also buy something for me right now—a nicer car, a house, or a vacation overseas. But should huge amounts of our money go first to those things, or first to the things of God? When a pastor sees that giving is a priority, he knows that the hearts of his people are moving toward Christ.
Finally, giving makes a pastor glad because he knows what God will do for the giver. He knows giving is a fragrance that ascends to God and so pleases him that he will bless the giver in return. When a pastor thinks about his people's giving, he should be rejoice in the fact that God will see that they lack for nothing. In verses 18-19, Paul acknowledges that he has all he needs—is "amply supplied"—and he trusts that God will amply supply the Philippians because of their gift. Paul has received their gifts, not as a paid preacher, but as a privileged priest who offered them to God. God is so pleased with what they've given to him that he gives even more in return.
Give generously, not because the ministry needs it, but because you want to share in what God is doing. You will discover how incredibly rich God will be toward you!
Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.