Summer is a great time of year. Backyard barbecues, running through the sprinklers, feeling warm breezes on bare arms and legs—most people claim summer as their favorite time of year. But if you’re trying to run a ministry, or meet a church budget, summer is a time of scarcity. People on vacation aren’t home to make donations or mail checks, and we rarely put something in the offering when we’re just a visitor somewhere else. Ministries that run on donations know that summers make them tighten their belts, so they send out scads of donation appeals. My mailbox is full of them.
Being on a limited income, there’s no way we can send money to everyone who asks. (When Jesus told the disciples to do exactly that—see Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:30—I often wonder if he had our era of mass communications in mind!) The problem is that they’re all worthwhile causes. How can I possibly choose between puppy-eyed orphans, rescued slaves, starving families, unborn children, our local homeless shelter or food bank, refugees, and entire people groups without any knowledge of Jesus? Indecision leaves me paralyzed.
There’s a reason ministries send out these heart-wrenching letters filled with poignant photos. They work. Most people give in response to an appeal. That’s fine, to a point. Pete and I like to set aside a small part of our giving just so we can make a donation in a timely manner to a special need. When the letters arrive, we look them over and ask God if any of them are for us. Sometimes He says yes, but most of the time we end up tossing everything into the recycling bin. Shocking, right?
We do this because the bulk of our giving is prayerfully planned out months in advance. Every January we create a giving budget based on our expected income. We try to concentrate our giving in just a few areas, rather than spreading smaller checks over a bunch of ministries. That saves everyone overhead costs and makes life simpler.
How do we pick among all the options? We pray and listen. God sometimes tells us to give to a certain organization. If he doesn’t, then we assume he doesn’t have an opinion, and we each choose a ministry that speaks to our area of interest and concern. I tend to prefer micro-enterprise development, while Pete often wants to support a missionary we know. Now that we’ve been married almost 35 years, we rarely change our giving from year to year. We’ve settled into relationships with people and ministries we know and care about.
It’s important to research any parachurch organizations before you commit to supporting them. While most people sincerely want to help others, there are always scams. Plus, just being sincere isn’t enough. Do they listen to God? Are they faithful? Are they truly helping, or just doing something that looks impressive but actually does more harm than good?
Then, after making all these decisions, we give as God provides. There have been times when we made all our plans and then our income dried up and we couldn’t even support our local church. A tithe of zero is zero. Other years God has blessed us and we’ve been able to give more than we ever thought we could.
Giving this way may sound a bit too cut and dried, perhaps even legalistic. It’s not. We just want to ensure that it’s God’s voice we’re hearing, and not that of a manipulative marketing campaign.