Why Are Christians So Miserable at Giving?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- Updated Nov 06, 2018
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are Christians not more generous— especially at Christmas time? I mean, the Bible is filled with admonitions for us to be generous to the poor. So, we bring a turkey and a few toys to some needy family and feel like we’ve done something special. And I know that is special, but it just seems like it’s so little— especially in comparison to how much we give ourselves and our families.
Do you know what I mean?
I know what it is like to be poor—well, relatively poor. I worked for $1.25 per hour in a metal shop to pay expenses for college. Julie and I had to pool our dimes to afford going to a movie.
After college I worked as a children’s pastor for $100 per week. Julie taught piano lessons to help make ends meet.
Julie and I moved to Tucson for my first full-time pastoring job. The church promised me a salary of $1,200 per month. After my first sermon the head deacon pulled me aside and told me that they had made a mistake and could only afford $1,100 per month. In addition, I had to pay for my own car expenses and medical insurance. After receiving some donations and using every last dollar, Julie and I paid off our departed daughter’s medical bills and we were flat broke.
We paid bills every Friday afternoon to see if we had enough money to make it through the upcoming week. Julie cried a lot on Fridays.
Thank God she knew how to give piano lessons.
I suppose that on the socio-economic scale from “1” to “9”, with “9” being those making $1,000,000 per year, and “1” being those in abject poverty, homeless on the street, Julie and I were about a “3”.
By the way, Kayla, you are correct. The Bible is filled with examples of how the more fortunate are to take care of the less fortunate.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. (Proverbs 19:17)
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
How generous we are with the poor is greatly affected by where we are on the socio-economic ladder. Not everyone uses the same criteria, or behaviors, or number of levels in their research studies. So, understand that I’m using this as an example in general terms.
Besides money and finances, the Nine Levels can also be examined according to education.
Level 9: $1,000,000 per year: and/or post-doctoral degree.
Level 8: $500,000 per year: and/or PhD.
Level 7: $125,000 per year: and/or master’s degree
Level 6: $100,000 per year: and/or college degree
Level 5: $75,000 per year: and/or associates degree
Level 4: $50,000 per year: and/or high school diploma
Level 3: $30,000 per year: and/or eighth grade graduation
Level 2: $25,000 per year: and/or Poverty Line: illiterate
Level 1: $8,000 Homeless: and/or illiterate
People who make between $1,000,000 and $500,000 per year are what the president calls the 1%.
We might call the people make between $125,000 and $50,000 middle-class
People who make $30,000 or less are poor.
We can draw many observations about these different levels.
For example, think about how people congregate at a pro football game. The one percent sit in skyboxes far above the maddening crowd of middle-class people who are drinking beer and having a wonderful time together. The one percent drink champagne from fluted glasses.
The one percent don’t trust anyone. They make their own decisions and run their own businesses. Most are entrepreneurs. On the other hand, middle-class working people work in an office building with many other people and trust that somehow the leaders of the company will make it all turn out okay.
It is not the wealthiest who are most generous.
People at the bottom of the ladder tend to give much more generously than people at the top.
"It is the poor who help the poor, because they know what poverty is like.”
The most generous givers are in the $20,000 to $30,000 bracket. They average giving 18% to charity as well as to their friends in need.
The over $100,000 brackets give less than 1.5% to charity.
Most all of us congregate across no more than four levels. We can associate well with people two levels below us and one level above us. Occasionally, I hear people say, “Everyone is welcome at our church. We have a large generous giver in our church who makes almost $1 million a year!” Yes, you may have one. But, this person is the exception, not the rule. If you look carefully, churches seldom span more than four levels. A level eight individual has little or no chance of ministering successfully to someone on level four.
The reason that most of us have difficulty ministering to the poor is that over time, we all tend to move up the ladder.
We get a job, then a promotion, and then perhaps a raise and we’ve gone up the ladder.
Eventually, we pay off the mortgage on our house. We go up the ladder.
Studies show that Christians are better employees than non-Christians, and as a result, move more quickly up to ladder than those who are not Christians.
Julie and I were recently looking at some pictures of the people in our first church in Penelope, Texas, population 212. Julie said to me, “I didn’t realize at the time how poor they were. One marginal farmer raised pigs to help feed his five children. I remembered that Abby, their five-year-old, slept in a room with a two-inch gap between boards. The cold north wind blew strong across the prairie and dad could not even afford a board to plug the wall and keep out the cold.
Julie and I no longer view the people in Penelope as “normal.” We’ve gone up the ladder.
We don’t look down the ladder very often. We tend to look up the ladder and compare ourselves with those above. This is why we seldom consider ourselves to be rich. Someone is always higher up the ladder.
“I’m not rich,” we say.” We look up the ladder and say, “He’s rich.” If only we would look down the ladder and see how many are below us. We would see how rich we really are. But it is hard to look down the ladder.
The average American 5-year-old has 250 toys. They’ve only been alive about 250 weeks, which means that the average 5 year old has grown up getting one new toy a week for his or her whole life.
And we wonder why, as they get older, then they never seem to appreciate what they have but always want more? We trained them to do that! We have pushed our children up an artificial ladder.
Once we have climbed up the ladder, it is almost impossible to climb back down.
We say, “I can climb down the ladder. I know what it’s like. I once was down there.” The key words here are, “once was”. It’s easy to go up the ladder; it’s hard to climb back down.
One hot July afternoon my younger daughter, Bronwyn, invited me to go downtown with $25 and help some poor people. She had just returned from The Continentals singing ministry tour and this was one of their exercises.
We stopped at the grocery store to buy mayonnaise, bread, baloney and power bars. We bought paper sacks and had enough lunches for twelve or so people. The park was filled with men and women who were down and out on their luck. I began to hand out the sandwich bags and Bronwyn said, “Aren’t you going to talk with them. Nobody ever takes time to talk with them. Why don’t you slow down and spend some time with them?”
This was not easy for me. I was not having any fun. Finally, it was over and we could go home.
The next Sunday she did it again. I really had no desire to go, but I had to set a good example of my love and concern for people, so I agreed.
I headed for the grocery store and she said, “No, not this time. Let’s do something different.”
We went to the thrift store on Fourth Street. I intended to pay for someone’s purchases. After awhile, a woman entered the store with two children. I watched her select some clothes and let each child pick out one toy. As she approached the checkout register I introduced myself and told her that I would be pleased to pay for her purchases.
She scowled with anger: “I’m a schoolteacher and I have a job. I don’t need your help. Leave me alone!”
Bronwyn said with a grin, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”
No I wasn’t very good at it. I‘d gone up the ladder.
So how do we climb back down the ladder? We follow the example of the Macedonians who gave so much when they had so little.
Paul was collecting an offering for the brothers and sisters. The Corinthians didn’t do a very good job with the offering. They started well with their giving, but then quit. Paul is encouraging them to finish out their commitment. He used the Macedonians as the motivation for his pep talk.
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord…” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)
The Macedonians experienced the grace of giving as they watched Jesus climb down the ladder.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Think of the richness of Christ: The whole universe was His. He had only to speak one word and a new world would be created. He could put His finger on every star and say, "Mine!" Angels did his bidding. He was God.
Yet he became poor. Can you see Him stripping Himself of His glory as described in Philippians Two? Described by the “kenosis,” he emptied Himself of His glory and Godness.
See Him in a dirty stable.
See Jesus, who dug the ocean beds, saying to a woman, "Give me a drink."
He saw the foxes and the birds going back to their nests and He had to say, "Foxes have holes, birds have nests; but, I have nowhere to lay My head."
Once He was honored by the "Hallelujahs!" of heaven, and now He is spat upon, struck, and cursed. The very hands that he had made were held still while the creature hammered stakes through the Creators hands.
He was put upon a cross to bleed and die.
He suffered the burden of the sin of the entire world.
This is how the Macedonians gave so much. They looked down the ladder at Jesus and they saw Him with the people at the bottom.
So what do we do?
1. Look down the ladder and give accordingly.
Once upon a time, a man met me after church and said, “I live high on the ladder. I don’t know many people down the ladder anymore. I want to help someone. You know who is down the ladder.” He handed me eight $100 bills.
What if you don’t have very much at all? What if you are at the bottom of the Ladder?
You are a single mom; or your husband is not a Christian and doesn’t want you to give to the poor? Then remember 2 Corinthians 8:12: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”
God sees the "heart gift" and not the "hand gift". If the heart wanted to give more, but was unable to do so, God sees it and records it accordingly.
2. Be like Jesus: Don’t just look down the ladder, climb down.
Take sack lunches to the homeless in the park.
Adopt a family with children. You can give them more than just money.
Join a Table Ministry and help a family get back on their feet.
Look at the people right around you. Perhaps it’s time to really befriend your housekeeper or lawn man in order to meet some of their real needs.
Skype with an orphanage in the Middle East. Get to know the children. Give a gift and encourage your friends to do so as well. In today’s world, it is possible to meet the needs of people far away.
It may be hard to climb down the ladder, but it can be done.
At the Jewish Feast of Purim there is a regulation which says that, however poor a man is, he must find someone poorer than himself and give him a gift.
Make this Christmas like the Feast of Purim: Find someone who is less fortunate and help them. Be like Jesus: climb down the ladder.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: December 7, 2015