I recently received an email from a subscriber who asked a question I thought deserved its own article. Their question centered around optimizing their giving: ”Is it better to give a little to a number of organizations or better to focus my giving on one or two things?”
I love this question because it comes from a giving heart. It comes from a heart that wants to expand in generosity and desires to be an intentional deployer of God’s wealth. All things I’m into.
There are three main ‘modes’ of giving. We give as a way of supporting the communities we belong to. We give to support a mission we care about and sometimes, we give because we just think God wants us to. While you know I don’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” Biblical model of finance, I want to share I frame work that will hopefully help this reader, and you, think about your giving decisions.
Let’s look at each giving mode and decide if your giving is better broad or deep.
Giving to Community
The most common form of giving for Christians is giving within a community. Giving to your church is probably the best example of this.
You receive something of value from your community either tangible or spiritual, therefore, you give something back. Although some people may receive more from the community than they invest in it and others give more than they take, contributing to the community reflects the church described in Acts 2.
Besides giving to a church, community-giving could include giving to a community center or nonprofit where you volunteer or sit on the board. It could even be a business like a small business. For instance, maybe you intentionally spend money at a local coffee shop to support that hub of the community in your town. These are the organizations where you’re invested, you build relationships and form the community fabric of your life.
Typically, it’s better for your community-giving to focus on one or two organizations. Committing to too many communities erodes the quality of the community. Find communities that you can “cast your lot with” and show your commitment through your committed giving.
Keep in mind that you might give to the same cause for multiple reasons. For instance, perhaps your giving to homeless ministries signifies your commitment to your city. Alternatively, (or concurrently) you could also give to homeless ministries out of a call to mission towards the housing insecure or simply because you feel God prompting you to give in a specific instance.
Giving to Mission
The second giving category is giving “on mission”. We talk a lot about Mission Minded Money on this blog, so I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say this is giving towards good works that God has prepared in advance for you to do. It’s a cause or compassionate heart for a specific population.
It might be serving immigrants or fostering children. It could also be training married couples or translating the Bible.
Whether you give broadly or deeply within the Mission bucket depends on where you are in your journey. I don’t like the word calling. The call of every Christian is to know and be known by Jesus. Mission, however, is the invitation for us in a season. Generally, that’s only one or two things at a time. If you can identify that mission right now, it’s important to give focused money towards that mission and not get distracted by every good work around you. God made good works for you to do, don’t do everyone else’s.
But what if you don’t know what your mission is?
Some people feel purposeless because they can’t name their mission. Did God forget about them? Giving broadly within the mission category can help you discover your purpose.
Consider the college freshmen. Some people go to college wanting to be a doctor. They take pre-med and follow the path toward a medical degree – focused.
Others go to college unsure of what they want to do. They might take an undeclared major or work towards a liberal arts degree.
They’ll experience a broad spectrum of disciplines and potentially latch on to something they feel passionate about. The Bible says where your money is there your heart will be also. Deploying money broadly can help your heart find the thing that God wants to draw it towards.
Take a set sum of money each month and commit it to a handful of organizations. As you follow the organizations, adjust your giving. Perhaps one doesn’t move you. Give that money to an organization or ministry that does. Refine your giving as you discover causes that strike a chord with you and notice the themes. Over time you’ll likely run into a mission God uniquely wired you for.
Since this article is about generosity that’s where we’ll leave the discussion of mission-minded giving, but remember Mission money is more than simply donating.
The last, and most fun, mode of giving is spontaneous giving. Spontaneous giving is always broad. By its very definition, you’re giving from the unction of the Spirit. This form of giving can feel very random and requires planning to have money available without a plan. (I’m a Type-A planner so I have to plan my spontaneity).
One of my favorite examples of this was December of last year when we took the kids out to eat at four different restaurants, one each week. After each meal we gave the server a $100 tip. It was a beautiful picture of the festivals of the Old Testament . The Bible instructs people to feast and give to the poor during those occasions (check out this podcast from BibleProject). Giving spontaneously trains our ears to listen to how God wants to use our money. It’s so much fun!
Another method we’ve used is to deposit a set amount of money into a savings account each month, and then find a way to give if it reaches a certain dollar amount. It’s also money we can dip into if we become aware of a need. This is especially helpful to include my wife in our giving. Since I pay the majority of the bills and obsess over the bank account she is often arm’s length from our regular giving. Making a joint decision about where that money goes properly involves her in how the household money is deployed.
By the very nature of this three bucket framework, some breadth in our giving is important. While we should focus on our communities and our mission, there is room for spontaneity and experimentation. Remember, your heart follows your money. If you think God might be calling you in a direction, a great way to confirm this is by committing a few dollars in that direction and seeing what God does both in your heart and what doors open.
Our lifes miss out on something if we neglect any of these three buckets. Dutifully cutting checks to the church is good, but can often be mundane and lifeless. Giving strictly to causes we care about makes all of our money decisions centered around us. Only giving when we feel like it misses out on the discipline of the Spirit. Putting money in each bucket makes for an exciting mission-oriented, relationship-rich life.
Do you have a question about generosity or giving? Contact me below. Your question may just because an article.