There are 6 levels of giving to missions according to Jim Sutherland, PhD, is Director of RMNi.
Giving is an act of faith. It’s parting with the seen–trusting the Unseen that more will be seen. Here are six giving levels, which apply equally to individuals or churches—where are you at this moment?
Giving little or nothing. Giving is not a particular concern and there is little reference to God or the Bible. Among Baby-busters (18-35) only half gave anything to the church in 2002 (Barna, George. “Americans Were More Generous in 2001 Than in 2000.” 4/9/02, accessed at http://www.barna.org on 2/7/03). Such folks may have no self-imposed spending controls—but are controlled by desire and credit ceilings, or don’t give due to a conviction such as atheism. If from indiscipline, this is bankruptcy waiting to happen. One church spent zero on global missions, but funded the annual men’s breakfast..
Inadequate giving. Giving less than a tithe of income, which is the least God asks of us (Larry Burkett), is inadequate. Giving is sporadic and from what is left after the bills are paid, if paid at all. Individuals may put a $5 or $10 in the offering plate. A church may take up isolated offerings for missionaries—who have a right to be nervous. There is no ongoing plan, no consistent giving, but a tendency toward stinginess, coupled with a desperate need for a transfusion of grace. If married, we’re looking at marriage counseling—otherwise we are an emergency waiting to happen.
Obedient giving—the tithe. This is far beyond what most Christians give, but we don’t seriously consider anything beyond a tithe. Giving is formulaic and cheerless. Tithing is good, but an encounter with the Spirit is waiting to happen. [I don’t think the NT specifically teaches tithing for Christians, but rather teaches proportionate and generous giving, with a tithe being the minimum.]
Giving beyond obedience—offerings beyond a tithe. I suspect that Barnabas is an example when in Acts 4:36 he sold a field and distributed the income through the apostles. This is yet better, but unlike Barnabus, we can actually be ungenerous in spirit, even if we give more proportionately than does almost everyone else, . We’re still wondering how much we have to give (rather than how much we can give) and aren’t truly generous. Generosity is waiting to happen.
Generous giving—This is “sharing well.” Generosity is actually commanded of the rich (that’s us, the upper 9% of the world, making $10,000 and above – David Barrett, George Kurian, Todd Johnson, Eds. World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001, p. 1:6).
What does being “generous” and “willing to share” (2 Cor. 9:6; 1 Tim. 6:18) look like for you or your church? It’s being led of the Spirit—with loose boundaries. Grace has arrived. We understand that what we have is God’s and that we are simply stewards. We may bump the perimeter of feasibility and prudence—but we’re led by the Spirit, rather than by guilt or pressure or whim. A breakthrough has arrived.
Surpassing generosity–This is giving out of God’s bounty and supply, rather than our own, whereby we are conduits of God’s riches on “every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:8, 10-11), while all our own needs are met. This also is Spirit-led and God-enabled giving. Giving is a grace-gift of the Spirit, and includes the gift of giving. Grace was the engine behind the Macedonian generosity (2 Cor. 8:1). Beyond generosity—it is “surpassing grace” (2 Cor. 9:14). A miracle of supply has begun.
Paul spoke of the Macedonians: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability…And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. (2 Cor. 8:3,5) It’s impossible to give beyond your own ability, but possible if you’re a conduit of God’s ability, since everything is His (Ps. 24:1). R.G. LeTourneau, who gave away 90% of his income, illustrates this. At the other end of the spectrum, George Mueller, who lived on a vow of poverty—supported not only 2,000 orphans, but missionaries around the world from gifts sent in response to prayer. Jonathan Goforth is another example of a missionary who saw God provide for what his denomination couldn’t/wouldn’t.
Do we believe, for example, 2 Cor. 9:11—that God is able to provide in abundance, so that we’ll have all we need and can be generous on all occasions? We then get into synch with God, and become a conduit for His grace and blessing. God is a generous God giving amazing wealth. A stingy church or Christian is an ungodly church or Christian, because of God’s generosity.
Generosity needs discernment. No one lacks people asking for money. We need to complete the work God gave us to do (Eph. 2:10). Due to the volume of requests, we can assume that God doesn’t want us to meet them all, because all requests aren’t made in the Spirit. Is this my work, someone else’s, or no one’s? A generous spirit must be married to a discerning one.