Offering financial help within a small group

I want to talk about when and how we should give money to each other.

I had started this post quite differently.  I had all these things to say about the growing decentralized power structure in the church.  They were deep things, and they were probably mostly true.

But they weren’t really important.

My experiences I think are more relevant to this topic than my contemplations about it.   I have been on a bunch of different sides of this issue.   This is probably why I don’t have clear solutions and easy steps.

During some of the darkest periods of my life I have been in a position of having to accept a sum of money from my small group.  (And actually, other groups that were quite close to mine.)

On more than one occasion I have been on the other side of that coin.  Within a small group I have given financially to someone else in need.

Currently, one of my ministry responsibilities is to work with groups that have needs that are larger than can be met within the group: I facilitate communication between groups, and do my best to direct people to amazing people and resources outside and inside our church.

I probably don’t need to spend much time elaborating on how difficult this is.    We have all looked at our brothers and sisters in need and wrestled with all sorts of things:

* How much should I sacrfice to give to the people in need?  How much should I ask my family to sacrifice so that we can give?

* How can I assess their decisions without being judgemental?  Am I just feeding into foolish decisions by giving them a gift?

* How many details am I owed by someone in need?  How much do I have the right to know how they got into this situation?  How much do I have the right to know about how they will use the money? 

*  Do I trust them with cash or make sure the money goes to what it is intended to go to?  How much do I have the right to dicate how my assistance is spent?

I think we’re all good at memorizing the scripture that supports wherever we come from on this issue.  I think we’re all equally good at ignoring the scripture that does not support where we come from.

What I want to do is simply offer up a few observations about financial need and then sketch out some implications that these observations have to small group management.

#1) There are very few problems which are completely about the money.

It’s almost a cliche to point out that the ways in which we handle our money is an extremely spiritual issue.  This is a cliche because it’s true.

Having financial troubles is so often a symptom of bigger issues.  It was for me.  As I look back, I think that maybe God was trying to get my head out of the sand through these financial challenges.  As I look around, I suspect that I’m not alone in this.

What’s worse is that financial troubles are causes of bigger issues, too.   There are intense emotional issues involved with financial troubles.    We live a society that has made an idol out of self sufficiency.  It’s a very shameful experience for most people to be in financial trouble.  It’s also a fearful situation, anxiety provoking and stressful.  It can cause profound relationship problems and tie into feelings of being a poor parent.  Finanical diffuclties attract blame and fear and shame and anger.  We ignore these at the peril of everyone.  

#2) There are few problems which are completely divorced from money

While it’s true that money is rarely a problem that occurs alone, it’s equally true that there aren’t many problems which don’t have a financial side.  There are many reasons which might prevent us from talking about the financial aspects of problems.  But this does not mean that they are not there.  As we wonder about how best to care for people, it’s important to wonder about whether there is a financial aspect to the issues we are helping each other through.

Even if there are little or no financial impact to the crises, helping the person through might require some money.  Perhaps they need professional services which they would not normally have access too.  Perhaps one way you wish to show your support is through some kind-of gift.  There is a certain way in which giving a hurting person money is a crass response.  But one form of mercy that we can offer people, sometimes, is simply the ability to get some relief.   If a person is hurting it would be crass to simply hand them a $50 and walk away.  But if a person is hurting, and that money was used to purchase a gift card to a local movie theatre, the relief might be just exactly what the person needs.

#3 It’s human nature to be a short-sighted helper.

There is a disconnect between the support we offer people and the crises that people experience.  This disconnect is located in our attention span.  Many crises last so much longer than the help we recieve from people.  When folks have given so much, after a while, it’s so hard to ask for more.  I know of so many cases, though, where those being supported in all kinds of ways wish that those helping and supporting them had paced themselves a bit more.  Sometimes we jump in, meeting all the needs that we find.  And then… we burn out, wear out, run out of resources.  And the person we were trying to help, they are back where they started.  We wanted to rescue them but all we did is offer them a brief reprieve.

A few implications

One of the things that’s worth noticing about the 3 observations above is that financial need does not exist in a vaccuum: they are often part of a larger pattern of problems, nearly every problem has a financial side, and people tend to have less endurance than problems.  In knowing how best to respond, it is sometimes helpful to recognize that the ways we serve people don’t exist in a vaccuum either.

There are two different things I mean by this.  The first is that it helps to demystify troubling questions by recognizing that money is not really any different than any other way we might serve a person.

I participated in an interesting discussion.  There was a great need and someone who was normally a dedicated, 10% tither found himself wondering if he might channel some of the money which would normally go into the collection plate toward that need.  This is a complex question.  I don’t think I’ll try and answer it here.  But for my purposes, the next step was an interesting one.

The next step was simply to observe that we feel that God is owed a variety of things, in addition to money.  Some of us feel that we owe God our time.  We work in a ministry, for example.  It is illuminating, I think, to explore the tithing question in this way:

What would you do if you saw a great need that you could meet with more time?  Would you channel the time that you normally feel is owed to God in the direction of that need, even at the expense of the church?

Or consider a second example: we might be grappling deeply with whether to give to someone in financial need.  Our hesitation might fear from the fact that we are enabling the person.  Giving them a financial gift might allow them to continue on a sinful or destructive path.

It does not answer all our questions, but it does help, to recognize a parallell.  We watch people who have troubles all the time.  We know that we can rescue them by doing all sorts of things.  It’s worthwhile to ask ourselves: how do we determine when to help and when not to, when it’s not a question of money?

The second thing I mean, when I say that we shouldn’t financially serve in a vaccuum is that we should do our best to offer support in a comprehensive way.  Money might be one way we take care of people… but it should not be the only way.  There are some ways in which money is easy.  It allows us to stay out of the dirt and still feel like we’re helping.  I think that our love will be most evident when it is multifaceted.  This helps also deal with concerns around enabling others.  Perhaps with the financial gift will come assistance in preventing the problem from happening again.





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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

12 thoughts on “Offering financial help within a small group”

  1. It’s so funny that you wrote this post today after we talked briefly about this topic in LG. We were talking more about the impediments to “serving”. In the Tshirt book, Vince leans heavily on the fear of “touching the sick” for fear of discomfort or being adversely affected by their condition.

    i made a brief caveat about wanting to avoid political discussion before pointing out the tremendous negatives to throwing money at people who have needs are shared by the receiver and the giver. i’m glad to see that you adressed them both above. Financial help without accountability generally worsens the problem. i believe the
    “shameful” baggage of needing assistance is built in no matter what a culture drones into one’s head about it. It’s a humbling experience and ought to be. Nobody WANTS


  2. Sorry about that. i hit the wrong combination of buttons.

    …to be needy. Shame on the giver for failing to see that they simply give money and gifts to make people and their problems go far away from them!!! That’s at least part of the motivation we ought to be careful to avoid.

    Ministry is messy, but it’s by nature personal. This is why it’s scary!



  3. Garret:
    Mostly, I agree with you. Particularly your second comment about the messiness and personal-ness of ministry.
    If I’m understanding you correctly (and perhaps I’m not) there are a couple places where we have a disagreement. The portion I’m responding to is the end of your first reply and the beginning of the second.
    I believe that we have natural tendency to feel shame at our inabality to be self-complete. I’d suggest that these feelings of shame border on the idolatrous in that we are acting like we’re supposed to be God to ourselves.
    I think our society makes our natural tendency worse in some areas. In the area of finances, I believe we have the most trouble with not being self-sufficient in our society. It’s tough for me to express myself here, because I see that there are differences between asking somebody for a dollar and asking somebody for love or time or whatever… I guess the best way to say it is to say I think some of the differences are undeserved, that we ought to work toward disolving some of the distinction between asking for a dollar and asking for somebody’s time.

    That’s an awesome question… Which I am not really clear on. I’ll share my initial thoughts, and be really interested in hearing what you or others have to say about it.
    I’m skeptical about the whole 10% idea. One of the things Jesus was about, to me, is freeing us from the letter of the law so we can more clearly follow the spirit of the law.
    Giving back to God, is of course an act of faith, worship, and obedience. He clearly deserves the first fruits of “our” labor. It seems to me the answer to the question about “Does it count as a tithe if it happens out of church?” Is closely related to the question “How active is God outside of His Church.”
    If we see God’s heart outside of what the church is doing, if we see God’s kingdom emerging outside of places the church is working, it would seem highly appropriate (to me) that we might participate in these things. To whatever extent, in this example, the church isn’t doing God’s work, it hasn’t earned his tithe, I think, and doesn’t really qualify as a church… In other words, God never said “have lots of potlucks and summer camps for your own kids” but he did say “Take care of the orphan and widow”… If an organization calls itself a church but isn’t fufilling God’s agenda, then I’d suggest it’s a poseur; if a group was out helping the homeless get off the streets but it didn’t call itself a church, I’d suggest it really is a church…
    This all get’s really tricky around the issue of belief: Would it count as a tithe if it was headed to an organization doing amazing humanitarian work but pushing foreward an atheistic agenda? I don’t know. I’m not at all clear, though, that even with atheistic beliefs, it’s less of a church than the place that only has pot luck dinners and summer camps.

    Dave, I wonder if you’ve read Shane Clairborne’s Irrestible Revolution? He’s got some ideas around this topic in that book that really push the envelope. Though I disagree with some of it, an interesting point he makes is that it’s hard to imagine that the early church cost as much to support as our current organizations… It seems quite likely that a much higher percentage of what people tithed actually helped those in need.

    My final thought for now is one of feeling convicted. I don’t give anywhere near as much as I should. I think sometimes we manufacture reasons to be selfish: we give good reasons not to give to anybody. What a convenient result of our cynicism, that we get to keep all our money. I am clear that God would rather have me give in a way that maybe I get rooked once in a while rather than just selishly hoard all “my” resources.


  4. jeff, great discussions, and commenting with dave about some things I’m working through personally and posting a few of them on my blog. I do agree that money sometimes for some is the easy out for helping people and certainly many things are done with money that provides services or relief from one area that makes another area less stressful and better to focus on whatever is needed at that time. I also think that some think they don’t have any money and therefore don’t think giving money is for them, maybe just time. I don’t think it’s mostly an either/or posiiton, but a both/and position. I certainly believe that the on-going help is better than meeting the initial need and leaving the person to return to their mire.
    I would love to comment more on the whole current church organization problems and the relationship between Jesus and the early church and the church today, but like I said, I’m wrestling with this as well in detail, especially as I sit from the church organization sit of things. Thanks for interacting it me on my blog.


  5. I think I’ll pipe in here. I think it is the responsibility of the believer to give their money away to what extent God has laid it on their heart to give away. I like the word “tithe”, not as a ten percent term necessarily, but as a portion of my money that God asks me to give back to him as a step of faith, because it’s His anyways.
    So then the discussion continues, “where does it go?”
    I’ve been challenged in this area personally, like you Jeff.
    For the first few years (in the early 2000’s) that I was a member here at Fellowship, I justified in my mind that I made an extraordinarily low income, and so I didn’t give anything. And it turns out, that’s how much money I had at the end of the week.
    About 6 years ago, I was challenged by a mentor to give anyways, so I did, to our church.
    Since this time I have not become rich, but I do see how God has blessed Carie and me with financial stability through the process. I think it’s only wise to give a “Holy Spirit induced” amount of your money away.
    Now as far as to whom – this has challenged me too, and still challenges me.
    I think it’s important to give a portion of your money back to God by way of His church. This may seem a bit biased coming from me as a pastor, but this is why I think this way.
    I believe God has made the church (a gathering of followers of Christ, not just people) His vehicle for sharing the gospel”good news” to the world.
    Along with this, the church has the sole responsibility of making disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.
    When this is being done, the person who is involved in a particular church body, who is being blessed by that church body, should be giving back to that organization that has put so much into them.
    So many times, I see people come into our church and take and take and take, and never give, and I’m amazed at their unwillingness to give back.
    As a pastor, I get a paycheck from our church, and out of that paycheck, a percentage goes right back into the church. Why?
    Because the money is God’s
    And because this church has poured so much into me through relationships, teaching, and resources.
    This is why Al now says before the offerings that we take, that if you are a guest, this offering is not for you, but if you call FC your home, there is a responsibility to give, as we’ve said of our time, our talents, and our treasures.
    That responsibility should not be one based on manipulation, but out of the overflow of joy I have because of what God and this church (that is the people)have done for me.
    And the reason that the people that make up this church came together was because people before us gave and sacrificed to this church and have able to have organization and leadership, so that the future looks bright because the church is being the church.
    Some passing thoughts on my way through your blog world.


  6. Thanks guys.
    Sometimes I feel like such a newbie. Clearly lots of thought and experience has gone in to your respective positions. I’m thankful that you both shared here.


  7. By the way, I certainly hope it doesn’t appear I’m suggesting there is something wrong with having a church building and paying a pastor. I firmly believe that both of these are o.k.


  8. Can I chime in too, although a little late? I use the council I received from my late uncle. He declared that it was “first fruits” that you give, with a joyful spirit, to your home church as obedience, support, and example. Your first fruits might be the standard 10% or it could be more…or less. After that, if you were visiting a guest church you could give an offering of thanks, but that should not be included as part of your first fruits – so you might be on a 3 month vacation, sending home your first fruits, and giving each week to your local church. Secondarily, money should go to the charity of your choosing when possible. He also counciled though to make sure that the charity was using it’s monies responsibly. And then he made it a point to give, whenever the spirit called, to the homeless, the young, the old, the inbetweens. Pick up a hitchhiker, buy someone a coffee, give a child the extra fifty cents they needed for a candy bar. AND then there was service which was separate entirely. Service, giving of your time, your talents, your abilities, and doing so regardless of enjoying it but because it was the right thing to do ie serving on a board, helping to make phone calls, shoveling snow, working in the nursery etc. He said that every individual at the church, who was a member or a dedicated attender, should give in service in some way. And then… there was the outside service. The relationship building, the networking, the leading by example, the working at your kids school etc. Somehow, he always seemed to have enough time to do it all. Not that he was highly energetic, but that he lived to serve God in his every moment. He sacrificed many things in order to give his all to God, but his ultimate rewards were always greater than what he gave, be it time or money. I can only imagine the great reunion he had with our Lord when he was called. Now, I said I USE the council of my uncle, but that doesn’t mean I actually apply it!! I”m still working on it! My uncle aways made a point to show his pre-christian life/attitude and how he had become transformed. I miss that man!


  9. I look foreward to meeting him on the other side of this life. (Note to God: I’m not asking you to hurrt the process up.) That council that you share strikes me as sound.


  10. Wow, I am really behind the eight-ball. I am in college Ie poor; I have needs gas, food, rent, and small expenses cell phone. I feel called to give but unable to do so, I give time when I can, consul when I must and I try to love on people. But I still fall short I know I spend too much money on myself (what little I have). What suggestions would you have for running a small group on budgeting?

    Thanks Kyle

    Click Here to take survey


  11. Hmmmm…
    I should be up front about the fact that my finances are quite a mess (but slowly getting better.) I found Dave Ramsey to seem to have his head on his shoulders and I know that there is quite a lot of curricula and resources that come from his crowd.
    When I start to feel discouraged, though, that the scale on which I can help people financially is so small I try to hold on to what Jesus said about the widow… the woman who tithed a tiny ammount was actually giving more than the rich, because she had so little to start with.
    Obviously this is just an idea, not a whole study on budgeting, and maybe you’re mindful anyway of this fact… But it’s a pretty radical notion:
    Bill Gates and I are on an utterly level playing field. My few dollars are in some wierd way equal to millions of his dollars. The scale is sliding, the expectations are not that he and I will give the same total, the expectation is that we will act with equal genourosity.


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