Essential Elements of Thanksgiving

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A key concept related to thanksgiving is reciprocity.  Here are some important elements involved in thanksgiving.
The Benefactor.  The One who is the ultimate source of every good gift and every perfect gift is God!  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).  “Father of lights” refers to God as the creator of the greater and lesser lights in the heavens.  God is the creator of all things.  He has the power to bless and the will to bless.
The Gifts.  God gives us our daily bread (Matt. 6:11).  He gives His Son to die for the sins of mankind (the unspeakable gift-II Cor. 9:15).  He gives everlasting life (John 3:16; Matt. 19:29).  He gives love, mercy, and grace (Eph. 2:4-9).  He gives us truth (Eph. 1:9). He gives all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3).  He gives us everything needful to sustain us in this life and in the world to come.
The Blessed.  God acts for the highest good of His special creation–man.  He sends the sunshine and the rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).  In a sense, God blesses each person on the earth.  However, in a special sense and in a special way, God blesses His own children.  The people of God are His speical creation (Eph. 2:10).  God bestows the greatest spiritual blessings upon those who are “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
The Thankful.  The “thankful” are a special class of people who recognize God’s goodness toward them and reciprocate with gratitude.  The truly blessed give back something to God.  The nature of the gifts they give are different from God’s gifts to them.  But, they give:  (1) their love; (2) their devotion or worship including praise and adoration; (3) their lives in covenant relationship with Him; (4) their service (the labor of their hands including benevolent acts to others; and (5) their loyalty (faithfulness over time).  The thankful have humble hearts that have been touched by God’s grace.  They reciprocate out of sense of being debtors to God for all He has done for them.  Through gratitude they complete the circle of fellowship with God.  The truly thankful are Christians who reciprocate gratitude for God’s grace!

“Comfortable Guilt”

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Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson and Patricia Snell teamed up to write Passing the Plate. This book takes a look at giving in American churches.  In this book, the authors state, “We were struck then, by what seemed to us in many American Christians as a kind of “comfortable guilt”–that is, living with an awareness and feeling of culpability for not giving money more generously, but maintaining that at a low enough level of discomfort that it was  not too disturbing or motivating enough to actually increase giving” (Passing the Plate, p. 110).  Guilt is a motivator.  But, comfortable guilt is not motivating enough to over the comfort zone most have established.  Many feel guilty about not giving more, but not guilty enough to motivate them to be better givers!  Are you reaching your full potential as a giver?
The authors state nine reasons for ungenerous giving.  Each is stated as a hypothesis and then put to the test.
The first is “objective resource constraints.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians do not possess the discretionary financial resources to give 10 percent.  The hypothesis tested untrue.  Many have the ability to give more, they just do not.
The second is “subjective resource constraints.”  The hypothesis is:  Many American Christians regardless of objective capacities, subjectively believe that they do not possess discretionary financial resources to give 10 percent.  The hypothesis tested true.  Many have the objective ability to give more, but psychologically they have convinced themselves that they can’t.
The third is “unperceived needs.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians do not perceive legitimate needs.  The hypothesis tested untrue.  Many do see and understand the needs, but do not feel a compunction to meet those needs themselves.
The fourth is “normative ignorance.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians are not aware of the faith traditions’ requirements to give 10 percent.  The hypothesis tested true regarding stewardship, but untrue otherwise.  Stewardship involved 100% of what a Christian possesses not just 10%.  If we don’t manage the 10% well, why would we manage the other 90% any better?
The fifth is “administrative distrust.”  They hypothesis is:  American Christians are suspicious of waste or abuse.  This hypothesis tested mixed.  Some see and experience waste and abuse and others do not.  Church leaders must act responsibly with the monies entrusted to them.
The sixth is “low leadership expectations.”  The hypothesis is:  Church leaders are too tentative.  The hypothesis tested true.  Leaders need to be visionary and have a specific goal with a plan to meet that goal.
The seventh is “collective-action shirking.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians do not give liberally because they lack confidence that other American Christians are also giving liberally.  The hypothesis tested true.  No one wants to think that they are pulling the load by themselves.
The eighth is “lack of accountability.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians do not give liberally because matters of personal and family finances are highly privatized in American culture.  The hypothesis tested true.  American religious groups do not hold their members accountable for their giving.  Giving is highly personal and thought to be an act of worship between the person giving and God.  Of course, God will hold them accountable.
The ninth is “non-routine giving process.”  The hypothesis is:  American Christians give occasionally and situationally rather than consistently and routinely.  This hypothesis tested true.  Haphazard giving is a poor way to meet a budget!
The authors use the word Christian is a broad sense and they use the 10 percent threshold for giving as a norm.   While I may disagree with these terms, their findings are helpful in analyzing why people do not give more.  Perhaps this will open up a much needed discussion on giving in many churches today.

Why Do People Give?

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     J. Clif Christopher in his book, Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, reveals the reasons people give.  Christopher cites the landmark work of Jerold Panas, Mega Gifts, which was one of the first attempts to do in-depth research into the area of what motivates people to give.  Panas discovered that for major donors three factors ranked extremely high.  They are: (1) belief in the mission of the institution, (2) a high regard for staff leadership, and (3) the fiscal responsibility of the institution (Christopher, Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, 13).
     The mission is what non-profit organizations offer to do.  Donors want to be a part of something that changes lives.  In America today, there are over 1.8 million nonprofit organizations, and over one million of these are 501 (c)(3)s.  There are about 370,000 churches.  Just ten years ago, in 1995, there were 600,000 501 (c)(3)s and about 370,000 churches (Christopher, 1).  What these numbers show is that in ten years the competition has nearly doubled.  Churches must define their mission in a positive way that demonstrates that they are helping people change their lives in wonderful ways.
     Christopher emphasizes the importance of the regard donors have for the leadership of the organization.  Potential givers desire to know the leadership and they want to have meaningful contact with them.
     “People do not give to sinking ships” (Christopher, 28).  People invest in success.  They want the money that they donate to be used wisely.  “The church is the only nonprofit I know of that seems to believe that the more you cry that you are sinking, the more people will give to you.  The exact opposite is true” (Christopher, 28).  Churches need to be good stewards.  They must demonstrate responsibility and accountability with the funds given to them.  
     If we can understand why people give, we can do a better job of staying on mission, providing good leadership and being good stewards of the funds entrusted to us.

Giving

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     Recently, Christianity Today (Dec., 2008) published an article by Rob Moll titled, “Scrooge Lives!”  The article contained many statistics on giving that relate to churches.  I would like to pass some of them on to you.
    -More than one out of four American Protestants give away no money at all–“not even a token $5 per year,” say sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell in a new study on Christian giving, Passing the Plate (Oxford University Press) (24).
    -Thirty-six percent of Evangelicals report that they give away less than two percent of their income (24)
    -Only 27 percent of Evangelicals tithe (24).
    –Passing the Plate’s researchers say committed American Christians–those who say their faith is very important to them and those who attend church at least twice a month–earn more than $2.5 trillion dollars every year…if these Christians gave away 10 percent of their after-tax earnings, they would add another $46 billion to ministry around the world (24).
    -The average, regularly attending churchgoer gives 6 percent of after-tax income, but that’s a mean skewed by a handful of very generous givers (26).
    -The median annual giving for an American Christian is actually $200, just over half a percent of after-tax income (26).
    -About 5 percent of American Christians provide 60 percent of the money churches and religious groups use to operate (26).
    -America’s biggest givers–as a percentage of their income–are its lowest income earners.  “Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations,” Smith, Emerson and Snell write, “whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent (26).
    -Households of committed Christians making less than $12,500 per year give away roughly 7 percent of their income, a figure no other income bracket beats until incomes rise above $90,000 (they give away 8.8 percent) (26).
    -“When Americans earned less money following the Great Depression, they gave more.”  When income went up, they gave less of it away (26).
    These facts are very informative.  Moll also gives the following reasons as to why many American Christians do not give as they should: (1) fixed costs have increased from 54% to 75% of family budgets since the early 1970’s; (2) would-be donors don’t trust how churches would use their donations; (3) Donors imitate the churches they donate to and spend the money on themselves (Only about 3% of money donated to churches went to ministering to non-Christians); and (4) they are not asked to give (26-27). 
    Giving should be an expression of joy and thanksgiving from a willing and obedient heart.  The apostle Paul assures us that “God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7).  This is a good time to examine your own habit of giving.