Archives For Finances

PassingthePlateYesterday, I posted Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson’s conclusions about why Americans don’t give.

Now, here are six facts they discovered in their research about American giving.

  1. At least one out of five American Christians – 20% of all U.S. Christians –give literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
  2. The vast majority of American Christians give very little to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
  3. American Christians do not give their dollars evenly among themselves, but, rather, a small minority of generous givers among them contributes most of the total Christian dollars given.
  4. Higher income Christians – like Americans generally – give little to no more money as a percentage of household income than lower income earning Christians.
  5. Despite a massive growth of real per capital income over the 20th century, the average percentage share of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.
  6. The vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith – little is spent on missions, development, and poverty relief outside of local congregations, particularly outside the United States, in ways that benefit people other than the givers themselves.

See also:

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money

Christian Smith on Why Americans Give So Little Financially

Don’t Store Up Treasure on Earth: John R.W. Stott on What Jesus Doesn’t and Does Mean


Christian Smith, who coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism,” is one of the foremost sociologists in the world. In a book he wrote with Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, Smith summarized why Americans give so little. He breaks his conclusions down into six points (p. 175-179):

  1. Materialistic consumption has become a nearly inescapable way of life in the United States . . . The first and perhaps most formidable rival to generous voluntary giving of American Christians, then, aiding and abetting any of their natural human tendencies toward selfishness and stinginess, is America’s institutionalized mass consumerism.
  2. A lot of pastors appear to be uncomfortable with the issue of money in their churches . . . Many are also afraid of being branded by the money-grubbing stereotype. The net result seems to us to be a lot of pastors out there who have made peace with low expectations, tolerance for chronic paltry giving by many of their members, and the use of money collection procedures oriented as much to minimize problems and conflicts as to effectively build their churches and the spiritual faithfulness of their members.
  3. More than a few American Christians seem to be at least somewhat uninformed or confused about the meanings, expectations, and purposes of faithful Christian financial giving. . . a lack of clarity among American Christians about the expectations for giving by their faith traditions and church leaders.
  4. Some Christians mistrust organizations to which they would give money. . . The good of financial responsibility, when tainted by distrust, thus comes to serve the bad of miserly giving.
  5. No Americans seem to talk with anyone else about the question of voluntary financial giving . . . The de facto practice is: every person for themselves. And that does little to facilitate generous financial giving.
  6. Many American Christians appear to avoid adopting systematic, routinized methods for carrying out their financial giving. Instead, they want to give in an unplanned, situational, almost impulsive manner.

“Put all these factors together and we may conclude it is a wonder that American Christians give away as much money as they do. As best we can tell, numerous powerful cultural, organizational, interpersonal, and institutional influences work together against generous financial giving. In the face of these dynamics, it would seem to require the truly highly committed, deeply involved, well-taught, very organized, culturally critical, and confidently led Christian to faithfully give away, say, 10 percent of his or her income. Such Christians do exist in American churches. But they are a distinct minority. And so, the actual financial giving of American Christians as a whole turns out to be . . . [ungenerous].” (page 179)

The oft quotable F.D. Bruner interacting with Matthew 6:19-21 in Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12
writes (page 321):

Jesus does not quash ambition; he elevates it. The Christian is to be ambitious, passionate, acquisitive, enterprising — for the Father’s approval, for the “well done” of God’s Final Judgment. Thus Jesus’ ethic is not so much ascetic as athletic.


The moth is nature’s corrosion eating away, the rust time’s corrosions, and the thief humanity’s corrosions — and all three together represent the insecurity of life lived for accumulation.

Tim Challies:

The Bible tells me I am to store up treasures in heaven. It tells me there are eternal rewards for decisions I make in this life and it tells me I should desire these rewards and act accordingly. And yet sometimes I feel the desire for reward is a sign of spiritual weakness rather than strength, like that is for lesser Christians and that I should grow beyond it. I struggle with the idea that I am to be motivated to obey God in this world by the promise of reward in the next. It has always struck me as wrong, as something a little bit less than noble, that I would obey God not purely and solely out of a desire to obey him, but out of a desire to increase my eternal reward. Have you ever wondered about that?

Is it wrong to be motivated by rewards? Somehow in my mind it seems like the reward must negate the joy or the purity of obedience, and especially when it comes to the way I handle money. Shouldn’t I want to give out of the joy of obedience? Shouldn’t I want to give simply because I love the God who commands me to give generously? . . .

Read the rest of Looking Forward to Reward

HT: David Murray

I was recently reminded of this guest column I wrote for the Rockford Register Star:

Government leaders who face the brutal task of making decisions about budget cuts are looking for answers. In this column, my proposal is that they receive counsel from a group of ladies right here in northern Illinois.

Many Sundays at the Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, I have noticed how classy the ladies from my parents’ generation look.

I’m more than a little biased, and our men may be a different story, but where the ladies are concerned, there isn’t a better looking group around. Often, as I shake hands at the front door as people leave, my wife and I comment about how nice we think the ladies look.

When my wife and I do directly compliment one of these ladies, perhaps on a particular dress or jacket, there is a typical response we often receive. The lady who received the kind word will say quietly, “Pastor, I got this on sale for 40 percent off.” Or, “Pastor, would you believe that this dress is over 10 years old?”

The reason, of course, that the ladies from my parents’ generation respond to a compliment about an outfit in this way is because being frugal is deeply ingrained in their value system. Granted, they like the minister noticing that they look nice. But it wouldn’t do for him to think they are throwing money around like sailors on shore leave.

So, there you have my recommendation. I think that Rockford’s leaders should drive down to Stillman Valley . . .

Read the whole thing here.

John MacArthur with an excellent thought about what should excite us about going to church.

When you think about coming to church, what aspect do you look forward to the most?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume your answer is something spiritually noble—nothing vain or selfish like wanting people to see you dressed in your finest clothes, showing off a new car, or trying to sell goods or services to friends at church. Instead, let’s assume the best—that whatever it is you look forward to most is somehow related to ministry.

Some people might say the teaching keeps them coming back each week. Others would say the music. For some believers, it might be the deep relationships with other Christians they find through their churches—relationships that they can’t cultivate elsewhere. Others might just appreciate the temporary relief from the pressures of life, work, and the world.

But let me suggest something to you: If we really understand Scripture—particularly some specific promises from Jesus—the thing you should look forward to the most is the offering.

God’s Word clearly teaches that our giving is actually a direct pipeline to His blessings. In fact, two simple statements from the Lord ought to make every Christian eager and thrilled for opportunities to give.

Read the rest here.

Student Debt is Unsustainable

Chris —  July 3, 2012

With a daughter going to college, and 3 more children right behind her, this video is very relevant. So far, our approach has been to (1) Save, save, save. (2) Take AP classes. (3) Take community college classes in the summer. (4) Work hard for scholarships.

Whether or not you have decisions to make about college debt, you can glean wisdom from this video.

HT: Denny Burk


Mark Cuban:

Remember the housing meltdown ? Tough to forget isn’t it. The formula for the housing boom and bust was simple. A lot of easy money being lent to buyers who couldn’t afford the money they were borrowing. That money was then spent on homes with the expectation that the price of the home would go up and it could easily be flipped or refinanced at a profit.  Who cares if you couldn’t afford the loan. As long as prices kept on going up, everyone was happy. And prices kept on going up. And as long as pricing kept on going up real estate agents kept on selling homes and finding money for buyers.

Until the easy money stopped.  When easy money stopped, buyers couldn’t sell. They couldn’t refinance.  First sales slowed, then prices started falling and then the housing bubble burst. Housing prices crashed. We know the rest of the story. We are still mired in the consequences.

Can someone please explain to me how what is happening in higher education is any different ? . . .

Read the rest here.


Should Christians tithe?

Chris —  February 18, 2011

Andy Naselli summarizes an answer to this question from theologian Thomas Schreiner.