Where Do My Gifts Go?

offering plateThe Stewardship Team and the Council get a lot of questions throughout the year.  One of the most frequent is: where do my offerings go when I put them in the plate?

Churches are funny things.  They are like the unicorns of the world of economics: half one thing and half another.

On the one hand, they’re a community of faithful people who gather their gifts together to do good in the world.  The good they do is part proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is, in fact, the main part of what they do.  Just over half, I’d say.  Worship is like the staging ground for the work of the Christian life that we all then go out and do.

But then there’s also the part of church that acts as a social service arm in the world: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and befriending the lonely.  This is also a substantial part of what the church does, and it takes time, resources, and energy.

Wait…we’re not done.  A third part of what the church does is provide their voice for the voiceless.  This is called advocacy.  Encouraging systemic change on behalf of those Christ calls “the least of these” is an important piece of the church-work puzzle.

Hold up. We’re not done. The fourth part of the work a church does is organize people.  They gather people together with the message of Christ, and then they send them out to change the world in groups of volunteers.

Because a congregation does so many varied things as “half social movement/half small non-profit,” and because it is kept alive by the heart first and the head second, we have this funny pattern of operating from an economic standpoint.

It’s not unusual for a church to have fits and spurts in receiving gifts.  The reality is that, while the church has the particular rhythm of the church year, the people of the church also live in a secular rhythm of lean months, raises, summer vacations, unexpected gifts, unexpected expenses, pay-cuts, and bonuses.

Generosity is continually flowing in our common life, but it ebbs and flows with the realities of everyday life.

But the church is a unicorn in another way, too.  Because it, like you, splits up the gifts it receives.  We bless as we have been blessed, just like you.

Every month Good Shepherd sends around $7,000 of the gifts we receive back out the door to our Synod, the governing body of our church here in North Carolina.  We don’t do that because they make us; we do it because we want to.  We receive staff support, educational opportunities, ecclesial oversight, and emergency aid from our Synod, so making sure they have the resources they need is an important part of what it means to be “church together,” as our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton so often says.

Interestingly enough, they also split up the gifts we give them and directly offer some to Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger, and other agencies…we all pass the love around.

But every month you’ll also see that we send around $1,000 to Family Promise (formerly known as Pan Lutheran Ministries) here in Raleigh.  Family Promise helps women and families in crisis situations find housing, food, and the means necessary to make it through difficult times.  We want to bless our neighbors, and this is one way we’re able to do it.

And then, every month, we also send off about $300 to Lutheran Services Carolina which provides a number of social services for people throughout North Carolina and South Carolina.  We support them so that they can be a support for others.

Every offering given to Good Shepherd is also an offering given to bless so many in the world.

But here’s another reality: when we have leaner months, we’re not able to give as much away.  We’ve made a commitment to pay staff and provide for our mission outpost here at Good Shepherd, which is used daily by so many preschoolers, care initiatives, and recovery groups.  In some cases we’ve had to suspend our giving, what we call “benevolences,” to ensure we have enough to cover immediate costs.

We don’t like to do this, of course.  Our partner organizations count on us to help them in their work, as we count on them to help us and others in our common life together.

One way to ensure that we can be as generous as possible is by ensuring that giving is as regular as possible. Setting up automatic giving through our secure web portal, Realm, helps us to be able to anticipate monthly offerings.

Another way to help is to leave your giving undesignated.  There are so many initiatives that GSLC participates in, and we’re committed to giving first where there’s the most need.  If you have a special gift, offering it to the operating budget helps ensure that our benevolences go out on time, and at full measure.

The generosity of this congregation is truly outstanding.  You hear Christ’s call to give your life away for the sake of others, and you respond in kind.  Thank you for answering the call with not only your gifts, but also with your time and your talents.

We truly do this weird unicorn of a thing that we call church, together.

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