Joyful Givers


Those we spoke to didn’t usually discuss their financial situation, including their giving, with others and sometimes expressed concern that the church didn’t competently pastor wealthy people.

Generosity is widely held to be fundamental to a Christian’s expression of their faith and a reflection of being made in the image of God. Consistently, among the Christians we spoke to, philanthropy is a carefully planned prayerful response to God’s generosity and provision. And there are people giving extraordinary amounts of money, some of them extremely sacrificially.

But you wouldn’t know.

Financial giving is not often discussed, even among very close friends, and the research interview with Tearfund was, for many people, the first time in a long time that they had discussed this with anyone other than their spouse.

That’s not unexpected among Christians who value the words of the Bible highly. This scripture is commonly held to mean that we mustn’t flaunt our giving:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

Matthew 6:3, 4a, NIV

It’s seen as respectable, humble, gracious and wise to avoid public discussion about private giving. Some people told us that keeping quiet about this meant they were able to relate more easily to others in their church who earned less or were struggling financially. If people knew how much they were giving, it would indicate how much money they had and, for some, that felt like a barrier to easy conversation:

There’s a lady I talk to who I’m sure has no idea where I work, she’s an older lady and we are complete opposites in almost every regard except that we both go to church and we chat about her walking the dog and things like that. It’s great.

Lawyer, London

One of the tensions is that in a local church, there’s a diversity of incomes and you don’t want to exclude people.

Academic, south-east England

People also worried about being seen to show off and were keen to avoid arrogance, or were concerned that they would be approached for financial assistance from all sorts of people.

Talking about giving to charity is seen as a bit of a taboo. The idea of talking about money – earning it, giving it – is seen as a bit crass. People see it as bragging or trying to make others feel bad. Some of my friends struggle with finances, talking about giving might make them feel uncomfortable.

Consultant, London

Not having to look at the prices when grocery shopping, being able to go on holiday without needing to save up, and not having to worry about putting children through university, were among the most often mentioned benefits of wealth which people mentioned unprompted. People readily acknowledged their privilege in this regard, and appreciated that many others struggle to meet their everyday needs. Those who had travelled with Tearfund or volunteered in their local community understood the contrast between their own lives and those of the people they had met. And people who had accumulated money during their adult lives were mindful of the things that had changed in their lives during that journey.

I get up in the morning and the shower’s warm in my house. I have a loo and a kitchen and I can just walk into Tesco and not look at the price of things.

Company director, Northern Ireland

My wife said to me the other day sometimes we talk about sums like £10,000 as though they’re a fiver. We never used to do that.

Business owner, Midlands

I know that I’m overpaid as a human, compared to the income that some people earn, but I’m also underpaid for the market which is really difficult. I feel I have to make my case for higher pay because otherwise I’m letting other women down, but I completely understand that this is a lot of money and other people don’t see nearly as much as this in their salary.

Accountant, London

But they were also clear that they sometimes faced temptations which they would not encounter if they had less money. We didn’t probe into the nature of these challenges, but people would sometimes mention being tempted to buy unnecessary extravagances, especially if they received a bonus or came into a lump sum, or would talk about it being easier to behave in a way they considered sinful and keep it a secret.

And while everyone we spoke to was glad of the opportunities they’d had to earn, create or inherit wealth, most of them also spoke about the challenges wealth presents.

Money makes a lot of things easier, but it makes some things a lot harder.

Company director, London

Money is a blessing but it’s also a burden.

Banker, London

Once you get into riches you meet people you don’t like. They’re only into money and you realise they either don’t like you or they’re only with you because they’re after your money. Money can be very divisive. Wealth doesn’t appeal to me at all. I despise it. I suppose that’s the truth; I despise wealth for wealth’s sake.

Academic, Scotland

I’ve never really thought you should be counting out your money and figuring out how much you’ve got. When I started [my career] I had two halfpennies to rub together and could only just afford the mortgage but managed to and to some extent carried on living at that level. I told myself that when I got a company car I wanted a Golf GTI, then when I got my company car I then had three in a row. I made myself stay at that Golf GTI level and not let my aspirations go further. That was my way of trying to keep a cap on my aspirations.

Retired accountant, London

Or people felt weighed down by the responsibility of having money and wanting to be generous, but struggled to decide how best to use that money. While they may have a very close circle of friends, or be in a group of church members who meet regularly to support each other, they would consistently express that they could talk to those people about many personal matters - their health, their children, their life plans - but they wouldn’t expect to tell them if they were having sleepless nights about a large sum of money they didn’t know how best to use.

So the privacy developed for virtuous reasons had, for some people, started to stifle them, and the church doesn’t always know how to help.

Some churches were seen as being very good at pastoring wealthy people, but the consensus among our sample was that most churches aren’t. They don’t understand the needs of wealthy people, the church leader has never had money so they don’t know how best to help, or there are other people with needs that feel more urgent.

I can’t remember the last time I had a pastoral conversation about anything, anything at all, with my minister. They think I’m alright because I’m comfortable and can manage.

Business director, Belfast

We get told regularly that we’re not doing enough, that we live in extreme comfort, that it is a bubble. It’s sort of guilt tripping and it’s extremely dangerous. Firstly, the Bible recognises inequality and recognises that we should be doing everything in our power to help the poor. And actually that’s what we should be being asked to do, not being made to feel guilty.

Company director, London

When I came into money, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. I was thinking that God gave me this money, what will I do with it? But I couldn’t mention it to anyone. I was embarrassed to talk about it. We don’t talk about it here. I only have one person I could talk to about it, who would understand what I mean and not think I was showing off. And who would keep it confidential. We say at church we can speak to each other in confidence, but we can’t really. Word gets round.

Medic, Scotland

I don’t think they do [understand the dilemmas people with money face]. I don’t expect them to. Until I had money, I didn’t either. I struggle [to give] just with my tithe and any money we have and that was really because when I had less money I saw so many things I wanted to give to and thought when I have more money it’ll be easier. But no, when you have more money it’s so much harder.

Company director, Northern Ireland

No [the church doesn’t understand wealth], not at all. The last thing I’m looking for is public sympathy, but with wealth comes responsibility. We must have good stewardship. This is actually quite hard work. I don’t think people realise that. Everyone thinks money is the answer to everything but it’s not, although it’s handy to have!

Company director, Scotland

This dissatisfaction wasn’t universally felt, and there were some who were happy with the way they were ministered to and given opportunities to serve within the church:

I think Christians with wealth are fairly well served in the church. We’re probably involved in leadership roles, for the most part. Frankly, earning lots of money takes up all the time, so there isn’t much time for anything else.

Investment bank auditor, London

People with means are often seen within the church as people who can solve problems, not as people who have problems. And they’re relied on to help financially.

I haven’t really had time to do things at church but I keep it going in some ways. Whenever there’s a need I help to cover it. I know that our minister isn’t going to become bankrupt because I’ll cover his salary if necessary. That’s the part I play in the church. No-one knows that, but I know it and that’s fine.

Accountant, London

So the virtue of humbly keeping private one’s financial situation becomes, in some cases, an obstacle to living what many Christians hope for – an ‘abundant life’ or ‘life in all its fulness’. Among this sample of Christians, people believe strongly in forgiveness of sin, freedom from fear, and love as the driving force of the faith which informs the whole of their lives.

Yet their experience of having money isn’t always one of freedom, and some of them live with the worry that they’re, in some way, getting it wrong.

And those philanthropists who have developed an approach to financial giving which they believe to be true to their faith worry that others aren’t being helped to do so:

We [the church] went through this big cycle of thinking we shouldn’t really ask people for money because they’ll think we’re just after their money. And therefore we became very nervous about talking about money at all. And we lost a huge amount along the way.

I’m not in favour of banging the table and saying you should all be tithing, where’s your ten per cent, put it in the basket now. But I am in favour of saying, in the words of Jesus: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Actually this is a key test of Christian commitment for me. Do you put your money where your mouth is, to use modern terminology, and I don’t think we have been anywhere near sharp enough in the church about that generally. Others may disagree but I feel quite strongly about this.

Lawyer, London

In recent years, the church in the UK and in the US has started to develop courses and organisations to meet this need.

Among Christian funding organisations, especially those operating as trusts and foundations, there has been more collaboration recently. Not so much in terms of joint funding, but programme officers or trustees of foundations have gathered themselves into a funders’ forum which meets to share information and best practice, and encourage each other as peer philanthropists.

For individual philanthropists, or people exploring generosity as part of their Christian faith, a couple of overnight residential courses have started to develop traction in the UK.

Journey of Generosity, run by Generous Giving and funded by the Maclellan Foundation in the US, brings together small groups of Christians for an overnight retreat with a curriculum to help people think about their approach to philanthropy. Developed in the UK, Generous Journey, which is supported by Stewardship, offers an annual conference for what they call ‘high-capacity Christian philanthropists’.

But for most of those we spoke to, the money question isn’t only about philanthropy. It reflects a wider issue of whether the church fully recognises vocation in all its forms.

Lots of Christians who run businesses, or who used to run businesses and have sold them, or who work in high-paying professions, express frustration that churches talk about service or ministry more in terms of what happens in the church than outside of it.

Many church leaders, who’ve never had a real job (you know what I mean!), if they could catch the vision for works of service then they wouldn’t treat people like we’re just there to serve their ministry. They’d want to serve us by equipping us to be the most fruitful teacher, taxi driver, you know.

Company director, Northern Ireland

Some talk about an unhelpful dualism between faith and business or between the material and spiritual, or express desire to be ‘whole life disciples’. Those who don’t have a specific terminology talk about feeling a sense of calling to their workplace.

We often have a bad theology of work: you’re supposed to earn lots of money to give it away. No, that’s not very good. We should see work as more than that, and the whole of your life as discipleship and ministry.

Lawyer, London

And, while this is by no means universal and some speak very highly of their church and its leadership in this regard, there remains a dissatisfaction with the quality and consistency of the practical theology relating to money, work and wealth.

Overwhelmingly, people mentioned unprompted the resources offered by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) as having helped them think this through. While the organisation calls itself the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, people in all parts of the UK talked about having read their materials, or attended their courses and found information, support and friends.

Friends. That was one of the most crucial things people talked about.

Christians are by and large keen to have friends from all walks of life. They’re mindful that God loves and welcomes everyone, and they want to do that too. Many of them talk about friends and people they pray with who have very different backgrounds, lifestyles and aspirations in every way. And one of the things they try to achieve with their giving is to reach out to people who are very different to them.

But they sometimes feel isolated in their wealth, and express either relief that they have some friends who are similarly privileged, or a desire to find peers, especially fellow Christians. Where people were not in a church which met this need - and some were very clear that their church did in fact do this - they either acknowledged that they had found support through LICC courses where they had made friends, or spoke of wanting to find people they could relate to on this level.

Friends are more important than money.

Academic, Scotland

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