In light of Barna Group’s latest research on Generations and Generosity, it seems like a good time to make a case for giving through the local church. What many older Christians have merely assumed needs to be clarified for younger Christians. And, for the record, I’m not picking on Millennials. Millennials appear to have a more expansive view of generosity than the older generations. But none of us, young or old, needs to be ignorant of Scripture’s encouragement to prioritize giving through the local church.
Full disclosure: I’m a pastor. What a surprise that I would tell you to support your church financially! You need to hear the reasons, though, before clicking on to something else. You shouldn’t give to your local church so that your pastor can live his best life now, or so that you can gain some sort of favor from God. Nor should you give to the church “just because.” These are bad reasons for giving. The biblical reasons are more compelling, and every Christian needs to know them.
1. You should give to support the church’s pastors.
Not every church can afford to pay their pastor(s) to serve in a full-time capacity, though aiming to do so would be a worthy goal. Regardless, a church should be eager to provide their pastor some level of financial support (1 Tim. 5:17-18). We understand this to be true not merely by inference or example but by command of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:14).
2. You should give to support the church’s ministry.
In the New Testament, we see Christians giving in order to support the ministry of the church. The practice began with the first church in Jerusalem, as offerings were brought to the apostles for distribution within the church among those who were in need (Acts 4:34-35). The practice eventually became a pattern, with some churches collecting weekly offerings on Sunday that would be used for various benevolence needs (1 Cor. 16:1-2; cf. 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:25-27).
3. You should give to support the church’s mission.
The gospel is free, but taking the gospel to all nations isn’t. Missionaries must travel, and find a place to sleep, and have food to eat. There are costs involved in fulfilling the Great Commission, and New Testament believers gave through their local church to cover the costs. They sent gospel preachers out not only with prayer and encouragement but with money that was needed to continue the work (3 John 1:7-8; cf. 2 Cor. 11:8-9).
4. You should give to support the church’s priority.
The church is the priority of God in the world. Its creation and growth and triumph is why Jesus shed his blood (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). As worthy as other causes may be, none shares the same level of significance as the church.
To be clear, the New Testament doesn’t teach that you should give exclusively through your local church. The tax-collector Zacchaeus, for example, pledged to make restitution to people he had defrauded; presumably, he would have paid them directly and not through the synagogue. Or consider the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose generosity Jesus highlights, among other ways, in that the Samaritan pays for a wounded man’s medical care and lodging out of his own pocket. So, no, your giving doesn’t have to be restricted to the local church. There are many good causes to which you might contribute in the name of Christ, such as your local crisis pregnancy center, child sponsorship, an after-school program, a parachurch ministry, disaster relief efforts, a roadside beggar (Matt. 6:2), and more.
That being said, while not teaching that you should give only through your local church, the New Testament suggests that you should give mainly through your local church. The local church is the priority of God in the world, and its pastors, ministry, and mission are worthy of your generous and cheerful support.