What can you buy for $3.50? A bottle of drink perhaps? Maybe a couple of chocolate bars? By any stretch of the imagination $3.50 is not a lot of money yet it’s the average weekly offering contributed by members of the Adventist Church across the South Pacific Division (SPD).* And that includes both Sabbath School and church offerings!
So what has happened to our generosity? What happened to worshipping God through the tangible expression of our gratitude in offerings? Why are we only managing to throw a few coins into the offering bag each week?
SPD Discipleship Ministries Team—Stewardship director Christina Hawkins says it comes down to a lack of intentionality, information and biblical understanding about the reasons for giving.
“People perceive that it’s a black hole; that they keep throwing money into the hole and it disappears without seeing any results,” she says. “The truth is we are victims of consumerism. People want to know what the money is being used for and if they don’t feel it is being used in the way they want it to be, then they give elsewhere.
“The mindset today is ‘what’s in it for me?’ instead of what’s known as ‘systematic benevolence’, where people are happy to give, even when they don’t know the specifics, as long as it’s for God’s work.”
While tithes are used solely to support those employed in gospel ministry, offerings are freewill expressions of thanksgiving and generosity based on biblical principles.
“In the Old Testament they actually gave into three ‘buckets’—one to support the activities of the Levite priests, another to provide for the orphans and widows and the third for the operation of religious festivals,” Ms Hawkins explains. “And in the New Testament, every Jew gave between 23 and 30 per cent of their income into those three buckets.
“Nothing has really changed over the centuries. The essential needs of the Church are still the same: firstly to fund gospel workers; secondly to fund the operations of the Church, and thirdly to fund the call of Christians to be delivery agents of healing and hope in the broader community.”
The Discipleship Ministries Team is encouraging more participation and more faithfulness. “It’s important to look at the big picture: what could God be achieving across the South Pacific Division if people were giving in faith?” Ms Hawkins asks.
It all comes down to a person’s relationship with God, trusting that He will provide. It’s this concept of total dependence on God that people often struggle with.
“The core of stewardship is that everything you have is God given,” Ms Hawkins says. “However, we need to take it to God and ask for a new heart miracle, helping us to be less selfish. It’s through God that this miracle can take place (see Ezekiel 36:23-38).”
"What could God be achieving across the South Pacific Division if people were giving in faith?"
Ultimately, great rewards will come to those who are cheerful givers. “God promises that He will pour out His blessings on those who give in faith,” Ms Hawkins says. “If we are not living out our potential in terms of giving, think of all the spiritual blessings that we are missing out on.
“So as we start this new year, I would encourage you to put God to the test by giving generously and then watch the blessings flow.”
* Calculated from statistical data in the 2015 South Pacific Division Report on tithes, offerings and membership.