The offering plate gets passed around the church sanctuary every Sunday. What are you thinking when you put your check or money in? Do you have a concept of where the money will go, and how it will be used, or is it just the thing you know you are supposed to do and so you do it to be obedient? Do you have any idea of how your gift will be used, and if there are some things that you discover about how it is spent, does that affect your attitude toward giving?
As one who has, at times, earned a living that was funded by some of the money that was placed in the church offering plate, I have always been very conscious of my responsibility to do the best job of which I was capable, in addition to being careful that I gave as much volunteer time, beyond the “clock”, as I expected active church members to give. Christian vocational service doesn’t have a monetary price tag, and because much of the money that is given to support the work is done sacrificially, an equal sacrifice is demanded on the part of those who earn their living this way. I’m not suggesting that ministers work themselves to death for nothing, because I think the church should pay, as the scripture says, an amount worthy of the minister’s hire. But I believe this requires a conscious awareness of where the money comes from, and whose it is in the first place.
When it came to personal expenses for things like training conferences, or denominational meetings, I always exercised the same care. I tried to get as much out of the expense budget as I possibly could. At my last church-related position, a Christian Education/Development job, the budget was set to allow me to attend a couple of key training events for the benefit of the church, to have a person with increasing expertise in several critical areas of ministry. In Christian school ministry, continuing education is pretty much a given, and in discipleship and development, it is essential to keep up with the changes.
I’ve never felt entitled, when attending events such as this, to think that I deserve to stay at the most expensive hotels, or eat in the more expensive hotel dining room, charged to my room, or rent the best SUV or largest car in the rental fleet. But I have encountered a lot of people in church and denominational work, who do. Keeping the image of the offering plate being passed during a worship service can be very helpful in understanding how sacrifice works its way into everything that you do, including your personal comfort, when you are away on business.
Weighing the necessity of your presence at the event is probably the first consideration. Is it absolutely necessary, to the performance of your job, the representation of your employer, or to your increased value as an employee, for you to be there? If so, then do some advance planning. What are you going to do in the hotel room except sleep at night and shower? As long as it is clean, comfortable, and protects you from the elements, does it matter that it is not the Marriott or the Hilton? When you are sleeping, or showering, you can’t tell a Super 8 or a Best Western from the Hilton anyway. Don’t fly unless your destination is more than six hours distant, since mileage will be half the cost of the air fare, and you won’t need a rental car. If you do have to rent a vehicle, use Priceline and make a low bid, it works 90% of the time. Then it doesn’t matter whether you are next door to the meeting venue, or across town. And if you are in a place where it is possible to use public transportation, do it. You’ll save a bundle, and the time you spend waiting on the bus or the train is a small sacrifice compared to what those people did who put the money for you to do this in the offering plate.
So when I hear about church leaders or denominational officials taking lavish “mission” trips to exotic destinations, or conferences or gatherings where this leader or that leader comes to participate in some kind of nebulous “dialogue” or “planning session” and they’re in the highest priced downtown hotel, or there’s a meeting or gathering of leaders, it makes me think of the dollars I am putting in the offering plate that I think, because my church is telling me, they are going to “missions.” I realize a certain amount of promotion is necessary to raise money and support, but when the list of speaking engagements and conference appearances begins to look like a celebrity music group tour, and it includes allowances for second homes and weekly commutes between them, I’m inclined to not consider those things to be missions, and I don’t feel bad about not putting my money in the offering plate to support that kind of thing. My resources are earned by hard work and sacrifice, and I don’t think God expects me to support missions that do not reflect the same level of hard work and sacrifice.