Balancing Giving to Church and Para-Church Organizations

You would think that once we recognize that everything belongs to God and all blessings come from Him, our role as stewards should be crystal clear. But are things that obvious and does being good managers of God’s provision mean that we must give back to God only through the church?

Brief history lesson

If you were to calculate the tithe and all of the various offerings given by the people of Israel in the Old Testament during the course of a year, you’d discover that they were bringing almost 25 percent of what the Bible calls their increase to the Lord’s storehouse.

The Levites were keepers of the storehouse and their job was to use what was brought in to care for the widows, needy foreigners in the area, orphans and themselves. That must have worked pretty well, because God said:

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and… [I will]… pour out for you a blessing until it overflows…All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:10-12 NASB).

Now, fast forward

Advance the scenario through the New Testament to our day. Remember, we give not because God is running out of money, but because our giving serves as an external testimony that we understand and agree that God owns both the material and the spiritual things of our lives. He’s the source of all we need.

For most of us today, our increase isn’t crops and animals as it was in the Old Testament. Instead, it’s in the form of monetary tithes and offerings, usually given to a local fellowship of believers. Let’s say it’s the church we attend.

In turn, that church uses our tithes and gifts to spread the gospel, for the general support of the church, and to care for widows, orphans, the poor and needy. In other words, ideally, the church should serve as the storehouse in God’s economy today. Christians give to the church and then God holds the leaders of the church responsible for the distribution of those funds.

“Men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served” (Nehemiah 12:44 NASB).

In this sense, we could say that pastors and church staff, evangelists and missionaries connected to local churches are comparable to the Old Testament Levites and priests. However, a large number of local churches – perhaps the majority – do not minister fully in all the areas of ministry that are to be covered by distributions from a biblical storehouse.

If you can agree that the church encompasses the entire fellowship of believers, and not just the individual church on the street corner, then when believers give to the church we should regard this as giving to the Body of Christ, not just a local facility or denomination.

Accordingly, to the extent that a local church may be unable or unwilling to fulfill specific areas of ministry, it would seem acceptable to give funds to a non-church ministry – as long as that para-church or mission organization is biblically satisfying the gap left by the local church.

In other words, if another local church or para-church group is motivated by biblical principles to fulfill the standards described in God’s Word, they could be recipients of believers’ giving.

Use caution and discernment

In recent years, several well-known ministries have come under fire because of misusing funds for such things as buying luxuries for leaders including elaborate personal homes, extravagant cars and even jet planes.

Definitely avoid giving to ministries whose leaders maintain lavish lifestyles or use high-pressure fund-raising techniques. Of course, the Bible tells us that the “laborer is worthy of his hire,” but true ministers of Christ have servants’ attitudes concerning material possessions.

For these very reasons, it is important, before committing the Lord’s money to any organization whether Christian or secular, to ask basic questions before giving.

  • Who’s asking for money? If you don’t know exactly what the organization does, get a list of references from them that can be verified through well-known groups. Ask for and compare their doctrinal statement to God’s Word. Is the ministry accomplishing its goals, producing results and multiplying itself and its effectiveness?

  • How are funds used?
    Don’t be bashful – ask for a projected budget, an audited financial statement, and a copy of the organization’s Form 990. Verify that funds are being used as indicated or specified. Is the organization a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)? If so, you can go online to see how the gifts they receive are used.

  • How are funds raised and managed?
    Ask if an outside fund-raising group is involved and, if so, what percentage of the funds goes to that group. If, for example, 25 percent of the resources are used for fundraising, that’s much too high.

When God encourages Christians to help ministries outside of their local churches, it would be hard to say they were disobeying God’s Word if they’re giving as God directs them. Believers shouldn’t be encouraged to redirect giving from their local churches, but there certainly should be no legalistic attitudes involved in how and to whom we give the Lord’s money.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5 NASB).

Remember, God is concerned more with our attitude and motivation in giving rather than with how we might designate the actual gift. With hearts desiring to please God and observe biblical principle, balanced giving to church and para-church organizations can be accomplished.

Copyright 2009 Harvey Nowland. Used by permission. All rights reserved.