In recent years, more people have reckoned with the fact that we need to do more to reach people in working class and deprived communities in our country. We aren’t where we need to be to address the issues by a long chalk, but it is good to see people waking up to the reality of the situation. More people are also acknowledging that churches in deprived places have greater needs both in their congregations and communities whilst having the least means to deal with it. Some are recognising the needs and seeking to help.
But it is still the case that many want to add strings to their support. They will help, so long as their help is used in particular ways. They will provide support, so long as when it is given, the churches on the ground do with it exactly what the giver thinks they ought. I really want to ask people to stop doing that.
I do understand what drives it. People want to know what they are giving to. They want to make sure that their money and resources are being used for the very things they thought they were giving it for. And that isn’t entirely unreasonable. But I am calling for a shift in our thinking as to why we are giving and what exactly we are giving it for.
At the end of the day, our giving ought to be driven by the gospel. The reason we should support the work of churches in deprived communities isn’t because they run some nice community projects, but because they are a gospel light where there is more often than not none. The reason we should give is because the gospel will not go out unless there are churches on the ground. The reason we should support them over other things is because often the help we want to support doesn’t always serve the communities we claim to be supporting. But the church in those communities wants to reach people with the gospel, wants to serve the community because of the gospel and knows the community well enough to know how best to do it.
So, our giving ought to be gospel-giving. We aren’t giving to support the project particularly; we are giving because of the gospel. We aren’t giving because of the exciting stories we can tell; we are giving because of the gospel. We aren’t giving because the church is trading on hard luck stories; we give because of the gospel.
If we have that shift in our thinking, it means we should be giving without strings. Strings suggest we know what will best serve the community we aren’t in. Strings suggest we know what churches elsewhere ought to be doing. Strings, sometimes, communicate that we don’t really trust that those we’re giving to will use our money wisely or helpfully. Strings imply that we know how to share the gospel in that community most effectively and aren’t willing to allow those on the ground to make those calls themselves.
Perhaps worst of all, strings make churches begin to alter what they say and do in order to receive support. We soon find churches dancing to the tune of those who don’t so much want to give to gospel ministry, as specific ministries with credible fruit. Someone slogging away for years, seeing a few conversions and a bunch of others drifting away from their church, is seen as less attractive than a church filling up with asylum seekers apparently jumping into the boat. When we put the emphasis on the stories, we end up encouraging churches to massage their figures and their output knowing the game they need to play in order to access funds.
Never mind that the Lord tells us over an over again that gospel ministry may not appear all the fruitful. We have been blessed in our little church to have a fruitful ministry among Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers. That ministry plays really well to supporters. But, if we were talk about our work among Pakistani Muslims – the overwhelming demographic of our immediate area – we have had less fruit than a Tesco superstore in a Remain-voting area in the middle of an HGV crisis. If we hadn’t had the ministry among asylum seekers, I suspect we would have found it much harder to receive support. In the hierarchy of what gets people excited, I know that we would have found it easier even then to get support for work among Pakistani Muslims, fruitless as it has largely been, than we would for our work among working class indigenous Brits. Funders and supports are still deeply results driven and are desperate for stories to encourage them to give. Reaching people with the gospel who aren’t otherwise being reached often doesn’t cut it.
But if we are giving for the sake of the kingdom, if we are being driven by a gospel desire to love the Lord, we should give without strings. Let the churches on the ground determine the best way to serve the Lord with those resources. Give without expecting fruit because Jesus doesn’t tell us to expect a straight line between resources in and results out. Give without encouraging all the worst impulses of ministers in communities like mine to massage their figures and to find the worst stories to pull on the heartstrings in order to get a bit of coin. The gospel itself should be enough. And if we really trust the gospel, and believe the churches in deprived and working class communities know it and believe it, that should be enough to trust them with our giving too.