“Those clergy who justify their financial irresponsibility by saying, “I do not need to give money to the church because I give so much in so many other ways,” are not only deceiving themselves, but they are also presenting a horrible example to their congregations. Our giving to the church and its work ought to be exemplary in its effusiveness. We thereby not only demonstrate Christian stewardship in a society that encourages greed, but we also witness to the possibility that our lives and our possessions are not our own.” Will Willimon
As you can see, I'm on a real Willimon kick here. I've even started to joke that if it weren't for Wesley's idea of Christian perfectionism, I may even become a Methodist! In any case, this quote strikes close to home, because ashamedly, I will confess that the first three years of ministry in New York City my giving was horrendous! I'm actually quite embarrassed by it now and I feel like not only did I lack the maturity to understand giving, but also excused myself from it for the exact reason that Willimon points out: I'm already giving SO much to the church.
But I have since learned that pastors certainly aren't exempt from giving financially, but should model generosity to the people God has placed in our care. Whether ordained or not, giving has everything to do with worshiping Jesus with our resources, being formed by the Spirit by letting go of money (that is God's anyway), and keeping money from gripping my life in such a way so that I serve it over God. And hopefully, all three of those things are something you can count on a Christ-follower (and pastor) to be intentional about!
I've also realized that one thing that kept me from regularly giving as a pastor, really just had to do with my own lack of character at the time. I excused it because of my service to the church (which is a bad excuse), or because I was underpaid (an even worse reason to short-change God), and I didn't even have the character to be ABLE to give well (which is a shame considering the unique calling of ministry). I also realize now that I was knowingly or unknowingly to my congregants, a terrible example. Why would people give to a church, when the pastors didn't even believe in it enough to give?
You may feel that I'm being hard on myself, but I am simply being honest with myself as I've seen this as a growth area over the past 8 years. I'm thankful that I have such a disciplined and virtuous wife as to help teach me the importance and worship of giving!