A Theological Basis for Planned Giving in the Church
By Ken Sloane
(Part 1 in the 10-part series, Beyond the Budget, by Donald Joiner and Ken Sloane.)
Gift giving is at the heart of the Christian faith. The biblical record chronicles the activity of God as a gift giver and demonstrates how people of faith have responded with gifts of their own. This understanding of our giftedness, which is the heart of Christian stewardship, provides a powerful motivation for giving — both current and deferred. The fundamental task of planned giving in the church is to enable people to expand their vision of stewardship to encompass their wealth as well as their income.
The very first message of the scriptures is that "In the beginning, God created. . ." God's ownership of all is implicit in God's creative work. As people who have been gifted, we appropriately are called to give. The Old Testament account makes it clear that God's people must be prepared to recognize the temporal nature of possessions. What we have has been given to us and will pass to another. The faithful take care that some of this is given back to God.
Leviticus 25 describes the charge to pass on property each 50 years. Quite clearly, 50 is intended to be a symbolic number that corresponds closely with the lifespan. The Year of Jubilee, when all ownership would be dramatically reoriented, is a powerful symbol of planned giving through one's estate. We do not have the option of true ownership, and we can't "take it with us." Accordingly, our only faithful alternative is the thoughtful distribution of our property in accordance with our faith.
Jesus emphasized money and possessions as important means for living out citizenship in the kingdom of God. The full appreciation of the kingdom always had a future orientation. Wealth and possessions were not to be seen as the end of one's labor, but as yet another manifestation of God's grace. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) demonstrates a powerful stewardship principle regarding wealth and possessions. Property and other wealth are no more than means to a larger end. Those who fail to grasp this distinction are judged rather harshly, but those who see the greater utility of building for the Master are praised and rewarded. There is a hopeful dimension to the parable, as the vision of building a kingdom yet to come is brought into clearer focus.
St. Paul contributes a helpful word regarding special gifts and endowments in his instructions found in I Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV):
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
As a wealthy and gifted people, we are called to invest in the kingdom yet to come, establishing a "firm foundation” for the coming age.
Planned giving is the technique the faithful may use to give concrete expression to this biblical witness and mandate. Such gifts not only may provide enrichment for the coming age, but a salutary benefit to the donors here and now. Such blessings, whether the satisfaction of faithful stewardship or the tax benefits of a well-planned gift, are entirely consistent with the witness of scripture that proper stewardship is satisfying and moves the giver to be "cheerful" (2 Cor. 9:7).
The congregation that encourages such an attitude will be marked by more than increased financial strength. It will also exhibit the healthy glow of a community of people who are excited about their role as builders of the kingdom of God and co-creators with the one who graciously gifted each one of them. The "treasures in heaven" of which Jesus spoke (Matt. 6:19-21) can be manifest here on earth when the faithful find expression for planned giving.
Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.