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28 December 2018

Give to the truly needy. Not the greedy.

I read a number of blogs. Some because I like the writers; some because I like the subjects the writers bring up.

In one of those blogs, for the past two weeks, the authors temporarily quit writing articles about Christ Jesus and how to argue with others about how to view him follow him better. Instead they’ve been writing ’bout why their ministry is so meaningful.

They do this every December. That’s because they’ve set up a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, and can take donations. Since it’s the end of the year, and maybe you’ve not given as much tax-deductible charity as you might’ve liked, perhaps you could donate to them. Plus someone’s offered them a matching grant: For every dollar you donate, the grant throws in another. They’d love to get their mitts on as big a pile of cash as they can. So they’re a-begging.

Plus—I kid you not—they’d love to install an espresso machine in their coffee bar. It’d be so valuable! ’Cause whenever people stop by their offices, and wanna talk theology with them, they can now make ’em an espresso. So now their loud debates can be fueled by even more caffeine.

Out of curiosity I took a peek at their offices through Google Street View. They’re not in any visible location. They’ve got an office in a strip-mall church. (Not knocking such churches; I’ve been a member of a few. Worship wherever you can.) No doubt the church is subsidizing their activities—hopefully not instead of evangelism or community good works. In any event it doesn’t look like they’d get any foot traffic. Looks like their espresso machine is gonna be far more valuable to staffers and buddies who hang out at their offices. Got my doubts about the visitors.

But still.

Is their ministry meaningful? Sure; it’s why I read their blog. But aren’t there thousands of Christian blogs and ministries on the internet which do precisely the same thing? And don’t spend half December begging for matching-fund espresso machine money? And if their new espresso machine accidentally blew up and killed them, wouldn’t those thousands of blogs and ministries make up for their absence just fine?

Now on the other hand: Which ministries don’t have anyone to immediately step in if they were to disappear? Which ministries serve a real, dire need in God’s kingdom?

You see where I’m going with this. There are charities out there which support the truly needy. Their blog ain’t one of them. My blog ain’t one of them. Arguably no blog is one of them. Don’t give to us!

Robbing the poor.

Yeah that’s right; I said robbing.

Because while God’s kingdom has unlimited resources, God’s people don’t necessarily think in those terms. Jesus’s team fed 5,000 people, and could’ve easily fed 20,000 if they had to, and all from the very same five rolls and two sardines. If Christians had similar faith in God’s ability to provide, we could likewise contribute to 5,000 ministries. But we don’t, so it’s more like five.

So if one of the five is a middle-class suburbanite who doesn’t wanna pay for his own espresso, that means this money is not going to an impoverished family whose kids aren’t getting Christmas presents. Or lunch.

Christendom already has well-funded think tanks. We have scholars and pastors and pundits and lecturers cranking out plenty of books. We likewise have plenty of people who wish they could do this for a living, and are trying like mad to grow their online presence and audience. In the meanwhile they already do get a decent income with their day jobs. Their “needs” don’t risk starvation, homelessness, freezing to death in a cold spell, or boiling to death in a hot one.

If a blogger doesn’t reach his fundraising goals, y’know what that means? He’ll have to quit renting office space and go back to working from his garage. Yeah, my heart’s not bleeding any.

These bloggers who are begging for espresso money? There’s three of them, and an occasional fourth. All by myself (working way less than part time, mind you), I write more than they. I don’t write in an office either; I write anywhere and everywhere. Preferably from Starbucks, where I buy my own coffee. Now, if you ever wanna send me money to fill my Starbucks cards, thank you and merry Christmas!—but if you don’t, I’m not gonna suffer at all. I won’t be coffee-deprived, nor food-deprived, nor life-deprived. I’m certainly not gonna shut down the blog over it, and spend those two weeks begging.

I don’t ask for a cent for TXAB. I hope I never have to. It costs me a few bucks a year for the domain name. Otherwise Blogger hosts it for free—and if they ever stop, the folks who set up the domain name have server space. The only reason other blogs claim they have hundreds of dollars of expenses, is because these bloggers are stupidly paying for expert help. And don’t need it! I went the do-it-yourself route, and yeah, sometimes it shows… but I never worry about running out of cash and shutting down.

So I’m fine. If you wanna give to charity this year, God forbid you choose me over one of the real charities out there. Give to your church’s food and clothing closets. Give to the Salvation Army or Convoy of Hope or someplace that helps out with disaster relief. Give to your town’s homeless shelter. Give to the real needy.

It’s not that ministers shouldn’t get paychecks.

When Barnabas and Paul traveled round the Roman Empire with the gospel of Christ Jesus, they paid their own way.

True, they could’ve taken donations. Other traveling preachers did; many traveling preachers still do. I’ve seen the “honorariums” various preachers ask for; if that’s what they’re making every week, they’re doing okay. And many churches can easily afford to pay that. As well as pay for their own staff. (As well as give them healthcare and unemployment insurance and other benefits they should provide ’em. But that’s another rant.)

And there’s nothing wrong with this. Paul said as much.

1 Corinthians 9.6-11 KWL
6 Or only I and Barnabas: Don’t we have the power to not work?
7 What soldier ever goes to war on his own dime?
Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat its fruit?
Or who pastors a flock and doesn’t eat products made of the flock’s milk?
8 I don’t say this by human reasoning; the Law also says this.
9 For “You won’t muzzle a threshing ox” Dt 25.4 is written in Moses’s law.
The oxen isn’t God’s concern; 10 he says it particularly for us. It’s written for us.
Because the plowman must plow in hope, and the thresher must share this hope.
11 If we plant in you spiritually, is it a big deal if we later reap from you materially?

But there’s a big difference between working at a church, to which people give on a consistent basis, and blogging… to which people don’t give, don’t think to give, and isn’t doing any sort of ministry other than freely giving what we already freely received. Mt 10.8 If anyone wants to stop providing it for free, this feels an awful lot like simony to me.

So my attitude is an awful lot like Paul’s: Should I desire a paycheck, and in so doing, get in the gospel’s way? Hell no.

1 Corinthians 9.12 KWL
12 If others partake of your power, can’t we all the more?
But we don’t graze on this power, but forbear everything
so we can give no hinderance to Christ’s gospel.

It’s one thing when a ministry is so flush with cash, the ministers can get paid decently. It’s another when a ministry funnels all its money into keeping its ministers comfortable, but none into actual ministry. Or when it functionally shuts down its ministry because the ministers have to spend two weeks begging for espresso-machine money.

I wish more Christians emulated Paul’s example, instead of trying to get us to divert money from those who truly need the charity. And I hope, if you’re considering end-of-the-year donations, that you’d first of all consider the least of Jesus’s sisters and brothers. Mt 25.31-46 Not us bloggers.

Rants.