Published: 8 years ago

Topical Tuesday: Christian Panhandling

Today we kick off our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic (i.e., ask a question) and I pontificate for paragraphs on end until I think I’ve answered it. Or until you get bored and start playing Angry Birds. Whatever.

Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.

Terence asks: Is it bad that I get angry when I see church groups begging for money on the street alongside the homeless? I just wanna roll down my window and shout “are you tithing?!?!”

Ah, Terence…what to do with the proselytizing panhandler? It’s a familiar sight here in the RDU area: guys in orange vests with five gallon pickle buckets, sporting signs that say “Support the Word of God Full Gospel Pre Millennial Holy Ghost Weenie Roast Church of God in Christ Teen Ministry.” Usually by the time I finish reading the sign, the light has changed and the driver behind me is honking and giving me the Durham salute.*

There are a few problems with this approach, such as:

  • It usually leaves a bad taste of Christianity in the mouth of the community. Let’s face it: churches already rob their cities of good tax revenue. They don’t pay property or sales tax, and yet they’re taking up public right-of-ways asking for donations. If anything, churches should give more to their cities than they take away. There was a time in Christian history when the churches were the educators, the health care providers, and the caretakers of the poor. Sadly, we’re better known now for how cheap and self-centered we’ve become. (Don’t believe me? Visit any restaurant this Sunday and watch how the folks dressed in their “Sunday best” treat the waitstaff.)
  • It screams a dependence on charity of the city rather than the provision of God. I believe that if God desires for a ministry to go forward, God will fund that ministry. You don’t see examples in the New Testament of the church depending on Rome for their welfare. Nope, believers took care of believers, and they often took care of non-believers. Churches asked for and acted on the provision of God rather than the generosity of the outside community.
  • It fosters a spirit of stinginess and lack of faith in churchgoers. We challenge our people to live sufficiently and give extravagantly. Whether that’s to ministries inside the walls or – better yet – to church planting efforts around the world, we want to be a generous people. Toting pickle buckets at a stoplight is definitely a donation of time, but it goes the way of bake sales and car washes to raise money that the people in the pews should be giving freely. This is not to say that there aren’t incredibly generous churches that still struggle financially. But the fact is that the majority of believers give very little to the mission of the church (one Barna study said that American Christians only give between 2 and 3 percent of their income), and that’s a statement so filled with shame that it would overflow a pickle bucket.

I truly believe that if every believer tithed a tenth of their income (the floor to our giving, not the ceiling), churches would rarely – if ever – lack for money. Back when I was a student pastor, I led the kids in our ministry on a research project. We took the average household income for our city, multiplied it by the number of households in our church, and compared it to our church’s annual budget. Not only would we have met the budget, we would have been able to completely pay off the church’s building debt, and still have tens of thousands of dollars left to give to causes in our community. (Plus we’d get the sweet sno-cone machine I’d been eyeing for our youth room.)

What do you think? Am I way off? Should I give more grace to the guys with the pickle buckets? Comment below.

*Index finger raised slightly, with a kind smile that says, “If you don’t mind, good sir, would you consider proceeding on your journey?” Why? What did you think I meant?

  1. terence says:

    thank you for the clarification. i had felt some of this along with feeling bad for feeling some of this, so you can imagine my struggle.

    i think the grace that should be given is the same grace that is given to all sinners. that we are sinful and think we can take things into our own hands before we allow God to. although it *seems* as if, for something like money, God would be the first place to look…not begging, but for provision in accordance with His will. that’s just me. 🙂

  2. Josh says:

    Danny, you nailed the diagnostic. Lauren and I have been upset by this several times, but we’ve never really known what to do. I have the same questions when other churches do things which would compromise the message. How do we distance ourselves from false teachings or sinful “ministries” without compromising our own witness?

    I just hate thinking about the misconceptions these folks are giving people about Christians.

  3. tnrural says:

    I can’t stand to see the “car washing” youth groups that place scantily clad girls out on the curb to drum up business. Looks more like a drunken spring break party in Panama City than a churchfunction.

  4. terence says:

    the car wash thing bothers me, too…

    i can recall a time seeing one of these panhandlers walking along beside the stopped cars at the intersection waving and smiling and whatnot. as soon as he got to someone who ignored him, he walked closer to the window and waved more vigorously and motioned for them to roll their window down (rude). if the person in the car either ignored him still, or waved him on, the panhandler got frustrated and threw his hands up in anger and disbelief….?!

    let’s say, hypothetically, the person driving the car isn’t a believer. why should the panhandler expect them to give money to a ministry that they likely care nothing about? believer or not, how many times do we actually give money (or anything else for that matter) to ANYONE on the street? do they think because they are playing the church card that they deserve it and that everyone OUGHT to give? some people don’t care about the kingdom, so they won’t care about the ministry.

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