Declining a Gift
I recently returned a cash gift with a polite letter because it came in the same letter as a pastoral referral request for an application to a Christian school. It felt like a potential conflict of interest. I was happy to recommend the person and did so. What clear guidelines can you recommend for receiving or declining gifts/offerings in the future? Have you ever sent back or declined a gift/offering and under what terms?
Pastor Walker Schurz—Lusaka, Zambia
In my part of the world, there is quite a bit of extreme teaching and the resulting extreme practices of financial abuse in the church. Many pastors and leaders put a lot of pressure on their people for the sake of personal financial gain. Some require their “spiritual sons” to tithe to them personally while other pastors teach that all of the tithe of the members goes straight to the pastor. Others talk about first-fruits offerings and that each member must give their first paycheck at a new job or the January paycheck directly to the pastor. There are many other un-biblical and ethically-challenged doctrines that I believe Paul was referring to in 1 Thess. 2:5—preaching that is really a “cloak for covetousness.” Some of my members have been influenced by these teachings from TV or a conference. If they try to tithe to me personally or give me “first-fruits,” I instruct them rather to give it to the church, as that is where the tithe belongs. There are times when folks simply want to bless my wife or me, and we are happy to receive those gifts and allow them to say thanks to us in that way. We do not want to receive any gifts that will help people disobey the Bible.
Pastor Alan Clayton—Conroe, Texas
As a general rule, I NEVER decline money. They can bring me all their filthy lucre and I will put it to use for the Kingdom. On a more serious note, I would return funds if it were explicitly stated that the funds were for an exchange of services, i.e… prayer, healing, blessing or a positive referral. There have been times in the past when I felt impressed to decline payments for funerals and weddings even though payment for services in those settings is generally appropriate. Without sounding overly pious, being led by the Holy Spirit in these areas is always the best route.
Pastor Doug Foutty—Parkersburg, WV
I normally say, ‘Thank you for thinking of me, but I think that leisure suit is the wrong size’. Actually, I have had this happen only once. We had a married couple who were not attending church tell me they were going to send me offerings from time to time because I had helped them in their time of need at some time in the past. They brought me a $1700 check one day. They told me just to keep it for myself if I wanted to, and put the next offering into the church. Even though they said this, I did not keep the money. We bought some things that the church needed, which was the right thing to do. Of course, I could have used the money and they offered it to me. I just didn’t feel right about taking it.
Pastor Thom Fields—Kennewick, WA
This is a very interesting subject matter. Like a lot of people, I really appreciate gifts of encouragement and appreciation (especially CASH!). To be brutally honest—I don’t really need any more plaques, statues or spiritual trinkets—I already possess enough of those to stock my own Bible book store! But if you can’t think of anything else to send me—cold, hard cash is ALWAYS APPRECIATED!
With that in mind, it is also ALWAYS prudent to prayerfully consider accepting any gift. No more than seven days ago I had a conversation with a great pastor friend who was offered a tremendous gift from one member of his flock. He has been believing God for several months for a specific 75-acre piece of land. He was approached by a very wealthy family in his church and informed that they were prepared to purchase the land and pay for it in full. All they required of him was a lunch date to celebrate. On his way to the lunch date he felt God was telling him “No.” Obviously, he had quite the morning prayer session on the day of the scheduled luncheon. After much wrestling in his spirit, he went to the lunch and declined the offer. Afterward, he endured many mind-storms and second thoughts regarding his decision to follow this leading. He admitted that he struggled with a sense of depression and wondered if he had actually made the right decision or just thrown away the answer to his very own prayer.
Several weeks later he went for a morning cup of coffee. As he picked up the local paper his eyes were riveted to the cover story with a picture of the man who had offered him this great offering. The man had recently been indicted by the federal government and, along with this man, several banking officials were facing some very serious charges. The story went on to disclose how anyone and everyone involved in financial relationships with the individual was being investigated and finances were being frozen. Had my pastor friend not been attentive to the voice of the Spirit, his church would have undergone untold difficulties, and probably at the expense of the entire ministry.
I believe that the lesson for us is that we should always prayerfully consider receiving any gift of any kind. Our role in fulfilling ministry is much too valuable to trade it for any monetary gift of any size. It feels good to have someone slip you a special offering and tell you how awesome you are. It feels better, however, to know that your hands are absolutely clean and your heart is pure in the eyes of God.
Pastor Brad Allen—San Mateo, CA
The principal of seedtime and harvest provides some helpful guidelines for giving and receiving offerings.
The seed has to fall into the ground and “die” before it can produce great fruit. John 12:24
Similarly, our seed has to “die” to us before it can be transformed into a fruitful gift for another ministry. This means that we cannot control or put conditions on an offering for it to truly be a gift or a sown seed. IRS rules look at who has control of the gift as to whether it is actually deductible. If it’s truly a gift, the donor relinquishes all control over it.
So when a “gift” comes into the ministry that may have stated or unspoken conditions upon its use, then the minister and the donor should have a clear discussion about tax deductibility and whether the conditions being considered are reasonable.
Naming a building or an addition after its donor is a common and respectable practice. So is receiving an honorarium for a wedding or a funeral. But becoming the servant or hireling of the big donor is a trap to be avoided.
Many times ministers have had large donors come in to their offices and try to influence policy decisions. And many a good minister has politely refused to be led by money.
When we first started our church a wealthy couple offered to buy us a nice car. We needed it, but we could tell their offer had unspoken strings attached. It was not offered so much as a blessing but as a bribe or guarantee for their position in the church. We politely refused.
When giving to ministers or ministries, one is giving to God and needs to look to Him for the harvest on their seed. They should be careful not to look for favor or special treatment or risk violating the laws of seedtime and harvest, not to mention potentially violating IRS rules.
Pastor Randy Gilbert—Richmond, VA
Years ago a woman in the church was dealing with psychological issues. She was taking meds for manic-depression. She had a death in the family and came into a somewhat sizable inheritance. She brought the tithe to the church. Shortly thereafter, her husband, who was unsaved, informed us that his wife had become unstable. He also proceeded to tell us that he felt like we had taken advantage of her and he wanted us to give the money back. According to IRS rules the money was no longer theirs, it was now the property of the church organization, and “inurement of benefit” prohibited a member from receiving remuneration from the organization. We consulted our lawyer and were told we could grant a “one time” refund on the basis of the circumstances. Don’t know if this helps, but the message is regardless of circumstances, we are still bound to obey the law with the handling of “not for profit” resources.
Pastor Timothy Kutz—Bartlesville, OK
All ministers have to deal with this very important issue. Because of the anointing on your life, people will be drawn to you. In some cases people will be grateful to you for something that God did to/for them through you. Too many people yield to the temptation of merchandising the anointing.
In accepting gifts, the only consideration for me is: Are they giving this because they appreciate and honor you, or are they giving it because you did, or are doing, something for them. As a man or woman of God, people will want to honor you and it is right. But every time it is because of something that you have done or are doing for them, you must gracefully decline the gift. This is an open door that the devil can use in their life or other people’s lives that may know of or learn of the gift, not to mention it affecting your ability to continue with the same anointing.
If they insist, and will not take no for an answer, then request that they give it to the ministry that you draw your supply from. EXAMPLE: your denominational headquarters, or your spiritual father. If people believe that they are doing this at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, then join with their faith as they sow this seed. Just remember, the anointing is precious in your life and receiving money for its operation in your life will cause it to lessen and even leave. If something will cost you the anointing, why would you take it? Remember, we will stand before Jesus and give account. If you remember well this one thing, you will always do the right thing with what is put in your hands.
Rev. Tony Cooke – Broken Arrow, OK
Everyone appreciates receiving gifts and expressions of appreciation, and typically, such blessings can be received with gladness. However, there are times when receiving certain types of gifts can be inappropriate, especially when the giver may have ulterior motives in offering the gift. There are other occasions when the receiving of a certain gift may give “the appearance of evil.”
Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly” (NLT). While we all think of bribes as being wrong, the King James Version simply uses the word “gift” here.
We frequently hear of people in positions of power and authority who have been accused of receiving money from those that were trying to buy influence or procure favors. In religious circles, this is sometimes called “simony.” This word, dating back to the 13th century, is based on the story of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24) who offered Peter money in order to essentially purchase a spiritual gift. Peter refused this “gift” with the harsh rebuke (Acts 8:20, NLT), “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” The CEV translation of this verse carries even a bit more punch: “You and your money will both end up in hell if you think you can buy God’s gift!”
In the Old Testament, Abraham refused to take what the King of Sodom offered him (Genesis 14:22-23), and Elisha refused to take the offered “blessing” from Naaman (2 Kings 5:16). Gehazi, on the other hand, was eager to receive the material benefit (2 Kings 5:20-27) and was judged for his greed and dishonesty.
We must avoid anything that makes it appear we are trying to sell what God gives freely, and we need to avoid being put into positions where we would be subject to manipulation or inappropriate influence based on a gift that had been given and received.