You Don't Have To Be Happy

Gordon Venturella

Youíre far happier giving than getting.
Thatís the way Eugene Peterson phrases these well-known words of Jesus in The Message (Acts 20:35).

Many churches have adopted a preface to their offering appeal or a line in their bulletin that goes something like this: If youíre a visitor here, this is not for you, just sit back and relax. The prominent church that popularized this approach did so based on their research with unchurched, upper middle class, Anglo, baby boomers in a major metropolitan area. They learned that a major objection to church was its over-emphasis on money.

This research was conducted with a very specific demographic and against the backdrop of proliferating and profiteering televangelists in the late 70ís and early 80ís Ė nearly a quarter of a century ago. This prominent church adopted the preface as a correction to the context of the time.

Iím all for research about the attitudes of the un-churched in order to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent them from seeing Jesus. Iím also against manipulating anyone to do anything they donít want to do.

But attitudes of the un-churched change over time, from class to class, culture to culture and with each succeeding generation. And some things donít change Ė like the source of happiness.

My experience with un-churched people today is that they appreciate the way Jesus handled the subject of personal finance Ė with integrity and without apology. He wasnít shy about confronting the place and priority of money with a tree-climbing collector of taxes. The result turned out pretty positive (Luke 19).

Can we approach this sometimes-touchy subject the way Jesus did?

I have for some time been saying something like this at offering time:
As part of our worship we want to express our gratitude to God in a tangible way. This is the time we do so through our finances. If youíve received a blessing, feel free to participate.

I always want to be careful about the way I present any offering appeal - but I never want to deprive someone of the happiness that comes from giving. In depriving another of the opportunity to give, Iím robbing them great happiness.

So - sit back and relax - itís true - you donít have to give.

You donít have to be happy either.