In March 1998, my father passed away at the age of 88. My dad became a Christian as an adult and spent the rest of his life serving the Lord in a variety of ways. His funeral service, at which I gave the eulogy, was a time of victory as we celebrated dad’s entrance into eternal life because of his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout his life, he practiced “tithing” and, in fact, gave considerably beyond the “tithe” for most of his life. He found great satisfaction in his giving to the Lord and in seeing his contributions at work.
Following dad’s death, my step-mother rewrote her will in order to provide for the distribution of her assets at the time of her death. As she and I went over the provisions of her will, she quoted an old sage by reciting this two-line poem which I have used in the “Effective Stewardship” program: “Do your giving while you’re living so you’ll be knowing where it’s going.”
In other words, she recognized the wisdom in giving while she was still able to take an active interest in her church and other missionary organizations which she supported.
This is not to say that people should not remember their churches or other charitable organizations in their wills or in their estate planning. To the contrary, my counsel has always been that a Christian should do so. However, some have gone to an extreme, particularly in creating endowment funds which have served to literally choke the work and outreach of the church which is the beneficiary.
Case in point: A church in a small town near St. Louis received an endowment of $1 million from a man. The endowment was to pay his brother $20 per month for the brother’s lifetime. At the brother’s death, the interest was to revert to the endowment fund until it grew to $2 million. When that occurred, the church could spend the interest, but all expenditures had to be on “programs,” not on buildings, vans, salaries, utilities, etc. This church is sitting on $2 million but can barely pay its bills. People in that church (and all over town) have heard about the endowment and have concluded that this church doesn’t need any financial support.
If you are going to create an endowment fund, or if you are going to leave money to your church in your will or through your estate plan, be sure that there are no strings attached. Otherwise, you may well do more harm than good. And even if you decide to leave some of your assets to your church or other organizations, be sure to “do your giving while you’re living so you’ll be knowing where it’s going.”