I hear a lot that Christians can “vote with their wallet.”
When I hear that phrase it’s almost always in reference to a boycott: don’t spend your money here, or here, or at that one place, or on that one thing. The act of not-spending becomes a form of group protest, an inherently political act. That’s all well and good for those who are interested in it, but I’d like to focus on spending money, not withholding it, and why and where we should.
I’m not talking about tithing; this goes beyond that. I’m not talking about charity, either, or the general sort of generosity that prompts us to give to the homeless or the soup kitchen. I’m talking about a sort of giving above and beyond those Christian acts: giving as a vote of confidence and an expression of support and love.
Do you enjoy a local Christian singing group? They probably need money to get from gig to gig and to buy food from time to time – and they don’t always receive love offerings. Do you like a small-time Christian artist or writer? Their websites probably have a donation button. Know someone near you engaged in a ministry that isn’t part of the church budget? They might not turn down five bucks.
The thing is, it’s easy to take advantage of Christians offering services or ministries by pointing to “Christian charity” as the reason you should be able to enjoy their services for free. If you’ve ever heard a believer scoff at the admission price for a Christian show or roll their eyes during a “please support us” spiel, you’ve witnessed it: the idea that any service a believer might offer, especially under the guise of ministry, ought to be offered at no charge and with no benefit to the giver.
And believe me, Christian artists and creators and writers and performers encounter that tension all the time. It’s part of the reason I offer Bible studies for free on my blog before I charge for them as e-books; that feels like a suitable reconciliation between my desire to be generous with what God has given me and my desire to eventually earn a living as a writer. I’ve known Christians who have shied away from Kickstarter and Patreon for fear of looking as though they’re only out to make a buck; I know Christians who feel obligated to turn money down (money they might need!) even when it’s offered for a service fairly rendered.
I’m not saying you should give to every believer who comes along asking for money. And many people who have ministries receive financial provision from willing congregations. But others don’t, and when their ministry is also their vocation, they struggle. My mother runs a children’s ministry that is funded not through her church, but solely through the kindness of benefactors. So if you find yourself blessed by someone’s ministry – whether it’s through art or music or writing or performance or dance or whatever it might be – and you have the chance to give back a little and God presses your heart in that direction, then please do.
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy,” Deuteronomy instructs, “whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns” (24:14). James 5:4 condemns those fail to pay workers their wages. And the Bible commends those who earn a living from their work. In supporting those who work to serve and give, you enable them to continue on in their ministries and to support themselves while doing so.
We can use our money and our wallets not just to condemn, but to lift others up, so let’s be sure that we do!