Perspective

Is it okay for a couple to give separately?

Recently, a woman wrote in to our friend, Cameron Doolittle, at Joygiving, with a statement more than a question: “My husband and I don’t always agree on giving.” In contemplating how to answer, Cameron immediately thought of Gary Hoag – a man who travels the world talking about generosity and financial accountability – and his wife, Jenni, a Biola graduate certified to care for people’s souls.

Cameron shared this over at Joygiving.org, but we jumped at the chance to share it with our readers too.

Gary and Jenni live in Denver, Colorado with their family, but they travel a lot. So they have a standing monthly appointment to drink coffee together and talk about how they will steward their income. Their discussions are informed by deep biblical study and a passion for generosity. “She loves coffee, so it’s like a date,” Gary says. “The process unites us, though we care about different things. We support about 20 things in our stewardship portfolio.”

Having helped others to reach a point of unity in their giving, Gary and Jenni have some wise advice to share. But first, let’s take a look at some of their observations. Gary says they consistently observe five facts about marriage and giving:

  1. Most couples don’t live on a budget that they can both understand and articulate.
  2. Most couples don’t talk about their giving on a monthly, quarterly, or even annual basis.
  3. Most couples don’t have a strategy that guides their giving, so that their passions align with God’s heart.
  4. Many people don’t know their spiritual giftedness, so they are not deploying themselves in service, or not using their gifts in the best ways.
  5. Many people have a very limited understanding of Scripture, so they are not stewarding the eternal gospel well.

Not stewarding your giving well is a whole-life issue, not just a discussion about money. Until the whole issue of stewardship is addressed, studied and understood, there will continue to be problems in other areas of our lives – even the ones we don’t think about as “giving.”

The remedy for a limited understanding is the study of Scripture. Gary recommends that couples study these three themes through the New Testament related to stewardship in order to gain a better understanding that might serve to bring them together:

  • 1 Peter 4:10-11 teaches us to employ the spiritual gifts God has given us.
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19 commands us to put to work the material goods that God has entrusted to us for enjoyment and sharing.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 instructs us to steward the gospel faithfully.

If we do not consider all of these in our giving, we are missing something key to understanding our role in God’s service. But if we do understand all of these, we can dig deeper into questions about money:

  • In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus explicitly tells us not to store up treasures here.
  • Mark 12:41-44 demonstrates that sometimes what is more important is not what we give, but what we don’t hold back.

In short, we’ve learned that God is watching and has given us key stewardship responsibilities. What should couples do from here?


Steps: Five steps toward greater oneness and sacrifice in giving


Step 1: Take inventory, and consecrate everything to God
Write out on paper a list of your material resources (assets and income), your spiritual gifts, and a summary of how you received the gospel. (Who told you? How did it impact your life?) Then, consecrate everything on that paper to God, all you are and all you have. To consecrate something means to declare it holy and to dedicate it to God’s purposes. Once you’ve done this, you’ve agreed with your spouse that you will hold nothing back if God asks it of you. And here’s a practical tip: Mark that date on the calendar and celebrate it annually as your consecration day. This is really about deciding that the rest of the days you live on this earth will aim not at collecting money or possessions, but at denying self, taking up our cross and following Jesus.

Step 2: Commit to budgeting and talking about money together
Agree to live on a budget and talk about it monthly together. Be sure to have non-budgeted giving (for us it’s $300 per month) so that up to an agreed on amount (for us it’s $100) you can give spontaneously to whatever your heart moves you to support (Good Samaritan giving). To help, we aim to live as simply as possible and to be as generous as possible.

Step 3: Map out a plan for material assets
Couples can think of this strategy as a team effort to shape their hearts, to help them care about what God cares about. Map out a plan to store up in heaven all the material assets that have been entrusted to you on earth. As the saying goes, “do your giving while you are living so you are knowing where it’s going.” Do this also because there is no sacrifice in estate giving. No one can take a dime with them when they die; everyone leaves everything behind. Practical idea: Set goals for what you hope to “store up in heaven,” and assess your progress each year. It’s the opposite of the world’s goal of accumulating an amount. We continue to be stunned by all that passes through us when we focus on being intentional conduits.

Step 4: Assess how you deploy non-material assets like time and energy
Watch how your deployment of time and energy  matches your giftedness. Practical idea: Take a spiritual gifts inventory and go over the results with a friend to get feedback and pray for ways you can deploy yourself as a worker for God (whether in the profit or nonprofit world). We find that, when you serve in your giftedness, you no longer do what John Stanley describes as “trading time for obligation.” When I match my giftedness and abilities, God deploys me to a mix of service. I teach as a visiting professor at multiple schools and do work for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability on a limited basis, so I have margin for writing, speaking and consulting work. My wife similarly divides her service to providing soul care, speaking in various settings, helping out at church, and substitute teaching at the local Christian school.

Step 5: Reorganize your life so God can spend you
Talk honestly about how your life is a witness to, and engages in, both the Great Commission (sharing the gospel and making disciples) and Great Commandment (extending mercy and service). This might lead you to stop doing some activities and start doing other things. Practical idea: Lynn Miller talked about reorganizing your life “so that God can spend you.” Structuring your life around generosity becomes a journey, and taking this journey together is really all about getting you, as a couple, in step with God together. That’s what matters. How you give from there is really up to you.

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