When I was in my final seminary year at Duke University, I had the privilege of organizing the weekly communion service for the divinity school community. One of the first preachers we had that year was Dr. Peter Storey, a retired bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa and somebody who became a great role model for me.
While preparing for the service he would lead, I recall telling him the divinity school chapel always used the preaching schedule determined by the lectionary, which is a three-year rolling schedule of Bible verses. I will never forget Dr. Storey’s response. “Mark, sometimes the Spirit doesn’t move in accordance with the lectionary,” he said.
I think it’s fair to say that 2017 was a challenging year for many people, and 2018 appears to be no less so. The nation and the church faced many changes, and I believe those changes will continue. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself.
“God doesn’t always move in accordance with the tax code.”
One of the immediate challenges we will all face is working with the new U.S. tax code and the implications it has on charitable contributions. Each year, taxpayers have to decide whether they will itemize or take the standard deduction. Under the new law, the standard deduction nearly doubles, which could make itemizing less feasible for some taxpayers.
I believe many, if not most, people give to the church and the ministries they value out of a deep spiritual sense of stewardship. For them, the amount they give won’t change, despite reduced incentives to itemize, because they have a great understanding of how much God has blessed them.
For others, however, the new tax code will make a difference. Simply put, there will be those who chose to give less because they won’t be getting a tax deduction for their charitable gifts. Charitable giving nationally is expected to decrease by around $13 billion, according to an estimate from Indiana University’s school of philanthropy, the nation’s leading academic institution that studies and teaches philanthropy.
But the need for God’s work didn’t stop when the tax code was signed into law. To paraphrase Dr. Storey, “God doesn’t move in accordance with the tax code.”
The potential loss of tax deductions for charitable contributions does not equate to a reduced need for financial gifts. I strongly believe there has never been a greater need for the church to be actively engaged in God’s work than right now, and gifts to the church and its ministries make that possible. My hope for 2018 is that we will all continue to generously support the work of the church and the many worthwhile institutions that strive to make the world a better place. And we at the foundation remain committed to providing the best service possible to help church leaders and members achieve that goal. Plan well. Give well. Remember: God doesn’t always move in accordance with the tax code.
Credit: Rev. Mark Becker, President of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, Lakeland FL.