Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Plastic Donuts book review (a book by Jeff Anderson)

Posted on 15 Jun 2013 in Books | 3 comments

There are few topics more scandalous in the church than money. I’d even venture to say that people would rather me talk about sex before I talked about what to do with their money. It’s uncomfortable for everyone, preacher and listener alike. To those outside the church (and maybe those inside) the common complaint is that churches only ever talk about money and it’s all they really care about. The truth, is that most contemporary church hardly ever talk about money, it just makes people too uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, we pastors try hard to balance it out. For one, it does need to be talked about, but personally, there are things I’d much rather talk about, either because I enjoy them more or I see another issue as more threatening. If given the chance to talk about discipleship or giving more money to the church, I’ll take discipleship every time (and yes, I’m aware that the way we give and use money is an issue of discipleship).

So, with all that said, I must admit that there was a certain level of trepidation that came with receiving the book Plastic Donuts in the mail from Waterbook Multnomah. Giving is one of those things that you are either passionate about (give 10% or else!) or you aren’t (why should I support this cause over and against all the other causes that want my money?). I once even saw a job description that listed giving ten percent to the church (from your gross pay) as part of the job requirement. It very explicitly said that if you weren’t going to commit to doing that, don’t bother applying. It went even further and said that giving to other organizations doesn’t count towards the tithe. Ten percent goes to the church. No exceptions. If you wanted to give more to another charity, that was fine, but don’t infringe on God’s money to the church (you heretic).

See why people don’t like this issue?

It’s why I found Jeff Anderson’s book so refreshingly different. It recognizes two very important things:

  1. God never demands or expect a tithe. (Really, he doesn’t. Go look it up. Early leaders of the faith offered it as a joyous gift and the Hebrew people decided to make it the rule).
  2. God cares deeply about what we give.

Anderson’s main point revolves around the idea that if we don’t care about the gift, neither does God. Page 34 explains: “You’ve heard it said: ‘Every gift is special.’ ‘Every gift can make a difference.’ ‘No gift is too small.’ For secular campaign fund-raising, this might be true. But when it comes to giving to God, there is a problem with these ideas. Not all gifts are special to God. And not all gifts are acceptable.”

Anderson balances well the idea that God wants us to give generously on the one hand and not being legalistic about it on the other. He provides a way forward by talking about gifts that mean something, gifts that ‘hurt’. In essence, for some of us, $20 in the offering plate hurts because the budget is so tight. For others, 10% is given, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is in their retirement funds, house, cars, savings plan, and disposable income. For those that are in a place to be more generous, God wants us to be generous enough to give ‘where it hurts’ and bless others more abundantly. From page 41, “Singing a worship song is not necessarily worship, and neither is writing a check. But when the heart engages in a meaningful way through a praise song or hymn, it becomes more than just singing. And when the heart engages through a gift that matters, it becomes more than just writing a check.”

As a pastor that has to walk the line of needing to make a budget, and wanting people to give out of the heartfelt gratitude of a transformed life, talking about money is a dangerous (and job threatening) subject. Jeff Anderson’s book Plastic Donuts is worthy of a read from any pastor as a way to talk about faithful financial giving and support to God’s mision in the world.

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Disclaimer: I reviewed a free copy of this book through the BloggingForBooks program offered by WaterBrook Multnomah publishing. I was in no way compensated for this review and all views are solely and completely my own. I was not required to offer a positive review either through the publisher or author.

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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  • mike

    My sister told me about the one time(years ago) she took her 2 boys to the big baptist church in her hometown.The younger son resisted going,saying that all ‘they'(preachers) want is money.Sunday rolled around and they went to church.She said that the whole time there the preacher pleaded and cajoled for money.That was the last time she has attended a church.

    About 5 years ago,my wife and I decided to visit an emerging style evangelical ‘mega’ church that was creating a lot of buzz at the time. It did’nt take long to see that this guy(the preacher) had a Ego the size of Texas and he soon revealed an elaborate expansion plan that required 8.6 million.Needless to say his preaching soon turned into some of the most despicable and psychologically manipulative/coercive tactics that I have ever witnessed in my life and his reputation has since been ruined by it.

    • Mike,

      I’m sorry to hear that you have stories of such pain. One of the (many) weak points in the development of the institutionalized/attractional church has been that as building plans increase, so does the need for funding. Pastors knew that and many (thankfully not all) exploited that. It’s an embarrassing part of our history and we need to start apologizing for it more.

      One positive story that I experienced about the request for money was in the church that I grew up in. The church staff had thought that God was genuinely calling them to expand their building. The church was growing at almost every age segment and we just needed more room. They proposed it to the congregation to see if they agreed. The plans included a gym, several new classrooms, a full kitchen and serving area, and even a small space for some workout equipment. But along with the one proposal there was one stipulation, because they also knew that God cared about our financial status as a church and so the project couldn’t proceed unless we could do it debt free. It was our pastoral staff’s honest attempt to try and meet growing needs, but doing so in financially healthy ways. The church talked about it for months, really trying to decide how to proceed. In the end, the addition was built debt free and has been a great place for ministry over the last decade or so. But the reason it worked (and it wasn’t manipulation) was because the staff proposed it, but then got out of the way and let the people check the vision. Did they agree? Did they see the need to? Was this really God calling us to do something big? The community ownership of the goal was impressive. It has 100% support.

      Those are the type of gifts that matter, and the ones that Plastic Donuts talks about, not those times of manipulation and greed. I pray we all get better at doing the former and not the latter.

      Grace and Peace.

  • mike

    …There should be no need for you to apologize for the sad state of worldly affairs within organized religion,Justin. God himself is fully capable of completing His work outside the walls of these Sand Castles.

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