On a Fixed Income?

Fixed Income(Recently I came across these comments by Charles Lane, a Lutheran pastor. They speak to the situation of many in our congregation – most congregations, actually. – Pastor Carl)

The most common assumption I have heard about giving by retired people is, “Retired people are living on a fixed income. They are giving all they can.” To be fair, I’ve heard a lot of retired people say, “I’m living on a fixed income and just can’t give any more.”

My first thought is that almost everyone I know is living on a fixed income. It is called a salary. As is the case with working people, the “fixed income” that retired people are living on is fixed at widely varying levels. Some are fixed pretty low. Others are fixed amazingly high.

Quite honestly, I think the phrase “fixed income” is most often an excuse for stingy giving. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used by a generous person.

Having a fixed, predictable income can actually make percentage giving easy. When you know what your income is, it is easy to decide what percentage you want to give away, then calculate and give that amount month after month, until your income changes. For retired people, as for everyone else in the congregation, the focus should be on percentage giving. This way, at whatever level one’s income is fixed, generous giving can happen.

The second assumption is that retired people are giving the most money to the congregation, and when we die the congregation is going to be in real trouble. Well…I hope we are missed for something besides our money!

Seriously, hasn’t it always been the case that older members of the congregation have given the most money? I suspect when my generation was in our thirties, we weren’t the most generous givers in the congregation — the retired people were. Many of us have fewer long-term financial commitments than we have ever had: our kids are grown and making more than we are, which reduces a lot of expenses; many of my generation have owned a home long enough that they don’t have house payments; we don’t drive as much, so cars last longer; and on goes the list. Quite simply, we have more money available to give away. We should be the largest givers.

Let’s hesitate before writing-off those in their thirties and forties for not doing their part. Many of them are living generous lives now. Let’s assume — and teach and invite — so that as their ability to give more increases, so will their giving.

The third assumption is that retired people are ready to turn volunteering over to younger people.

In my opinion, this is simply not the case. My wife has started two new volunteering opportunities since she retired. One is related to her career; the other is not. One is through our congregation; the other is not. She derives great joy from both of them. Many of my friends are finding new ways to get involved in church and in the community. They are talented, active people who have much to give.

I often hear that millennials like to give money where they also give time. I’m convinced this is true for us retired people as well. A wise congregation will look for new opportunities for retired people to give of their time and talents, two things they have in abundance. Their giving will likely follow.

Rev. Charles Lane is co-author, most recently, of Embracing Stewardship: How to Put Stewardship at the Heart of Your Congregation’s Life. He serves as a pastor of Lord of Life Lutheran Church and is past director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders. (From the Stewardship newsletter of Luther Seminary.)