I bought a donut a couple weeks ago. That is, I contributed a dollar to the summer missions fund and received in exchange one donut. You might call the donut a bribe — pay one dollar, and get a donut for your donation.
Like most donuts, like the grass that withers and the flower that fades, this piece of sugary fluff dissolved and was consumed, but it left behind a much more indigestible problem. I began to wonder whether I had done my good deed, not to be seen by men, but to gain a donut. Contributing to summer missions is good, yes. Eating donuts is also good. But is eating donuts a legitimate incentive for contributing to summer missions? In other words, did I contribute to the missions effort, gaining as a bonus one free donut, or did I sell my soul for a donut and support summer missions only incidentally? I tried to brush the doubts away, but I could feel a stomachache beginning as I questioned whether I would have given the dollar without the incentive provided by the sugar-glazed fluffery. If not, was my donation still legitimate?
I’m overreacting, I know — possibly I’ve eaten too much sugar recently. If donut fundraisers raise money and the money is spent on a good cause, where’s the harm? As Christians, though, we need to consider the message we send when we support missions by spending on ourselves.
In church tradition, Sunday-School storybooks, and moral lessons, children saved their money, gathering penny by penny, dime by dime, to fill their missionary boxes — forgoing their own desires to contribute their mite to the collection. Now, we’re asked to splurge instead of sacrifice. We are told to spend money on ourselves and feel good about it, since 25%, one-fourth, of our spending will support the missions team.
The problem isn’t just donuts. I received an email in February inviting me to a fundraiser at Cold Stone Creamery, so that my “sweet-treat-expense” could help children overseas. If ice cream wasn’t my thing, I could visit Jamba Juice. “Go and have a healthy treat, all the while supporting starving children!” the email told me. Last month, a flyer arrived in my mailbox for second Cold Stone fundraiser, asking students like me to ‘indulge ourselves for a Great Cause.’ Unfortunately, self-indulgence and Great Causes mix about as well as banana slugs and Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
I’m not saying that Christians have to forgo donuts, ice cream, and all such sweet treats. The Bible tells us quite frequently to delight in God and in His creation, which would include Krispy Kremes and chocolate sundaes. The Bible also happens to talk about sacrifice — Paul writes that he has been “poured out as a drink offering” for the Philippians. We pour out the caramel sauce on our Apple Pie A La Cold Stone.
Would I have spent the dollar on missions that I spent on donuts? I’m not sure. It may be the fact that I’m not sure which disturbs me most. Food treats may lure us into donating to missions, like a bunch of sweet-toothed Pavlov’s puppies, but we should be willing to support the work for its own sake. Used properly, missions fundraising could become a lesson on the importance of missions work. On the other hand, if I need a sugar-coated incentive to contribute to missions, then I’ve failed. If the church needs donuts to get people excited about missions work, the church has failed also and needs to reconsider its methods.
No, donut-and-ice-cream fundraisers are not evil; they do raise money, and they might even attract people who wouldn’t participate otherwise. Still, we could use a few old-fashioned save-your-dimes fundraisers as well. Why not let people know that there’s more to sacrifice than Caramel Banana Splits and a sugar-glazed appeal?