Talk about Tithing
OMG. Did your heart just start pounding a little faster after reading the blog title? I know mine did – and I wrote the darned thing. Am I trying to give myself a heart attack?!
Next to preaching about money, I don’t know of anything that strikes more fear in a person – either in the pews or in front of the congregation – than tackling the topic of tithing (such easy alliteration).
You non-church folk might be thinking, “Holy smokes, what’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that you’re treading on very sacred and tender ground when you talk about tithing. Tithing has come to have two different definitions in our culture: either a straight 10% contribution or any contribution you make on a regular basis.
If you take a literal view of the word “tithe” you’re talking about giving away one-tenth of your wealth annually (one-tenth!). We see it first in Genesis 14:19-20 when Abram gives God (via King Melchizedek) a tenth of all he plundered in battle. Or in Genesis 28:20-22 when “Jacob vows a vow [to God]…‘And everything you give me, I’ll return a tenth to you.’” Perhaps the most stinging tithing verse is Malachi 3:8-9 (from The Message):
“Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day.
“You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’
“The tithe and the offering—that’s how! And now you’re under a curse—the whole lot of you—because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. For my part, I will defend you against marauders, protect your wheat fields and vegetable gardens against plunderers.”
See why we’re so freaked out?
Mike Holms recently reported these statistics in Relevant magazine which covers the second definition of tithing:
- Tithers (of any amount) make up only 10-25% of a normal congregation.
- Only 5% of the US tithes, with 80% only giving 2% of their income.
- Christians are only giving 2.5% per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3% rate.
Holmes question is, “How could the world be different if people in the church tithed 10 percent?”
In one of my all-time favorite stewardship books Creating Congregations of Generous People, Michael Durall likes to talk about “high expectation” churches that embrace the 10% tithe. High expectation churches “believe that God has given them everything they have. Not only that – God lets them keep 90 percent of it. What a deal!”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. But let’s get serious. For the old-time mainliners the topic of tithing is a minefield.
Since you, dear friends, are in the (mine)field, I’m posing the questions to you:
1. Should you even talk about the tithe? Is it relevant?
2. If you talk about the tithe do you mention giving 10% or do you leave it up to the giver?
3. Is the tithe on gross or net income? Or does it matter?
4. Is tithing only to the church or can it include donations to non-profits?
5. Have you ever tried being a “high expectation” church in relation to the tithe? How did that work out?
Answer one or all of these questions and we’ll grapple with them in future posts. Be honest. I’ll keep your comments anonymous if you’d like.
Ultimately, we want everyone in our congregations to be able to affirm a heart for generosity,
“…A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 from The Message).
No more sob stories or arm twisting. Let’s get the conversation going.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. Maybe her heart palpitations had nothing to do with tithing and everything to do with that triple espresso. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.