I’m writing this blog post for the Church. Not just my church, but the Church. This isn’t for those outside the Church. Just the Church. I’m also writing this as a Protestant. And I’m writing this as someone knows the inner working of churches. That makes it a little more awkward. And I’ll tell you, most of the pastors I know, including the one I am married to, have a hard time talking to you, the people, about this. First, it directly affects them. Their livelihood comes from the Church. Second, some pastors, and we won’t name any names, give giving a bad name. They are self-centered and have no vision for the Kingdom, only their wallets. But the majority of pastors I know aren’t like that. The majority of the ones I know live on small salaries, sometimes working more than one job to provide for their own family, all while trying to do the thing God has called them to do. They often don’t know if they’ll have income by the end of the year. They often don’t know if they’ll have income next month. So, drop your preconceived notion about pastor millionaires flying around on personal jets. Now, on to the money talk.
I’ve been listening to quite a few podcasts lately. It is just something I do while washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking dinner. While folding laundry and listening to an old Freakonomics Podcast (called How To Raise Money Without Killing A Kitten) about charity giving and the economics and research behind Americans giving, it just really hit me that (1) Christians aren’t the super charitable people they like to think they are and (2) the Church often tries to pull a lot of the same “tricks” other organizations do to compete for the Christian’s dollar.
Now, there are a couple of issues going on here. And I don’t call myself an expert, and really this is more of a rant to raise awareness than anything.
The average American gives 2% of their income to charity. Now, a Gallup poll in 2008 said 77% of Americans identify as Christians. (Who do they poll? I’ve never been polled. Anyway, moving on.) I think that is a very high estimate. Huffpo in 2013 said 20% of Americans no longer identify with any religion. (This source says 83% identify as Christian. This source says 70.6%. This source says there are 247 million Christians in the US.) My point is, something is wrong. The majority of the country is Christian, yet they obviously aren’t tithing.
Dun. Dun. Dun. I said the big bad word in today’s evangelical circles. Tithing. It is a Biblical concept you’re all aware of. Give God 10%. Now, we can debate gross or net. You can even try to debate that tithing is an Old Testament concept not relevant for a New Testament Church. And if you want to go there, fine. Pattern your life after the New Testament Church in Acts 2 when they sold everything they had and gave the profits to the poor and lived sharing everything with one another. That’s cool. I was just asking for 10%. But I guess everything works, too.
So, disconnect number one is that 2% of income from Americans is going to charity (all of them, not just the Church). Shouldn’t that number be higher since the majority of America is “Christian”? (I use the quotes because I am not sure we have that many followers of Christ; I think more of them are cultural Christians.) So, clearly, some of you (again, talking to the Church, here) aren’t giving as you should. (I should also note here that neither I nor the Pastor has now or ever known how much any individual or family in any church we’ve been in have given. We’ve made it a point to not know those things. I don’t want you thinking I cooked you dinner when you were having a tough time because you gave the church money. We’ve also made it a point not to touch the money. So, I have never seen a single check in the offering plate or a single name on the PayPal summary. I really have no clue.) And you can justify that decision until you are blue in the face, but the facts will not change. You need to be giving 10% to YOUR CHURCH. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care where you attend. You need to be tithing to your church. If you don’t trust them with your money, why are you trusting them with your spiritual health and the spiritual health of your family? You can dislike this if you want, but you need to be giving 10% to your church. You don’t need to be earmarking it for what you want it to be used on. You need to let go and give it to God. Period. No strings attached. No splitting the amount between all the good things you want to give to. 10% to your church. Then give to the other things. (And don’t forget to give of your time and talents as well.)
Back to the podcast, they listed six reasons people give to charities: (1) altruism– you really want to help the person or cause; (2) “warm glow” altruism or as I called it, selfish altruism– you want to feel good about giving, you want bragging rights, you want the warm fuzzies knowing you are a good person or knowing other think you are a good person; (3) guilt– you feel bad not giving, you don’t want to look bad by not giving; (4) herd giving– you give because others around you are giving or someone you look up to gives; (5) private good– you give to get or keep (not loose) something you want; (6) public good– you want the thing to exist, not just for yourself, but for your community or others. Now, often your reasons are a mix of things. And often churches use these same things to get you to give. (I don’t necessarily think it is intentional for the most part, just something that happens when we do things because it is the way things are done. Think about passing the offering plate for a minute. You play on herd giving: everyone else is doing it, possibly even someone I look up to. You play on guilt: I don’t want to look bad not giving. You play on public and private good: I need to give for the church to continue and I really like this or that program; plus, I want this place to exist for my community. “Warm glow” altruism: you feel good by giving; some churches will even tell you the blessings of God are directly tied to your giving. Altruism: you really do want to support the Church and the cause of Christ. Now, clearly all those are not bad things. There are a few negatives, but some positives. We don’t pass a plate at our church because of the negatives. I don’t think passing a plate is wrong. We just don’t do it.) But isn’t there another BIG reason to give to your church? Yes, I hope there is altruism in your gift. But isn’t there something else? Obedience. It is a dirty word in our culture. Obedience. But that is how we grow. That is how we grow as children. That is how we grow as Christians. I don’t know how to put others before myself until I practice it. I don’t know how to become less self-centric until I practice it. I don’t know how to be obedient until I practice it. Tithing is bare-minimum obedience practice. It is the absolute easiest form of obedience. God asks us first for the small things. When that becomes easier, it becomes easier to give the big things. To give up our lives for full-time ministry. To give up our children for full-time ministry. To give up our time for someone in need. To give up our comfort for someone else. To give up ourselves for the cross. 10% of your money is the starting point.
So why is it so hard? Why are churches closing the doors because they don’t have the funds to carry on? Why are pastors working two or three jobs just to be able to bring God’s word to God’s people? Why are churches not being planted? 70% giving 10%– we shouldn’t have problems funding any aspect of Christian work. The widows should easily be taken care of. The orphans should be well loved and cared for. The missionaries shouldn’t have to come home to beg, but come home to share the fire in their bellies for the people. Why is 10% so hard for us to let go of? And is 10% in your pocket really worth limiting the Church?
So what do donors or givers like to get? Well, according to the podcast, they like getting something in return. An inflated ego, for sure. They want to win something. They want to gain something. They want control. Sadly, how much does this all sound like Christians? (Ahem. Especially that control part. Ahem.)
But what do we actually get by tithing? What is in it for you? Well, the fact that we ask that question highlights the problem. If you’re more concerned about yourself than others then you clearly haven’t quite gotten the message of Christ.
Now, I could go through the list of what your pastor does, what your church does. I could add copies of the budget and account for hours spent and what they were spent doing. But really, the bottom-line is obedience. And your church shouldn’t have to use gimmicks and tactics to get your support. You should support them because you love God and you love the Church. You should give because you are invested in the Gospel of Christ. We should give because God tells us we should. The Christian life is a life lived for others– from our pocket books to the hours in our days. Giving isn’t to make you feel good. It isn’t to make you feel bad. It isn’t to purchase your mansion in glory. Giving is about obedience to God and love for others.
Now, I know my editor is going to give me grief about this post. All I have to say to him is that I was led to say something and that I did it out of love, not self. I think it is a message worth sharing.