Here comes the offering plate. Is it panic time?
Last week, I ran a series of polls soliciting reader votes on topics pertaining to the Church and money. This week, and part of next, I’ll be unpacking those results and commenting.
The first poll dealt with the tithe, and I’ve got say that the results surprised me. See, I’ve talked to a wide range of people, and my experience has been that you get people talking about tithing and inevitably the conversation turns negative. I’m not sure I’ve ever talked with peers or younger who were completely happy with their church’s position on tithing, the amount of money they themselves gave, or the way in which tithe money was spent (which will be covered in the Church Finances commentary following later this week).
But Cerulean Sanctum readers appear to be largely satisfied with all those factors.
Let’s take a look at the final results and I’ll offer some commentary
Right off, I botched the wording on this question since the one answer that garnered no votes was supposed to be “free will offering” option, but the words obligated and anything made it sound too restrictive. I should have said, “…no one is obligated to give a specific amount or percentage of income.” Oh well. Plenty of readers wrote to tell me that their Other vote meant to encompass that position.
I was shocked at the outcome that got the most votes since I can honestly say that despite being a part of seventeen churches in the course of my lifetime, not a single one formally taught that position. And those churches ran the gamut of denominations, too. So color me surprised.
This surprising result is a good thing, though, in that perhaps more people are willing to go the second mile on helping others no matter how much it might inconvenience the giver. If more of us held that position, I suspect our churches would function more like the early Church in our largess.
I thought that the 10 percent tithe position would run away with this one.
As for my position (and the one I think is biblical), tune into my next post as I unpack it for you. Needless to say, I’m sure I’ll cheese off a few people.
But we’ll have to wait and see!
With nearly 70 percent of people saying they at least mostly agree with their church’s position on tithing, I’d venture to say this supposedly contentious issue of giving must not be that contentious after all. In fact, I’d suspect that we’d all be hard pressed to find a topic within Christianity that has 70 percent buy-in.
I guess few are writing letters to their church’s leadership on this issue. Knowing also that Cerulean Sanctum attracts a large number of people who are looking for a deeper church experience, I must contend that tithing is not the issue that has them wondering or searching for something deeper.
Given that a majority said they believed that their church gave more money than most other churches, yet a similar percentage said that their church leaders only talked about giving once or twice a year…well, those must be highly persuasive messages, even if rarely given!
I’d love to see the denominational and income factors behind this answer, too. When I was a member of a prosperous Presbyterian church, I never once heard a message on tithing or giving. Never. That church always had great gobs of money, too. On the other hand, I was part of an enormous Third Wave charismatic church that appealed to the same demographic as the Presbyterian church (and was, in fact, made up of a large number of folks who left that Presbyterian church). That Third Wave church didn’t appeal for money much either, yet it also struggled at times due to poor giving response.
My current church is definitely not as wealthy as either of those previous churches, yet it gives very generously. Major difference? I get an elder-delivered message each week on giving 10 percent. My experience has been the more blue collar the church, the more likely it is to have a regular message on giving, and if the church also happens to be Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, or another Azusa Street revival offspring, the likelihood goes up even more. Of course, YMMV.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Though most people seem satisfied with the frequency of messages on giving they receive, I’d like to hear from the people who feel they don’t hear this message enough. Why do you feel that way? What is the financial health of your church?
As for people who hear the message too often, I understand, especially if that message is not as biblical as it should be.
I’m encouraged that people felt that they gave a satisfactory amount. I know that I never feel perfectly comfortable on this issue. I commiserate with Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler near the end of Schindler’s List as he laments his inability to do even more than he had.
A couple in our church had their house burn down this week. That’s about as critical as it gets. A young man who was recently baptized in our church had his house burn down about three months earlier. You hear that kind of need and no dollar amount seems large enough on that check you write.
For the 1 out of 4 of you who share my feeling, what’s going on in your head on this issue? I’d like to know. Thanks in advance for being willing to comment.
Again, the positive or neutral feelings outweighed any negative ones. I think that’s great. For those in the positive column, would anyone be willing to share what approach the leadership of your church employs when talking about giving? I’m sure any pastors reading this who struggle when speaking to their church about giving would like to know how others are communicating that message effectively.
Another positive response. Almost 70 percent of you feel you are giving as much or more than the average person at your church.
I’m not surprised at this, though. I think the people who read Christian blogs are more highly attuned to issues facing the church and are probably a cut above average on income and intelligence. I suspect readership is mostly white collar, and thus higher-earning.
I also know that people come here because they share some of the concerns I raise on this blog, and I talk about financial issues more than most other Godbloggers, so readers are more attuned to that need than average—at least I would guess that would be the case.
I don’t know too many churches north of the Mason-Dixon Line that still publish personal giving numbers for public consumption. I’m aware that a few true fundamentalist churches still make this a practice, but I’ve got to believe in this age of seeker sensitivity that having a church publish the amount a person gives would be akin to being coerced into giving the morning’s message on the spot, and in the buff, too. Not something too many of us would be willing to endure.
That said, most of you have clear consciences.
On the other hand, I feel for the folks who said they didn’t feel like they gave enough. It’s a guilty feeling, though no guilt should ever be associated with giving what one can. The widow had two mites, but she outshone the rest of the temple. When we consider that the outer temple was capable of holding 200,000 people, she did some seriously outshining. Enough for Jesus to notice and praise her. For those who feel they don’t give enough, I pray you can know the Lord’s praise on this issue. Every little bit counts. And if we can’t give money, God knows that some of the best gifts are either free or a big investment in time.
That magical almost-70-percent showed up again here as that number felt their church gave as much or more than most churches. Again, that’s a comforting number.
And yet, when I think of the homeless, the unadopted, and the vast need out there, I have to wonder if we’re really as generous as we say we are.
No doubt, Americans are more generous than most of the world’s people. A few years ago, Americans gave $280,000,000,000 in charitable contributions. That’s close to a thousand dollars for every American. That’s not bad. Of course, it can always be better.
I don’t know how Christians figure into that number. I certainly hope we are more generous than the general public, but the stats on this can be conflicting. Last time I talked about this with some servers, they universally hated the lousy tips they got from church people who visited their restaurants right after church.
I certainly hope we can do better, especially considering the majority answer on that first poll question.
As I promised, this issue of tithing will be a two-part commentary. So come back for the follow-up post as I talk about what I see as the Bible’s standard for giving.
Thank you for all who voted. I’m grateful.
Got your own commentary on these poll results? The comments are open. Fire away!
23 thoughts on “Banking on God: The Tithe, Part 1”
This morning at church, the youth pastor brought a cooler full of food he bought through Angel Food Ministries, sixty dollars worth for thirty dollars. The package included meat…a lot of meat…potatoes, onions, peanut butter, and other foodstuffs; not food bank fare, either, leftover, expired, damaged goods, but quality food. Our church may become a distribution point. No church serves our area of town. I had never heard about it, but I am sold. I already know three families who may benefit.
People buy the food and pick it up themselves. The food is less expensive, though, than what comparable food would cost from the supermarket. There are no income qualifications. At the megachurch where people lined up to get their packages, it took the youth pastor two hours to get his.
This is a great idea as an administrative outreach. If only we could figure out how to do this with gasoline!
Interesting organization and idea.
It has always bugged me, though, when people who are not hurting for money take advantage of charitable organizations such as this one. I never felt right about shopping at Salvation Army stores for that reason. If a bunch of McMansion-dwelling supershoppers descend on a Salvation Army store and buy up all the nice stuff, what’s left for the genuinely poor?
I wonder if that’s an issue for Angel Food Ministries, too.
I keep trying to write a response to your response, Dan. So let me just say: This is probably the reason a ministry like Angel Food did not happen earlier. People think, if you have enough money to buy from supermarkets, then you should buy from supermarkets; and if you do not have enough money to buy a $60 box of food for $30, then no one should be selling boxes of food for $30 and calling it a ministry, because a food ministry is supposed to be for people too poor to pay for the food they are receiving.
Your gripe about McMansion-dwellers cleaning out Salvation Army stores is a good example of this. Genuinely poor people, by definition, do not have much cash to buy much from thrift stores, anyway. Plus proceeds from Salvation Army stores fund programs for the poor. Some people are offended that anyone buys at thrift stores and thinks he does good because part of the proceeds funds programs for the poor. After all, the shoppers would do better if they donated the money and walked out empty-handed.
I actually wrote to Angel Food ministries once, asking specifically: I want to support your ministry – I am not in financial need, but would buying from you be supporting you or taking vital resources from those that need it?
I never got a response. I would still like to know though.
I do not know this for sure, but I think Angel Food buys food from wholesalers and repackages it so average Joes can buy it. In Virginia, I cannot buy food from wholesalers. I pay a markup at the grocery store, price club, or restaurant. The food is there. If it is not bought, it goes to waste. We waste a lot of food in America…food plowed under and tossed out. Businesses, from the farm to the grocery store, cannot give away food on a scale large enough to alleviate the poor’s “food insecurity” in this country without going bankrupt, in my opinion. So this kind of ministry presents a middle ground.
Kroger sells uncured, organically-produced bacon. My family loves that bacon, especially since it’s not loaded full of cancer-causing nitrites.
Today, during the middle of a blizzard here, I had to stop to get medicine at the pharmacy, so I checked out the bacon rack. They had several packs of that bacon about ready to hit its expiration date, so I asked the meat manager if she’d mark it down. She did. She also told me that she thinks I’m the only person who buys it.
Besides being a terrible commentary on the food industry and the programming it feed us (and we believe), the thought that this bacon would be thrown out really made me nuts. What a terrible loss that the good stuff gets pitched while the stuff that’s not healthy for you sells out.
Ironically, The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week about a new breed of food store that is growing like crazy. The concept? Sell food that’s marked down because it’s past the expiration date. I know something about the food industry and a good number of foods just should not be eaten past their expiration dates. What a sad commentary on the state of our economy that these stores are increasing in number exponentially.
I belonged to a very large charismatic church for 18 years and they never once took an offering.. they had donation boxes at the doors. They had a boatload of money because people:
1) Loved the church and felt a part of it.
2) Believed in the church’s mission
3) Sensed the Spirit there on a regular basis.
I think that giving money has little to do with the frequency of appeals for money but has everything to do with the church’s relationship to it’s members.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7 KJV).
Most sermons on giving focus on giving, not on cheerfuless. I think if we focused more on cheerfulness, as Bob’s church might have, there might be more money in the offering plates (or boxes).
The cheerfulness aspect would certainly cut down on the number of people who felt judged, guilty, or angry about the tithing message of the church!
Non-tithers face a Catch-22 when confronted by tithers. Often, non-tithers give more than ten percent. If they admit how much they give, they risk running afoul of “sounding the trumpet” before their alms (Matthew 6:2) and thereby losing their heavenly reward. And if they admit they give over ten percent, then the tithers feel justified at some level that their doctrine is correct, anyway, even if the non-tithers disavow any responsibility to tithe.
I always thought that was kind of funny. 🙂
I attended a large, thriving downtown AoG for a couple years that was pastored by a neighbor. That church always seemed to have money. In fact, the pastor, who was a great guy, never lacked for a Cadillac because one of his congregants simply gave him one free of charge.
Since he retired, though, the church has seen a lot of its fortunes diminish. The neighborhood “changed” and the folks who populated the church either didn’t give as much or they didn’t have much to give.
Ironically, the Presbyterian church I mentioned in the post had the same thing happen to them. They’re barely hanging in there, and most of their big supporters have left.
I think your three points are KEY.
Where peoples hearts lie, their wallets will generally follow!
Excellent series, has given me LOTS to think about. Once again, THANKS
What I found so different about that church was that the bag/basket/bucket didn’t ever appear in my nose. I loved it that they simply trusted the Holy Spirit to lead folks to give and didn’t have to twist arms or pass plates..and the pastor didn’t drive an expensive car.. they were transparent in their finances, gave money to the poor and supported a boatload of missionaries.
Ever been to a church that didn’t pass the plate? I haven’t been to one since.
I’ve recently spent some time trying to reassesses all that scripture has to say about money, tithing, giving, investing, retirement, etc –especially under the new covenant. It’s been an interesting challenge to try to do this with as little presupposition and bias as possible –as I’ve been shaped by culture, experience and various doctrinal perspectives as much as the next guy.
So although I never got the chance to vote, this post was timely and thought provoking. I appreciate the time, effort and thought it must have involved.
Something that caught my eye was your statement “Enough for Jesus to notice and praise her”. Frankly, I’ve been challenged to discern if we can rightly say Jesus was actually praising this action so much as making a continued observation that flowed with (and from) the larger context at hand? While I have no doubt as to the difference between giving from ones excess versus ones genuine lack –or merely out of a real degree of sacrifice, however minimal the sacrifice may be, for that matter– I’m no longer sure we can make as compelling a case (for this virtue) from this particular verse as some tend to believe. I’m sure others would beg to differ.
In any case, terrific blog and looking forward to see how the poll commentary shapes up.
A few polls are open until 6 PM on the 5th, so you can still vote on those two.
Yes, cultural conditioning may influence us more than the Scriptures do.
I think that the Bible cites all strong personal sacrifices for the Kingdom as faithful and worthy of praise. At least that’s my position.
I know you will agree with what I am going to say, well, I think I know.
When all the tithes are added up, two every year and three the third year. The Old Covenant believer gave an average of 23% of their substance every year. This does not include their responsibilities to the poor, or their offerings for sin. Another question I have is I wonder how many American Christians would lower their giving if the government did not allow them to write it off their taxes?
The tax implication is huge. I know that I think about that, too.
Hello,, there is no command to tithe anything. The covenant that God had with Israel (The Law) is not binding to the Body of Christ. Tithing had nothing to do with money. It was food items that were tithed. Scriptures have been taken out of context and in many cases intentionally.
Now those that are bent on lying are now using a spiritual testing ground theology to deceive. This testing ground is a feel good doctrine implying that those who tithe money are showing faith. They are not having a problem with money.
10% food and 20% fruits Roman spoils of war taxes
10% Herod’s taxes minimum 1 Samual 8
10% first tithe to Levites Num 18:21-24/25-28; Lev 27:30-34
10% 2nd tithe for annual festivals Deuteronomy; Deu 12; 14:23
3.3% / 10% poor tithe every third year; Deu 14:28,29; 26:12, 13
Total 43.3 to 53.3 %
annual poll tax for temple upkeep
money to use roads
monety to cross bridges
money for sacrifices and vows
money for local politicians
bribes to soldiers
And we think we have it bad.
Dan’s comment: “I think that the Bible cites all strong personal sacrifices for the Kingdom as faithful and worthy of praise. At least that’s my position.”
This is where I’d like to have a biblical scholor, or at least someone more knowledgeable than me weigh in. Jesus said it straight when he said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” But there is a lot of talk in the bible about sacrifice.
I think that Jesus means sacrifices like those of the old sacrificial system.
People still make sacrifices to the Lord. Consider the widow who put in her two cents—all she had. Consider Jesus’s comment on no one having greater love than the one who lays down his life for a friend. Consider how we are to give our cloaks if someone asks it of us. Consider the entire idea of dying to the world and to self. These are all the kinds of sacrifices that the Lord approves of.