At our recent district ministers' meeting, we had the pleasure of talking about finances, direct billing, insurance, pensions, and of course, our 10 percent tithe to the conference. Even under this simpler apportionment system, we still seem to ask the question, "Ten percent of what?"
In my simple mind, I understood it to mean that we are to give 10 percent of all church income except for designated giving. So if a gift is designated for the building fund, we get to keep it all -- or if a gift is designated for the youth fund because our church never budgets enough for them, then we get to keep it all.
I guess it's obvious, anyway, that we want to keep it all for ourselves. I guess that's the reasoning behind why less than 20 percent of American Christians tithe. I wonder if the average layperson finds reasons not to tithe because he or she is following the example of our church leaders, who find reasons not to tithe for their apportionment.
May I offer a few thoughts?
1. Read the book of Malachi. Do a Bible Study on it. Preach and teach it. Understand the message, because this book has been adulterated by "Prosperity Gospel" interpretations. It is not about individual giving just so you can win the "God Lottery" and become rich. Malachi addresses the community of Israel. In 3:9, God says the "whole nation has been cheating me." He goes on to say that if they will bring the tithes to the storehouse, there will be plenty for everybody. Imagine, nobody in the nation goes hungry, or gets left out in the cold, or has to worry about health care! All we have to do is bring the tithes to the storehouse.
Let me also refer you to Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, and his book, "The Hole in Our Gospel." He asks a simple question: What does God expect of us? "God asks us for everything," Stearns says. "He requires a total life commitment from those who would be His followers. In fact, Christ calls us to be His partners in changing our world, just as He called the Twelve to change their world two thousand years ago."
The book of James tells us that our faith must change how we live and how we respond to the needs of others or else our faith is "dead." In our district meeting, Holston Treasurer John Tate said something to the effect that if we receive $4 million dollars, we will do $4 million worth of ministry. If we receive $15 million, then we will do $15 million in ministry.
2. Define ministry. Maybe we need to appoint a committee to define ministry. NOT! Maybe we need to read Isaiah 58 and Micah 6:8 and Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 4:14-21 and Mark 10:21and Matthew 25. Jim Wallis and his friends went through all 66 books of the Bible and found almost 2,000 verses in Scripture that deal with poverty and justice. They actually cut all of these verses out of a Bible -- which left the remaining Bible text in shambles.
What is happening on Sunday morning in your community while you sit safe in a church pew surrounded by friends? Is there violence of any kind? Suffering, hunger, prejudice, drunkenness, meth cooking, or human trafficking? Remember, Jesus and John Wesley told us that "the world is our community."
I know I started out on tithing, and honestly, I want to go a lot further. I would love to ask why we spend thousands and millions of dollars on buildings -- buildings we call the "church" -- when those thousands and millions spent in our conference alone could alleviate hunger and thirst in Sudan, if not more. I would love to criticize conference spending, but I know my own spending seldom lines up with what would best glorify God (especially in the month after Christmas).
3. Ask yourself, "Is God really my everything?" Am I really, really committed to being a follower of Jesus Christ? If I am, what does that mean? Is this just about visiting a building we have come to call the church, or saying a blessing before the meal, or maybe even avoiding those really bad sins? Ask yourself what Stearns asks: What does God really expect of me? Do you want to get your life out of the shambles?
What if we started with this: "Bring all the tithes to the storehouse so there will be enough food in My Temple. If you do, says the Lord of Heavens Armies, I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!" (New Living Translation)
Can you imagine a world without hunger just because Christians tithed? God did!
The Rev. Kidwell is pastor of Forrest Avenue homeless ministries in Chattanooga District.
- "Forrest Avenue closes, searches for new home" (The Call, July 20, 2010)
- "Just give 10 percent: Five questions about the apportionment," (The Call, June 9, 2010)
- "Hungry in Chattanooga" (The Call, Feb. 2008 PDF)