Before I . . .

I’ve experienced some interesting circumstances over the years concerning charitable giving. Whether it’s a blog post, article in a publication, website, personal testimony or argument at small group—people generally express strong opinions about giving to the local church. Beyond that, you can learn a lot from years of observation. In fact, I’ve organized some groupings that describe the habits of giving in the local church. The first group is “should I . . .” They see little need in financially supporting the local church. Even the discussion of giving makes them angry. Closely related is the group “maybe I . . .” They don’t make any plans to give and when they attend a worship service they may throw in some cash. There are others who see fit to give “after I . . .” Meaning they give after they’ve done everything else. You might say they give out of the leftovers. There is still another group that would be best described as “when I . . .” They may give, even generously at times, when and if they are in attendance. And rounding out the field is the group described as “before I . . .” This group distinctively gives before they spend their first dime on anything else. So, what is it?  Is it “should I . . .?” Is it “maybe I . . .?” Is it “when I . . .?” Is it “after I . . .?”  Is it “before I . . .?”

These diverse habits of giving only begin to describe the issues surrounding finances in the local church. For instance, to make matters worse, there is also the ongoing debate–to tithe or not to tithe? Some see the tithe as strictly Old Testament and no longer a requirement. Others see the tithe as just as relevant today as it was when Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek even before Moses recorded the Levitical law. I wish that was the end of the discussion on tithing but there is more. There are some who even debate whether or not you tithe from the gross or net of your income.  Is it “before I” pay my taxes or “after I” pay my taxes?  Okay, do you feel like we’ve “strained for a gnat and swallowed a camel” (Matthew 23:34)? Is your head spinning yet? Well, it gets worse. The issue itself is bad enough but the reality is devastating to the local church.

In a survey given by the giving research firm empty tomb inc., they found that members of churches belonging to the National Association of Evangelicals gave, on average, 3.7 percent of their income. Contrastingly, church members within denominations belonging to the National Council of Churches gave only 2.6 percent. At this point, I think it’s reasonable to ask, what does it take to operate a church? Will 2.6 percent or 3.7 percent sustain a healthy mission-focused church long-term?

Let’s do some math to answer this question. If a church had 100 members representing 65 families with an average annual income of $50,000, the level of giving based on 2.6 percent would be an annual total income for the church of $84,000. In comparison, the level of giving based on 3.7 percent of income is $120,250. So, the answer is “no” in the vast majority of churches in North America. It would be right to say these churches would be forced into minimal operation or even care-taker mode.

At this point, I have to ask, shouldn’t we care about the financial needs of the local church to carry out its mission and ministry? Furthermore, does our attitude about giving reflect a sense of entitlement and selfishness or generosity and partnership? For arguments sake, even if you’re in the group that is convinced that tithing is no longer required, can anyone honestly read the New Testament and conclude that less be given? First, what does the Bible say about our attitude toward giving?  2 CO 9:7 “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Second, what does the Bible say about the return on investing generously through giving?  2 CO 9:6 “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Third, is there ever a laudable example of giving less than a tithe in the New Testament? No. If you still need convincing, the stories about the poor widow (Mark 12:42-44) and the Macedonians (2 CO 8:1-4) should clear this up. Fourth, are there any praiseworthy examples of stingy giving in the New Testament? No. Fifth, are there any commendable examples of giving out of our leftovers in the New Testament? No.

Okay, now we need to settle the identity of the owner of our money and resources. So then, are you the owner? Well, no, you’re not. This will help clarify the matter.  PS 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” If we aren’t owners than what are we? We are stewards. Yes, you manage God’s money as wise stewards. We were given the responsibility for God’s creation from the beginning.

Beyond settling the issue of ownership, there is the matter of the heart. MT 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The deeper question, you see, is this: Who has priority in our lives? Is Christ really first—or do we put ourselves and our own desires first? Make sure Christ is first. When Christ is first place, his bride, the church, will be well provided for. After all, if He is truly first place, our giving will be generous and “before I . . .”

A Work in Progress,
Pastor Gene