"The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). That is as true in our churches as anywhere else. But there is no way to do without money. The problem, as Jesus explained, is that you cannot love and serve both God and mammon (wealth) at the same time (Matthew 6:24).
If three or four friends gather week by week in one of their homes, money was needed to buy or rent that home. And once you order hymn books, print Bibles, hire a janitor, pay a full time pastor, put the good news on the radio, or send out missionaries, financial problems arise. And wherever money is involved some will be tempted to misuse it. This happened with Judas who kept the bag for Jesus's band of disciples.
Is there a way to give and spend money in a church congregation without getting people frustrated? Sensible people accept the fact that money is needed for necessary expenses. What bothers us is when we are hassled every Sunday to give for mounting expenses. Even worse is facing a huge deficit, and being made to feel guilty if we do not meet it. Nor do we appreciate others evaluating our income, and then telling us how to invest our giving.
It is even worse when our denomination thinks up a budget for work on a wider scale, and then lays on a financial campaign for us to meet their target. We know that anyone can think up ways to spend other people's money. And ordinary church members have a right to say "We don't need this." But we suddenly find that high pressure fund raisers have come in to tap those who can give two or three hundred thousand dollars. Then these initial gifts are used to make us feel guilty for giving less. The net result is that the target set by the fund raisers is met, they get a large slice of it, and the sour taste remains. Not much is said on this touchy subject, but a continually increasing number of church members make sure they are never subjected to this again. Frustration with how money is collected, used, and misapplied, is a major reason that is given for quitting. "I have enough pressure in my life without taking on the load of constant financial worries in the church."
All this unpleasantness can be avoided by learning to tithe our income. The method is very simple, and without exception it is very rewarding for those who order their giving in this way. How does it work?
You keep track of your after tax income on a weekly (1 Corinthians 16:2), monthly, or yearly basis. Then you set aside ten per cent of this to give away. Just the fact of doing this simple bit of accounting is often the catalyst needed for putting one's chaotic finances in order. You might decide to give say half of this amount, or five percent, for the expenses of your own congregation. The other half might go to a mission group or charity that you know personally and believe are doing a god job.
There is no need to tell anybody how you do this. It is nobody else's business. Admittedly you need a valid receipt for income tax purposes, but that can be done by envelopes with an assigned number and total confidentiality about the annual amount. And if the minister or anyone else comments on what you are giving, you could quietly explain that you would prefer that to be a private matter between you and God.
Spreading our giving among all the organizations that beg for money is very wasteful, and does much more harm than good. A donation of less than $10 is used up just in processing the entry. And you are then showered with further glossy paper demands every month. The best way to stop this waste is to send the envelopes back unopened. By focusing on your own congregation and say two other agencies that you have known over a long period of time, you encourage work that is well done, and you can terminate your giving if the money is misused. In this way it is the responsible givers who control the direction of the church's work.
Those who tithe responsibly have the satisfaction of forwarding the work that is done most effectively. And nobody who tithes their income has ever become poor by doing so. Many report that they are much better off than when they were niggly with their giving. They discover that God is no one's debtor. As Paul said, "My God will fully supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Once a proportion of a congregation have learned to enjoy the pleasures of responsible tithing, the whole situation changes. We don't have to dishonor the Lord by constantly begging for money. It is easy to see that if even a quarter of a congregation began to tithe, the amount generated would be huge. There is no longer a need to draw on the time and energy of the members for fund raising events that yield trifling amounts of money.
And the flavor of our social activities can be changed to encouraging love and joy and community without money being the main object of the exercise. Meanwhile there is soon more income than the congregation requires for its own needs. They can become outward looking without the treasurer constantly having to say "We can't afford this." There is nothing more vitalizing for a congregation than being involved in the world-wide mission of the church. But it is important to keep this as personal as possible.
The denominational headquarters will usually want all such money coming to the central office to distribute as they choose. It is far better to begin with the support of any who go out in mission from one's own congregation. If we can meet our own representatives personally when they come back on furlough, that is a happy way of making sure that both our money and our prayer goes to support them.
We suggested that half of a person's tithe might go to a mission organization or other charity that he or she thinks is doing an important job. That enables the various interdenominational organizations to be financed by those who give directly to them. But people who understand accounts should check the proportion of donated money that never reaches its intended destination. Too often the expense accounts of large aid agencies can include overheads such as huge offices, first class air travel and hotel expenses, wining and dining in the best restaurants, air conditioned vehicles, and money paid out to the greedy rather than to the poor.
Ultimately it is Christian churches in each place that the Lord uses to change the corrupt and immoral situations that cause artificial famines, race and class distinctions, children to be abused and abandoned, and all manner of social evils. This is why missions that engage in church planting and nurturing are a good investment that should not be squeezed out by heart rending appeals for immediate needs. .
One of the results of people beginning to tithe their income, and investing it in the world-wide mission of the church, is that the earthly control of the work is back firmly in the hands of those who give and pray. That is exciting, very creative and removes a lot of frustration.
If tithing solves so many problems, why is it so rare in our mainline denominations? One reason is that preachers are afraid that suggesting a tithe might smack of legalism. More serious is the fact that many leaders could not preach tithing without doing it themselves. One minister said "I have no intention of giving anything till they pay me properly." Tithing is also resisted by those who have always given a dollar or two a week. A cruel answer would be to remind them that if God set our income at ten times what we give, many Christians would be very poor indeed.
If we decide to move in the direction of encouraging tithing, how do we do this? The ground can be prepared by explaining the benefits of this method in every committee meeting where finance is discussed. People should be asked to come and ask questions as to how this would work out in practice.
Then twice a year the pastor can preach about the benefits of tithing and investing one's resources in the work of the Lord. It should not be in the context of a fund raising effort, but rather as an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord.
It is also good to have qualified persons explain that by responsible investment in God's work say forty percent of our giving comes back to us as an income tax refund. That can be invested in family needs such as sending children to camps, or helping out a relative in special need. But whatever we do tithing must be presented, not as a grim duty, but as a joyful way of giving. And it has huge rewards both in the church and in our personal lives (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, see Malachi 3:10).
We might venture a guess that very few would quit church going if they had the satisfaction of giving generously and seeing their giving being used in the creative ways. The parable of the talents suggests that investing in God's work has its own reward. But burying what we have been given to invest is a quick way to be excluded from effective service. (Matthew 25:14-28. Here the outer darkness is not eternal damnation, but it is certainly a way of being left out of the work of the Kingdom).
Chapter 12 .....