If you ever wondered how to make an entire congregation get on the edge of their seats and be quiet enough to hear a pin drop, then talk about one of two things: sex or money. Simply by uttering one of those words from the pulpit people cringe, listen, wake up, and engage. Everyone wants to hear (or doesn’t want to hear) what the Church thinks about those topics.
Today’s question deals with the latter of the two attention grabbers. Finances are something many struggle with, especially in the USA. According to a blog on credit.com the average American dies with a whopping $62,000 in debt. Sixty-Two-Thousand Dollars. That’s a lot of cheddar!
The average American dies with $62,000 in debt.
With that kind of debt picture for the average American, the questions posed for this post are really important! The questions are: – Where did the tithe come from? – Is tithing 10% a Christian work?
I would like to add that I think there’s another question beneath these questions. I think the root of this question is actually: Should I tithe 10% of my income to the church? What follows is a brief response.
Origins of the Tithe
Tithing 10% is certainly a “work” in the sense of it is something we do. However, 10% is not a make-it or break-it “law” for Christians to abide and uphold for salvation. Rather the tithe is a standard that comes primarily from what we read in the Old Testament in ancient Judaism. The Israelites would give 10% of their income, crops, livestock, etc., to the Levitical Priests. This tithe provided for the livelihood of the priests (i.e. food), as sacrifices to God to fulfill the Law, and as a means to support the poor, widow, and foreigners in the community.
In some ways the tithe is used in a parallel way in today’s church. The tithe ideally goes to support the professional church workers including the pastor/priest, to carry on the acts of communal worship, and to help care for the poor and marginalized of the community. There are other expenses that occur in modern American congregations such as building debt, loans, office supplies, electricity, etc. But I would hope that the primary use of donations in most churches is to support the same kind of things the Israelites supported in the Old Testament.
What if we allowed our gifts to be the first thing on our budget instead of an afterthought?
I would like to be clear about the tithe: it does not affect your salvation. Nothing but faith in Christ and Christ’s faithfulness impact that! The giving of 10% is a base-line we use in many churches, carrying over the tithe of ancient Israel. The tithe is supposed to be the “first-fruits” of our resources, but we often treat giving like leftovers – whatever is left after dinner and 3 days in the fridge we will give.
Should I Tithe?
Some people give more than 10%. Most give far less than 10%. But I find that 10% of our income is both a) achievable and b) rewarding. Is it mandatory? No. Will tithing lead to some form of sacrifice? Probably. Is it going to take some work and careful budgeting to happen? Yes. Will it be worth it? When we see people place their trust in Christ for the first time, when we see people’s lives transformed by the love of a community, when we see the chains of addiction break because of the work of the Church, I think it is absolutely worth it.
In his book “The Hole in Our Gospel,” the CEO of World Vision Richard Stearns reports that the average gift from American Christians to the church is in the ballpark of 2.5%. Could you imagine the possibilities of a church where the members increased their giving to 10%? The church’s budget would quadruple!
A church with a budget of $100,000 that shifted to 10% tithing would increase to $400,000. If the church gave half of the amount increased in the budget to missions, the church could operate at a $250,000 budget (2.5 times its former budget) while giving $150,000 away each year to mission. Now imagine what that would look like in your church. Crunch the numbers and I’ll bet you would be amazed.
Could you imagine how many lives could be saved from preventable diseases? From cold nights on the street? From famine? Could you imagine how many hungry children could be fed, educated, and blessed? Could you imagine how great the name of Jesus would be around the world if a bunch of Christians gave self-sacrificially to spread the gospel through clean drinking water, vaccines, food, and truly caring for one another?
The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I guess today you get some bonus information, but you see what I think the future could hold if individual Christians and churches were faithful to with their money. The 10% tithe is not a requirement, but the tithe, when handled properly by churches and the community of faith, will transform the world.
I hope you will consider how your gifts can transform this world. Talk with your churches, pastors, finance teams, friends, and fellow Christians. The possibilities are endless when we join together. May we be a blessing to all nations, not only to ourselves!
You can read a review of “The Holy in Our Gospel” here.