I want to lay out some thoughts about the idea of tithing in modern-day christianity. I will be assuming many biblical truths that inform my writing, but I won’t explicitly mention them. For more thoughtful and detailed information look through these resources:
There are more, of course, but I think those are pretty encompassing and a good place to start.
Honestly, I don’t think there are very many people that have an issue solely with tithing aka regular giving to the local church. These problems are always rooted somewhere else, and we end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We either have a problem with church in general, organized religion, any governing authority, or we need justification for our own spending habits.
Are we commanded to tithe as Christians? NO
Are we commanded to serve the local church? YES
I think this is where we start. And so I want to give you a little illustration to ponder:
Let’s say there is a family that decides to start a babysitting co-op. A few families join the group. They start organizing schedules and host homes for babysitting on a rotation so that a few sets of spouses can have date nights while some others watch all the kids. Eventually they have enough kids being watched that the group decides to purchase a set of bases, gloves, balls, bats, helmets, and reversible jerseys so the kids can play baseball to pass the time, and they rent out fields to play on. The parents in the group split the cost.
Time goes by, families are added, and they keep having date nights. One set of parents offers to do all of the organizing and scheduling for the co-op. They also realize that the burden of food costs and preparation is a lot more than it used to be – as well as the water they use, the cleaning supplies they have to have for afterward, and other hidden costs involved in being the host home. The group decides to set up a fund to keep money in for all of these expenses. And they agree to give some money to that couple who organizes the schedule as payment for their service to the group.
Time passes, more families are added. Scheduling becomes more time-consuming and complex with multiple host homes and preferences from parents on food and drinks. Some of the families aren’t giving to the fund. The scheduling couple gets stressed because people drop out or forget their dates and they have to take on those hostings themselves, and also there wasn’t enough money in the fund last week to purchase all the food and pay themselves. So they make an announcement to everyone that they need to get their money in so that they can purchase the things they need for next week. Here were some responses:
- “We don’t have any rules about how much we’re supposed to give.”
- “I have been a host home for 9 months – I should get credit for that service.”
- “We only have one kid who is older and doesn’t really need babysitting.”
- “We’re leaving the co-op. We’ll just bring our kids with us on date night.”
- “Our date nights are already expensive without paying for the babysitting.”
- “The babysitter doesn’t even get the money. It all goes to administration and toys and food. We’ll just give straight to the babysitter.”
- “This has moved from intimate friendships to feeling like a business.”
Overall, when everyone is actively involved, the babysitting happens and the date nights are great and everyone benefits even though some parts can get messy.
Hopefully the illustration is clear. The babysitting co-op is for the benefit and growth of the couples’ relationships. It was great and more people wanted in. Naturally, they had to devote more time to administration to keep the group going. Also, things cost money. Some people received the benefit without giving to the fund – This was ok as long as enough people gave.
Now look at the church. Tithing isn’t explicitly commanded for Christians in the bible – but giving to your local body is necessary to keep it running. A church is a family, but a large family is going to look a lot like an organization if it is going to function in a healthy way. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a house-church movement, or an established denominational church – organization, planning, budgeting, and logistics have to happen. And someone has to take on leadership roles.
Let me ask you some questions:
Do you enjoy being able to express your worship to God through corporate singing?
Are you blessed by the work your preacher/pastor does in studying the Word for the sermon?
Are you glad to have a place to sit while you listen?
Do you notice your comfort from the AC in the summer and the warmth of the heater in the winter?
Are you glad there was running water when you used the bathroom? And toilet paper?
Does it help you that amplified speakers and lights let you hear and see during your Sunday worship gathering?
All these questions are only regarding Sundays at a typical worship gathering. And of course, other things are always going on behind the scenes, and on other days. Some of us have this mentality that our money needs to go to the most effective/purposeful thing. We may read that XX% of our money goes to admin/personnel at our church and we are outraged! What about missions?! What about charity?! But perhaps that $200 you gave did only pay for a portion of the rent of that school building for your church’s use on Sundays. Is that bad? Or maybe your $50 bought toilet paper, and a printer cartridge. This other person’s money paid the internet bill. We all benefit from our church family functioning because of all these mundane things. God calls us to obedience. Obedience glorifies God. God does the impossible. Perhaps your money paid for a light bulb. Your pastor used the light from that bulb to write his sermon. A visitor heard that sermon and now belongs to Jesus. God uses the mundane – don’t limit Him to thinking your money has to go to something flashy.
Yes, people are sinful.
Yes, “churches” take advantage of people and “pastors” get rich.
Yes, the prosperity gospel is destructive and a false-gospel.
The fix isn’t to quit regular giving (tithing). The fix is to invest in a gospel-centered, bible-preaching local church. It is ok that your “tithe” paid for toilet paper, and the pastor’s salary, and an AC bill, and windex. You pay for a lot of those things at your own home. They aren’t a waste of money – they’re necessary for the life of a family! Your church is a family.
What we need is a paradigm shift to happen in our minds. We, as people, are the church. We have grown since the days of Acts. Our cities are bigger. In order to meet together regularly with believers as the bible instructs us, we’ve decided to organize into distinct bodies with teaching and worship styles that we see as the best fit (this is ok! as long as it doesn’t become idolatry). This translates to church buildings or rental space. A lot happens because of volunteers. But some ministry translates to a full time vocation – Shepherding a Church as an Elder/Pastor is the obvious one. Sometimes the Youth-aged kids need this, or the children. When the church is taking in money to pay for bills and staff this can mean a book-keeper/secretary is paid. And the list goes on. Churches grow! (by the grace of God) And they should multiply, too, eventually, but internal growth happens and you have to do something about it. This means organizational and logistical decisions. These are great problems for a church to have! But someone has to lead these things. And bills have to be paid for it to continue. Long story short – the purpose of your regular giving is to keep the local church functioning. That’s it! If a portion of this goes to missionaries, charities, evangelizing efforts, etc. then that’s great!
This has gotten long so I want to address one final thing – the questions that I skipped over up there:
What about missions?! What about charity?!
The church should be giving to these things. YOU ARE THE CHURCH. So give to those things, but don’t neglect your giving to the local church body that you are a part of to do it.
Give to your local church family.
Give to missionaries.
Give to charities.
Give to the homeless.
Give big tips.
The generosity of the Church isn’t defined by what the books say our Church Home gave to.
The generosity of the Church is defined by what we give on a daily basis that only God sees.