If there is one taboo topic, one elephant in the room in the church, it’s the Tithe. High on the list of topics which can evoke strong feelings. As Christ followers there are of course other topics which get our blood pressure up but they come and go with the seasons. Subjects which easily get us vocal might be women priests, homosexuality or moving the church service forward by an hour. All these can spark debate and flush our cheeks. But the Tithe? That might raise our blood pressure a bit, yet on this topic we will remain silent.
As I’ve been thinking about this post, there have been two trains of thought battling for attention. Each has vied for the title of this post. One is:
Church leaders who do their job well deserve to be paid twice as much, especially if they work hard at preaching and teaching. It is just as the Scriptures say, “Don’t muzzle an ox when you are using it to grind grain.” You also know the saying, “Workers are worth their pay.”
1 Tim 5:17-18
After last supper Jesus said these words,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
I’ll ‘fess up. Some translations talk about receiving double the honour, not double the salary. Honour and salary are not the same thing, but for where I am heading with this post, both translations fit equally well.
In the Old Testament, this tithing thing is mentioned off and on, enough that we get the picture that giving 10% of our income to church is what God wants. The New testament doesn’t really talk much about tithing, other than to mention briefly setting aside part of the weekly income in advance of a collection. I suppose it was assumed that the principle of tithing was so ingrained in the community that nothing more needed to be said.
My understanding of tithing, is that the nation of Israel was told by God to bring 10% of the crops, livestock and general wealth to the temple. As far as I can get my head around it, the tithe as described in the Old Testament was partly to support the work of the priests, the maintenance of the temple and to make sure that there is extra food available. This makes sense to me. If the priests are working full time in the temple, then them and their families will need looking after. The temple will need looking after and there should be extra food in the temple for, I guess, the poor.
Some though, might argue that since we are with Christ, the rules of the “old covenant” no longer apply. I’m not going to waste my finger-tips arguing the toss, but rather invoke the second quote, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”.
Do we, do I, show love and a double portion of honour to those working hard at preaching and teaching. Am I able to show love and concern for the church workers, the pastors and lay workers, by contributing to their salaries? Am I able to show love and support to the local church community by contributing financially?
In recent times our little group of Christ followers has seen a mismatch in the financial support and the financial requirements needed to keep the the place running. The first things to get hit is the pay for the staff. According to the church book keeping, this is the only real area which can be cut back on. This doesn’t look like love.
Imagine a church with running costs per month of about 20,000€ per month. Let’s also imagine there are 200 active families. The math is easy.
20,000 / 200 = 100€ per month.
25€ per week. About the same as one bag of shopping. About.
In the past, my family was able to tithe joyfully (yay, go us!!), and then prayerfully and finally sacrificially. And then there came a point where we couldn’t. The most difficult parts of the bible to deal with regarding tithing and giving, are those that talk about “God loving a cheerful giver”, and Malachi 3:10, where God says:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
“Test me on this”. This is not about us putting God to the test, rather God is putting himself, not tithing under scrutiny. In this verse he is saying that He is our provider. That He will provide everything we need. The toughest challenge I faced is when we didn’t have enough and it looked like this word from God wasn’t holding true. Since through all this, I still believe God is true and trustworthy, the only thing I can think is that it is my understanding of God’s blessings which is out of place.
Until very recently, with only one of us earning a regular wage, giving 10% of our income – either pre-tax, post-tax, taking income support into consideration, or not – whatever – just drove us further into debt. I just cannot accept a legalistic viewpoint of charitable giving which drives someone into debt. We consoled ourselves that we would “tithe our time and talents” instead. That was all we had left with which we could support our local church.
My family is only now just coming out of that time when we needed help ourselves to buy that extra bag of shopping. Maybe if I could go back in time, I could figure out a way to scrape something together. I don’t know. It’s something that bothers me a lot. But at the same time, I just couldn’t see how to make it happen. The numbers just didn’t work. There will be many other Christ followers in just the same boat that we were in. Struggling to making ends meet, fighting to keep their head above water. Trying to find that “extra bag of shopping” feels impossible, so .. so this post isn’t for you, and may God bless you and provide for you.
This post is for me. Now.
Both Mother Duck and myself now have jobs. Debt too, but we have jobs and at least now we can put aside something each week. At least the cost of a bag of shopping.
So, what I am I saying?
I guess it’s this. We’ve been in that place where tithing just didn’t seem possible and now we are in a place where it does feel possible. Some of you reading this might also be in a place where tithing just doesn’t seem possible, and that is okay by me. I don’t want to give you any more pressure than you might already feel.
Some of you might be in a place where giving is possible, and you do, and this is just fine.
Some readers might be in the middle. They might be in a place they are not sure if they can or can’t. For this third group, I’d like to really, really, gently ask you to join me, and see if it is possible to weekly put aside the cost of a bag of shopping and offer it to your local church, where ever that might be.