In the church tithing is a word kind of like “cancer”, it’s best whispered only in appropriate company. At least that’s the opinion of many folks I talk stewardship with but I think this is wholly inaccurate. I hear the word used lots of times, usually in a sentence like “would the ushers come forward to receive our tithes and our offerings.”
Tithing, of course, is the spiritual discipline of giving 10% of income to the church. Net income or gross income? United Methodists average 1% at this point, so if you’re to the point where you’re debating net or gross, I’ll just get out of your way and let you make that decision on your own.
Many of us in The United Methodist Church are a little squeamish about talking or teaching tithing. We don’t want to be that church that “always talks about money” or scares people away with unrealistic expectations. Instead of teaching the widow’s mite, we are willing to accept the millionaire’s mite.
As you consider your stewardship campaign this fall, I would encourage tithing to be part of the message
- We need to teach tithing. Do your members even know what it is? I learned to give to the church when I was a kid. It was understood that some of my allowance was to go to the church. But how many of your new members were not raised in a church? Do they know what a tithe is? Do they have a scriptural basis or is it like going to Playhouse Square and just reading in the program that a lot of people give a whole lot more than I do?
- We need to understand that tithing isn’t for everyone. I believe that tithing and super tithing (giving more than 10%) is perhaps the most significant indication of spiritual maturity. So should we really expect a new seeker to buy into the idea? Probably not. But who in your congregation are you discipling? Who has grown spiritually, perhaps through an Emmaus Walk, a significant event in their lives, or their own study and prayer? Tithing should be taught and encouraged as they reorder all of their priorities to align with God’s call upon their lives their household budget should see that same impact.
- Tithing is often a process. Several years ago my wife and I realized that our giving to the church did not reflect our priorities. Shifting to a full tithe seemed impossible, so we began to take a bite. I think that year we were giving 3% to the church. We committed to growing to 4% the next year, then 5% the following year and so on. This gives your members to get comfortable with the idea and spend those few years cleaning the financial weeds out of their lives. Speaking of those weeds…
- Lifestyles get in the way of tithing. No matter where our hearts may be, our treasure may be committed elsewhere. It’s really hard to tithe to both God and the MasterCard. So teach about contentment and Enough. Teach priorities. Teach against the consumerism that we see every day. Get your people to Financial Peace University. If you hear families talk of this struggle, get them together into a small group to learn as well as support each other in the process. Adam Hamilton’s contentment prayer is a great tool:
Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don’t need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity. Amen.
Next week we’ll cover the message you should be sending to your tithers (and others) this fall, and all year.
PS, Hamilton’s contentment prayer is part of his book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.