DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

November 30, 2007

                                                           

                                      

Until You Notice It

Recently the Wall Street Journal carried an article about church “tithing.” The article had the title, “The Backlash Against Tithing.” Being a church pastor, I naturally read the article but must admit I couldn’t relate to most of what was said.

Tithing has to do with giving 10% of one’s income to the church for the work of the local church. I’ve had people ask me over the years if that was 10% of pre or post tax income. I figure is someone is that close to tithing, I’ll give them a break and say it means post tax income. But, I am not certain and besides, I wasn’t even aware that there was a backlash against tithing, probably because I have never been a part of a strict-tithing church.

But I find that most people use the term “tithe” as a synonym for “giving any money to the church.” I hear people say, “I tithe my $25 dollars every week.” That can mean two things. Either they make $250 per week or they make a lot more or a lot less and give $25 per week. A “tithe” is just what they give.

I have yet to be in a church that requires a strict tithe and I have never asked for a strict tithe. (I can hear the Stewardship Committee putting forth a collective gasp at the moment, and wondering if some actual tithers will now cut back since the minister said this. But, I don’t think so. People give what they give because they believe in the work being done, not because they can get a break and give less since the minister has never pressured for a strict tithe.)  But what I found most interesting in the WSJ article was that it was written about Christian Churches and the backlash against tithing as if ALL Christian churches were experiencing this dilemma.

I suppose that is the easiest way to deal with anything…write as if every one is in the same boat. If one lawyer swindles a client, then we blame all lawyers for wrong doings. If one baseball player has bulked up on steroids, then all of baseball is now suspect. If only certain churches and denominations are experiencing a backlash on tithing, then all churches must be experiencing a backlash.

It is not so. The article does give some useful information about the roots of tithing “in the Biblical tale of Abraham presenting a tenth of the war spoils to Melchizedek, the king of Salem. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jews brought 10% of their harvest a storehouse as a welfare plan for the needy or in case of famine.” And I will agree with Terry Parsons, stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church who says, “It’s the best financial discipline I know.”

But the reality of church giving is that most give 1.7% - 2% of their income. We would probably increase our budget by 50% if everyone gave 3% of their budget. Is that pre or post tax? I have no idea. And I believe that people will give when they see the need and trust in what they are giving to.

 

Some of the reasons for this backlash, according to the article have to do with theology that our church and I, as a minister have never been a part of; like using guilt to encourage tithing and theologizing that God gives back in proportion to that which we give. Give more…you have less cause to fear bad things happening to you. Give less and watch out.

I have yet to be convinced that guilt is a good tool for increasing the budget and my understanding of theology is not that God is like a 401(k) investment…i.e. the more you put in, the more you get out of it. I never have understood the notion that we are rewarded financially in proportion to our financial giving to our church.

I do believe that if we have material wealth, then we do have an obligation to give more in return. Our giving is giving out of abundance and not out of guilt; not out of expecting a reward for that which is given. We give because we believe in the church and what it is doing for the community. We give because it is the right thing to do, not because of guilt or further reward.

My favorite definition of church giving, which has pretty much been my giving-mantra over the years is…”you give until you notice it.” There is big difference from that and the idea that “you give until it hurts” or “you give with the expectation of being rewarded.”

I remember some years ago ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas time (and I should state clearly, the Salvation Army does good work in our society.) But I was with a club that was ringing the bell that day in front of the local mall. People would hear the bell, it was cold and Christmas time, they would reach for change in their pocket or take out a bill for a donation. But, one fellow stopped in front of the kettle. Reached for his wallet and thumbed through it for a bill, but then he looked up at us and said, “I don’t have anything small enough.” And walked away.

I had to applaud the man for being so honest (and for having no sense of irony about what he had just said.) The other bell ringer with me that day looked at the man walking away and then said to me…”It just warms your heart, doesn’t it?” The man had no vision about what he had been given in this life and what he, himself could give in return.

It’s a delicate balancing act for the church. Every church I have been a part of conducts a Stewardship Campaign; it is the only way to ensure that programming and utilities and personnel are maintained. Likewise every church I have been a part of does follow up for members to get an accurate picture of future giving. I think that is the mark of a responsible church leadership. And every church has asked its members to consider what they think is important about their church and how they can ensure those things to be a part of their church’s ministries. It is done by giving…and giving “until you notice it.” Giving out of abundance, not fear.

But a “backlash against tithing” in all Christian churches? I just don’t see it. Most churches are doing an admirable job of educating and encouraging responsible, prayerful giving.

I guess you could call this my own personal backlash against backlashes.

Peace,  Bob