Running a Spiritual Sweatshop

This is an article about the obligation to tithe, a stern subject. There is another side to giving; the joy of giving to do God’s work. I might write an article about that someday. For now, I give you Paul’s words, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Most of us grew up knowing that there are three things nice people don’t discuss: politics, religion, and money. The good news is, I’m not going to discuss politics. Some people just get plain irritable when the subject of church giving comes up. I’ve had that feeling myself, thinking “Who are you to tell me what to do with my money?” I should know better.  After all, who’s money is it anyway?

Here is a brief description, one perspective, of how Christ the King stacks up in the giving department. By my count, we have 29 more or less active households, either families or single persons. Based on last year’s giving for those households, we can project tithes and offerings of about $110,000 (less than we need, but that’s another article). That comes to a projected average of $3,790 per household in annual giving, a number far high than could be computed for my former congregation. Carrying this numbers game a little further, if we assume that the 29 households’ giving equals their tithe, our average household income is about $37,900, well below the national average. (Note: In addition to the 29 households used in these computations, there are 8-10 households for whom we do not have giving records, though some may give in cash only without envelopes, noting that such offering is not a lot of money.)

What is clear, is that the people of Christ the King, Dayton, are, overall, serious tithers and generous givers. According to the Christianity Today article Scrooge Lives (12/05/2008), only 27 percent of evangelical Christians tithe. The article further reports, “The average, regularly attending churchgoer gives 6 percent of after-tax income, but that’s a mean skewed by a handful of very generous givers. The median annual giving for an American Christian is actually $200, just over half a percent of after-tax income. About 5 percent of American Christians provide 60 percent of the money churches and religious groups use to operate.” (I do strongly commend this article to you.) As tithers some of us may have room to grow, but it is clear that many deserve to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

For parishioners of higher than average means, tithing may sometimes be hard because giving a tithe looks like so much money. Truly, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)  For those facing challenging financial circumstances, the ability to give is often compromised by the need to eat, other real necessities, and to meet other obligations.

Since tithing is proportional giving, all parishioners have an equal shot. “What if everyone tithed? What would we do with all that money, anyway?”

It’s a fair question, but it’s not the right question for the faithful Christian contemplating their stewardship. No matter how big or rich we ever become, we will never run short of ministry, mission, and outreach needs to be met.

“Why tithe?” Throughout the entire revelation that we have in scripture and nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition, the tithe is the standard. To be a faithful to God, one must tithe. In the book of the prophet Malachi, God speaks very clearly saying, “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” (Malachi 3:7b-9, emphasis added) “You are robbing me.” Those are pretty strong words. It’s as if God were a disgruntled employee complaining about working in a spiritual sweatshop.

It seems remarkable that so many people accept the tax burden with casual resignation; 15% Federal and 3.5% state at a taxable income of $35,000 (married filing jointly), plus 7.65% FICA and Medicare, 6.5% sales tax, plus property tax, and so on? Yet some feel a heavy burden when it comes to paying for the work of our Father in heaven.

The generally accepted evangelical definition of faithful giving is a tithe to support the work of one’s local congregation.  How this applies in your life is up to you, between the give and God.  We have no “tithe police.”  In fact, we only keep records to help us and you meet the requirements of federal regulations, and keeping good records helps us be responsible stewards of the trust that God and you have placed on parish leadership.

Parishioner giving can be a serious matter of pastoral concern. It has been said that, “for the lack of clergy attention, some parishioners have forfeited their souls for the sake of their pocketbooks.” That’s an old saying though in conflict with the idea of salvation by God’s grace through faith.  We who must count dollars and keep records, don’t actually share those with our pastor, and that is also true of most churches.

Not everyone convicted with a resolve to tithe can do so at the drop of a hat. Most people become committed (trapped?) by needs and financial obligations made over many years that cannot be ignored. For those of faithful intent but modest present means, the journey towards tithing begins with the decision. Every journey begins with its first step. I once took the first step on that journey with what seemed, then, to be impossible odds against ever succeeding. I thank God for those faithful stewards who guided me along that path.

Reference: Originally inspired by an article by Ralph F. Wilson, Does Your Church Run a Spiritual Sweatshop?

Bible quotes from the English Standard Version.

Other scripture references: Exodus 27; Leviticus 1-7, 10, 16, 27; Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 24, 26, 27, 31, 33 ; 2 Chronicles 31; Nehemiah 10, 12, 13; Malachi 2, 3; Matthew 23; Luke 10, 11; 1 Corinthians 9, 16; Colossians 4; 1 Tim 5; James 5

Based on my article originally published in October 1998, The Lantern.

This entry was posted in Stewardship. Bookmark the permalink.