Shuck and Jive

Friday, December 07, 2007

Giving to the Church

The Johnson City Press recently conducted an on-line poll regarding church giving. Here are the results:

Do you believe 10 percent is an absolute rule when giving to the church?
I don't care5%
Total Votes1120

Being in the Bible Belt I suppose a survey like that in the newspaper is to be expected. Thirty-three percent seemed a high number to me as the survey included all people who may read the paper whether they go to church or not. Of course on-line polls are anything but scientific.

This was a pretty heavy-duty question. I answered No and I am a minister. Had the question been "Is ten percent a reasonable guide for giving to all types of charities and causes," I would have said Yes. It think it is important to be a giver and not just to the church. It is good for the person who gives and it is good for the causes in which we believe. But it is up to the individual to give as they see fit to do so.

But I am not into guilt or manipulation giving. This manipulation can include:

1) Bringing God into the equation as in God = Church. This type of manipulation insists that you give to God by giving to a particular institution or ministry.

2) Using God as a tool to make people feel guilty if they do not give. "Don't shortchange God" and "God will love you if you give, and punish you if you don't" are examples.

3) Making bizarre promises such as if you give, you will get. I have heard people manipulate others by saying if they give to God (read Church), they will be rewarded financially. Robert Tilton ("the farting preacher") is a good example of this type of manipulation. Unbelievably, this guy even after his scandal is still at it.

Tilton's ministry revolved around the practice of making "vows", financial commitments to Tilton's ministry. Tilton's preferred vow, stressed frequently on his broadcasts, was $1,000. Occasionally, Tilton would claim to have received a "word" for someone to give a vow of $5,000 or even $10,000. When a person made a vow to Tilton, Tilton preached that God would recognize the vow and reward the donor with vast material riches.
4) Using fear-mongering to get people to give. Give to "fight the feminist agenda" for example. Pat Robertson is good at this one:

"(T)he feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
You better get out your credit card to help Pat and God fight the lesbos.

We just finished our fall stewardship campaign. I am grateful that our congregation supports the church financially. I was really amazed and impressed by the response of the congregation. It is an indicator that we have a good thing and it is worth supporting. How might the church speak about giving in non-manipulative ways?

1) Distinguish the spiritual practice of giving and personal financial stewardship from the institution of the church. Help people understand giving as a spiritual discipline that is an alternative to our selfish consumer spend and waste culture.

2) Invite folks to give to their "hearts." We give our resources to what is most meaningful in life. Develop a discipline to give to those things as we would pay a bill, etc. This can help folks get out of being self-oriented to being other-oriented. The value I have in life is based on what I give not on what I get is an example of how giving relates to personal growth.

3) In the above contexts, first fruits or percentage giving can be guides and goals, not absolute rules. You can talk about 10% or 5% or 15% or whatever as personal goals.

4) As far as congregations or ministries are concerned, they need to stand on their own merits without appeal to an outside authority such as God or the Bible. In this case, metaphors from the tradition can be helpful as long as they are not seen as rules or as manipulative ways to guilt people into giving.
I wish that mainline churches would have resources regarding giving and stewardship that are more humanist-based rather than based on verses in the Bible. When you appeal to the Bible you are using it as a tool to manipulate others. The days of manipulation are over.

5) Speak about the congregation and its purpose and what it does and what it is. Remind folks why we exist and why we we feel it is worth supporting.

6) Honesty and transparency in what it costs to run the congregation and what is being done with the funds is central.


  1. Most of what a church does is give that money back to you in services (baby sitting, education, entertainment, etc). The church is basically a member's club like your rotary or other group designed to entertain and provide healthy community and friendship. There is nothing wrong with that, but don't kid yourself into thinking that has anything to do with what the Old Testament meant about giving 10% to the temple. The temple was their "government" so the 10% was a tax to do all things central to Israel's communal living like caring for widows and orphans, running their government, etc.

    So by that measure, what we give the the US government should satisfy as a good tithe if you already pay more than 10% tax. Even the worst government gives more to care for "the least of these" than the very best church (i'm sure there is an exception somewhere). If you pay your taxes, then you've done your part to bring justice in occordance with the OT laws. We can always do more. I think it is still good to join a club (church) and give enough to pay them for the services they provide you.

  2. Mike makes some good points.

    Churches do have to pay their bills like everyone else. Services are important and it's very difficult in these economically depressed times for volunteers to afford time. Someone has to be paid for running kitchens, offices and day care.

    Even though I no longer attend 1st Pres Bristol, as a member I continue to tithe because I find Gordon Turnbull to be an honest man who's discretionary spending is normally used for righteous needs. In fact, my own family's needs in leaner times.

    It's very important, however, that a church make it's members 100% aware of where the money is being spent. Mission trips are fine, some resemble vacations more than mission trips.
    I don't want to pay for some spoiled rich kid from King College to take a vacation in Jamaica and smoke better pot than I do.

    10% is fine. Some give more, some less according to financial situations. According to Jesus a dollar from a poor man is worth more that a thousand from a rich man.
    How much one gives isn't the issue. If it doesn't make us wince, we haven't given enough.

    And if your church won't show (not tell, show) you where the money goes, give them nothing.

  3. When I was 17 years old I worked part-time for my church as part of a school to work program. I basically just answered phones and did odd jobs like delivering items, picking up items, etc. (In FL you have your operators license at 16). Anyway, I would be there for the "count" on Monday's after the weekend collections. I was always amazed as to how much was set aside for "petty cash". This petty cash was used for expenses such as BBQ rib lunches, cigarettes for the priests, etc. I also remember that there wer always "poor boxes" at the front and rear of the church to give to the "poor". These were always dumped into the general collections, so really the % of what went where was predetermined, I guess. After that, I chose not to give to our church. My parents were very upset always tried to work that line "you mean you can't afford to give back to god...??". I guess I actually should thank God for all of those BBQ rib lunches. Fortunately, as I have gotten much older, I have learned how to give to those in need, and to the church, in ways that ensure no cigarettes will be bought from my money! :)

  4. Mike--very good thoughts. I think I will make a post on that...

    TN--Gordon Turnbull is a good guy.

    Scott--That is bizarre!

  5. Scott...

    Actually, that is bizarre.
    But unfortunately not uncommon. Credentials for clergy are far too easy to obtain these days. One can become a "certified preacher" by taking an online course or attending a "bible college" that is almost always unaccredited.

    The above link (yes, I actually am capable of genuine investigative journalism), clearly illustrates the dangers of uneducated theology.

    Intellectually challenged clergy often lack the discipline to protect themselves from the "God Complex" that looms ominously over many church leaders.
    Sooner or later the weaker mind will succumb to the power trip and that's where the problems begin. Your tithes to God become the treasure of the king.

    I am pleased to learn that you have identified the sinister nature of what was done and had the courage to confront it. Many are made to be fearful of questioning the "church hierarchy" by having the act likened to questioning God.
    Men are not God, scrutinize them all day, every day.

  6. John and TN,

    Yes, is was bizarre, but very true. It was about 3 years later when a complete "overhaul" was ordered for the parish. Furthermore, the pastor in charge was investigated and "moved" to an unknown location due to allegations of sexual misconduct with some of the youth club boys. These were in the days where the catholic church quickly hushed any allegations.

    In south Florida, it is not uncommon to have churches formed for any reason led by any person. There are many churches that have "decons" or "bishops" of the church, yet have no formal educational or management background. A colleague of mine was telling me that when she got divorced and turned to her church for spiritual guidance, she was vulnerable to their leadership. She had bills piling up and was trying to raise two children. The more debt she had, the more the church would tell her "you have to give to the Lord to reap the many benefits". She put herself into further debt by giving so much to the church, until finally "understanding" what was happening.

    My biggest issue with tithing is not only knowing where the money is going, but having a say in where it is going. I see churches having collections, financial drives, carnivals, to purchase overpriced materialistic objects. Then, they preach on helping the poor, homeless, etc. Although a place of worhship is very important, I would want to be able to say "Yes, the church needs new lighting. Instead of going with the designer lighting with prescious stones adheded to the sides at a total installation cost of $25k, lets get some really nice durable lighting from Lowe's or home depot (or any lighting electrical contractor) for $10k and use the $15k for a true humanitarian cause".

  7. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday:

    IF 10% IS ENOUGH

    It was all I could do to keep myself from rolling down the window and shouting "fine, so you want to disband the military?"


    BTW, tn420, I agree 100% on the mission trips. At my old church, the teenagers got sent to Cozumel to build a new church. Really. There aren't enough churches in Mexico? Are you freaking kidding me?

  8. fly....


    Something about mission trips south of the border that has always bothered me....

    Between Mexico and Terra Del Fuego is the largest concentration of "Christians" on the planet.

    Some mission. Is Africa fully converted and no longer in need of enlightenment?

    Nothing like a job with paid vacations.

  9. We being good Presbyterians never made too much of a fuss about it, and the former Baptists on the Session saw it as part of their mission to convert the Catholics.

  10. And, why do the young people always feel the call of God to short term missions to Mexico or Jamaica in Jan.? Never to Newark, N.J. or Poland. (LOL)

    On top of that folks, God bless em, but I don't know that I would want these kids remodelin, and painting my house. :)

    Still, all that being said, God works through it all. My teenaged son came back from a short term mission trip...( yes, helping to paint a church in Jamaica,) with a renewed faith, and a tremendous heart for the poor. The trip made a huge impact in his life.

    I actually heard him crying in his room, totally devestated that he had so much, and his new friends so little materially.

    It scared me to death. I thought something awful was happening. Instead, it was God doing a huge shifting of his priorities, and opening his heart.

    Praise the Lord!