The Backlash Against Tithing

As my church’s Finance Committee chairman, the article about The Backlash Against Tithing (also here) certainly hits home.  It’s something I deal with all the time, especially at budget season.

At one time in evangelical churches, people tithed first and then gave offerings on top of that.  Today people are more likely to mentally allocate so much to the church and then shuffle around what they give to various appeals.  This can get exciting.  If, for example, one is in a capital stewardship campaign, one sees large pledges on the one side and a drop in gifts designated as tithes and other offerings on the other, which then makes meeting operating expenses a challenge.  Budgeting in this environment becomes a guessing game vis as vis the congregation, and this isn’t good for anyone.

What I think is going on is a confluence of trends in the Boomer generation.

The first is a general decline in a sense of community, which in turn leads to a decline in charitable giving.  Much of the secular charitable giving is in reality a tax collected by NGO’s (enforced by our culture) to sponsor the same kinds of projects that governments do.  If we ever get into a tax increase mode, we’ll see that decline too.

The second is the decline of participation by church members in the direction of the church.  Boomer pastors frequently have a Gothard-man, top-down idea of their role, with them casting visions (which they represent are from God) and everyone else following their "inerrant" lead.  It never occurs to anyone that true leadership in the church is tapping into the God-endowed giftedness of the congregation (a concept that the New Testament supports) that just might include some good ideas for the course of the church.  This is one reason why men in particular struggle with church: they earn the money, why can’t they have a say in how its spent?  So the giving declines.

The third follows from the second: too many churches have adopted a corporate model for ministry.  This puts church on a "services rendered" basis, which appeals to people’s consumerism but in the long run wears down the whole concept of generosity.   (BTW, don’t criticise your church for cash-generating activities like bookstores and coffee bars; if they help to support the ministry with your addiction to coffee, consider yourself doubly blessed.)

The fourth is the flip side of the third: churches don’t always run their business on a corporate model.  This is most visible in building projects.  Boomers love grandiose building projects, and, as anyone knows, building programs are both the most thrilling and most stressful times in the life of a church.  Churches need to adopt the corporate model here and look at facility utilisation on a more businesslike basis.  (And, of course, there’s the business of the rowdies trying to impress everyone…)

To try to reverse this trend, churches could start by being more transparent with their membership with how and why they allocate their funds the way they do and not be so defensive when criticism comes up.  Beyond that, churches need to recognise that stewardship is more than a code word for increased giving: it’s a two-way street.  The people of God exercise responsible stewardship by giving of the resources that God has given them and the church responds by allocating those resources in a responsible and transparent way.  The latter would also be an encouragement to the membership, since we are in a culture that encourages debt-laden indulgence.  As I always like to say, "You can’t outgive God, but you can outspend Him!"

As far as the concept of tithing itself is concerned, I said my peace back in March:

Evangelical churches have been criticised for their obsession with tithing and giving.  People say that "tithing is Old Testament."  But the above scripture (about selling all) shows what the New Testament standard might look like.  In this perspective 10% is the easy way out.

As an additional observation, the local church that’s not worth tithing to isn’t worth belonging to.

Finally, I was amused by the following line in the article:

The tithe has been the Episcopal Church’s "minimum standard" since 1982, although the average annual gift from its 2.3 million members in 2006 reached only $1,718, less than the 10% requirement, according to its own figures.

The Episcopal Church I grew up in considered it in bad taste to demand its members to tithe, although it always kept the offering plate and mite box in front of its parishioners, as I reminded everyone yesterday.   But by the time it adopted this standard, TEC had already lost many members, and necessity is the mother of invention.

7 thoughts on “The Backlash Against Tithing”

  1. I am a major unnamed (edited out) contributor to the WSJ article..
    Many successful churches do and do not teach ttihing. Tithing is not the magic lottery-sty not the secret to success. However good evangelism and giving people
    what they need spiritually is. People spend their money where they get value in return. If you think that tithign is correct, then I ask you to enter dialog with me. I am the author of Should the Church Teach Tithing? and offer a free downloadable book on my web site. May God bless you.

  2. I used to believe and practice tithing until I learned the greater principles of “stewardship.” All we have (time, treasure, and talent) belongs to God; not simply 10% of our income which should supposedly go to the local church. Ten percent is WAY TOO MUCH for the poor, and WAY TOO LITTLE for the rich. In the OT, the poor actually RECEIVED a portion of the tithe and never paid it. The poor, instead, gave freewill offerings, ONLY. There is a HUGE difference in the mentality between stewarship and tithing. “Tithing” is totally legalisitic, and stewardship is all encompassing. If people demand to teach and believe tithing, they should be consistent and teach sabbath keeping (the OT way) and circumcision… things most Christians agree we are not bound to under the NT. Why be like the Galatians and put ourselves under unnecesarry ritualistic rules again?

    Galatians 3:1-3 (NIV)
    Faith or Observance of the Law
    1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

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