Well as many readers of this blog would know I have recently made “a big fat fuss” about the fact that tithing is not a Biblical commandment. And yet, of course I know as well as anyone that it is all very well to say this, but practically speaking, money needs to come into the church. It may not be scripturally watertight to say that it is a Biblical commandment, but the practice of tithing is after all very established, found widely throughout a range of different Christian denominations. I think (I hope) that this is the reason that many pastors I know are keeping quiet about this issue, despite all my shouting – that is, because churches after all need money, and the practice of tithing is very widespread.
I recently wrote about the difference between giving and giving. In that article, I spoke about false churches which exist to build man-centred empires. This article is not for these false churches, which exist to collect money and resources from their members. Rather, this article is directed at true churches proclaiming the true worship of the One true God 😉
So what practical alternatives are there to claiming that tithing is a Biblical commandment, if you want to make sure that your church practices are based on truth?
These are a few ideas that I thought of – these are only my own ideas, I am not trying to give them any scriptural weight – in eveything, God’s Word the Bible must have pre-eminence.
1. Put yourself in a position where you don’t need the money
That is, go back to house churches. This is obviously not going to be practical for everyone. However, I suspect that many pastors will be better able to be scripturally objective if they are in a position where they don’t need tithes. When disputing the issue of tithing, I am of course aware that most pastors try to (falsely) insist that it is a Biblical commandment because their churches need the money. The fact that your church needs the money does not however change the fact that it is not a scriptural commandment.
2. If tithing works for you….
My main problem with tithing is not the act of tithing itself, or the idea of giving 10% to your church. Rather, it is the fact that people claim that it is a Biblical commandment when it isn’t. This might sound a little silly, like a disagreement over words, but to me it is all about the authority of the Word of God. The Bible is the ultimate standard that we have linking us as Christians of different cultures and from different points of history. When people start saying “the Bible says…the Bible says” when it does not say, then the authority of the Bible and of the God behind it starts to get eroded. (Obviously nothing can truly erode God’s authority, but people start to take it less seriously)
So this solution is quite straightforward. If you have been preaching about the need to tithe and your congregation are happy to do it, but now you understand that it is not the commandment that you always thought it was, why not just explain to your congregation,
“We now understand that tithing is not actually a commandment. However, we would like you to prayerfully consider whether you would still like to go ahead to support us with your 10%…” And if your congregation agree to go ahead with tithing, then obviously, that’s great! However, it is now voluntary, and I personally think that no-one should be forced to take part, even if everyone else is happy to do it. Furthermore, I think that people are free to change their minds about this, so I think that you might need to keep “taking the pulse” of your congregation to find out whether they are happy to go ahead…
3. Consider partnership
In this model, you can consider your possible income before you set out to launch a church. That is, you identify a few people who have the same vision and passion to reach your community for Christ as you do, and who are in a position to support the church financially, and you ask them to commit to supporting the church. If you know how much people can commit, then you can build your financial projections around that and plan appropriately. Of course, the danger with this model is that people can leave or withdraw their support at any time, so it is probably best to have a comfortable overlap between what you actually need and what you are receiving. OR if you are launching a church in partnership with a few people, who are actually going to be materially involved in running the church, then between yourselves you could work out how much money you could contribute to the church, and plan accordingly.
4. Consider subscriptions
If you have a core team of workers, (that is, people who are already committed Christians, and ready to dedicate their resources to reaching others) then you could work out how much money you would need to support your vision, and how much money (and work) each worker should have to contribute to make it happen. What might happen, is that workers might get enthralled by a fantastic and exciting vision, but then get less enthusiastic when they discover how much they might have to contribute to make this vision work.
If you start with an existing group of workers, then in a way you may need to present different options to them – if we want this, then this is what it is going to cost us as a church, and what each worker will have to contribute (once again working with that comfortable overlap) – however if we want this super-shiny, glossy vision, then this is what it is going to cost us collectively, and what each worker will have to contribute. Of course once again workers can always leave your church, so you have to plan and budget for that.
If you start with a vision – then you simply have to gather enough workers around you who are going to be committed to that vision. In a way, you might need to hold back from implementing your vision until you have enough workers. People can obviously choose to agree with your vision, or to disagree, in which case they don’t have to join your church. But I think that as Pastors you should be “upfront” from the start about your vision with your potential workers -rather than drawing them in, waiting for them to form a commitment, then telling them the truth. This is not in line with Christlike integrity.
OK, so if you have already got a church, and workers, and you’ve been collecting tithes etc, perhaps you could offer all of these as options to your congregation. Obviously people know that money is needed to make churches run, and I think that most workers would appreciate that the money has to come from them. To be blunt, if people want to continue to enjoy the comfortable surroundings and first rate worship equipment that they have been enjoying, then they have to be willing to pay for these. If they are unwilling to pay, then a solution has to be found that fits within the available funds. 😉