Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reaching the Lost or Paying the Bills

I first heard the gospel at a little Pentecostal church over 30 years ago. The church had been around for over 25 years and had about 50 members. A new pastor had come in with the realization that if the church didn’t grow beyond this number that it’s doors would close. There just wasn’t enough money being generated to pay for a building and supply a decent living for a pastor.

The new pastor did a great job and the church did begin to grow. Slowly but surely the church increased its budget to the point where a pastor could make a decent living. The members worked hard to get others to join them. The gospel of Jesus carried with it the expectation/need that new members would help with the operation of the organization.

If the new believer coming in, read the fine print they would have discovered that 10% of their income (called either tithing or "free will" offering) was to be given to the local church for the rest of their lives. In other words, the person making $300,000 was to give $30,000 and the person making $10,000 was to give $1,000. A completely fair system of giving, seeing that the rich person ended up living on $270,000 and the poorer person still had $9,000 left over to live on. (One pastor told me that this wasn't true, the person making $300,000 should give a lot more than 10%.)

Note: Some churches actually teach universal tithing where the poorest of the poor will be financially blessed if they tithe on their welfare or disability cheque. This is a far different view from tithing in the Old Testament where only those who owned land or livestock, tithed. The poor were recipients of the storehouse tithe that is spoken about in Malachi 3 and never paid a tithe since they had no crops or herds to tithe on. They didn't receive grain or meat from the storehouse and then told to give 10% back as a tithe.

Of course, financially supporting the local assembly to the tune of 10%+ is never taught as part of an evangelistic outreach. The goal was to get them in and then later help them understand that part of maturing in Christ is tithing to the local assembly. The promise given, is that when giving to the local assembly is practiced, financial blessing is sure to follow. Not surprisingly, the person who tithes from a disability cheque never owns as nice a house as the pastor that directly benefited from their tithe. It also means that children that die of preventable diseases in Africa must not have been part of a family that tithed.

Ironically, most Christians in this teaching never reach maturity since only 18% of Christians in a church that teaches tithing, actually tithe. This creates a rather strained relationship between those teaching tithing and those not practicing it. It creates the potential for pastors to only listen to those who are shouldering the financial burden of their pay cheque and parishioners questioning a pastor's motivation in the care that is provided.

It also intrigues me that the only givers who substantially receive from church funds are the paid staff that teach this practice. Churches tend to give between 2-8% to the needy and 30-50% to staff. Even on missions trips, churches will pay a pastor to go but expect non-salaried people to pay their own way.

Is there anything wrong with giving to one's local church group? Of course not. As long as it is understood as being no different than paying for a golf club membership, except of course you get a charitable receipt for doing so. But when the impression is given that God somehow requires us to give in such a prescribed way, then that is nothing but manipulation, with no scriputural grounds for doing so.

We never thought that our evangelistic outreach was about increasing the church’s financial coffers but ultimately it is not "reaching the lost" but rather dollars that are the measuring stick of the viability of a local church. If the church had increased to 300 people but most of them chose to give their offerings to dying children in Africa, the church would have had to close its doors and the people giving to the children would have been labeled as immature or even worse, "robbers of God".

No comments: