Okay, this letter heading is admittedly a bit deceiving, but you’ll see what I’m saying soon enough. My point is that in recent conversations with clients, friends, and family, I’ve realized that the goal of giving a tithe (literally a “tenth”) has done violence to a biblical understanding of money.
First off, a few points of clarification. The commandment to give a tithe isn’t found in the New Testament. A tithe was given in the Old Testament, but even that wasn’t necessarily 10% of your income… it was more like 23.5%. (Really it is – but that’s a whole other conversation). The New Testament rather talks about giving generously and freely as the Lord/Spirit directs us to. It’s about radical generosity, something that I wish the Church (big C) was universally known for.
According to a Pew study, the average church goer gives something like 2.3% of their income. And so then, whatever giving amount we’re doing, if we strive to give a tithe (one tenth) of our income, what happens when we reach this? From my conversations recently, it seems that this is the ultimate goal: to work up to giving 10% and capping out there. If we’re in a job situation that provides an increasing amount of income, I’d sure hope that the 10% giving budget line increases incrementally with the top line income. Giving $3,000 while earning $30,000 is much more of a sacrifice than giving $10,000 while earning $100,000. As our income increases, so should our giving percentages (not just dollar amount). I think we pigeon-hole ourselves when we have a goal to give a “tithe,” and I’ve found that the Church encourages this by constantly referring to financial giving as a tithe.
The idea of a tithe subconsciously relays to us that if we “give God 10%” that means we have the remaining 90% to ourselves. This is a powerful concept, and one that often goes undetected. God owns 100% of all that we own – not just the bones we throw back at him. God owns everything, and he cares about what we do with this everything. I’m not at all a proponent of the poverty or the prosperity gospel – I firmly believe with all of my heart that we can honor God equally with our wealth whether it’s through two dollars, or a few billion dollars. I think oftentimes Christians give their tithe (or whatever percentage) and then check off their duty of seeking God’s direction with what to do with the rest.
So what are we to do? Here’s a couple of ideas to hedge against falling into the dangers of pigeon-holing ourselves into a faulty understanding of tithing:
- Give radically. Right now. As in now. Don’t wait till next year’s raise or until your retirement savings are started. Decide to get radical with your giving. Now.
- Give outside of your home church. Find some charities that you really get excited about supporting and give to them.
- Keep some cash earmarked to give away. As you see needs in front of you, give as prompted. Don’t turn away a hungry mouth and say “You know what, I’m not sure if you’re going to buy alcohol with this – so I’m going to go home and pray about what I should do.”
- Pray about what to do with raises and unexpected income/gifts before you spend them. I’m hesitant to paint with too broad of a brush, but I’m inclined to say that for each raise you receive through work, your giving percentage should increase. Okay, I ended up saying it. Do it.
- Don’t aim for 10%. Don’t short change yourself (and Kingdom-building purposes) by aiming low and striving to give 10% of your income. Start there – or higher – and see who can out give who: you or God.