A Plan for Congregational Tithing

offering-bowl-1126932-m Autumn months bring stewardship drives, and pastors encourage their flocks to “step up” their giving in the offering. Pastors may even ask their people to consider “tithing”–giving 10% of their income–off the top. After all, the Church does need money to carry out its work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What if the congregation itself were to practice tithing in its own budget? What would happen if the congregation as a whole were to lead by example and plan to give away 10% of its regular income (Yes, the offerings!), in its annual budget, to missions, charities, and other organizations outside of its own walls?

Blessings would abound. Christian individuals and families would see that, yes, tithing can be practiced. (After all, it’s more than an archaic, Biblical, ‘twould-be-nice-if-only-we-could wish-dream.) The congregation “as a person” would grow in the fruits of serving others. And the work of the Church at large would grow in witness, mercy, and life together.

A Brief Primer on Tithing

For some tithing may be a new concept; for others it may be a point of debate. For our purpose, let’s take the Biblical witness on tithing as a simple, salutary example that we may adopt in sanctified Christian freedom.

Talk of tithing, as well as money in general, must begin with Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” God doesn’t need “our” money; it already belongs to Him. We don’t own squat! God simply calls us, as individuals and as congregations, to be wise managers of His belongings.

Tithing first appears in Scripture by way of example in Genesis 14:17-20. Melchizedek blesses Abram, and Abram responds by giving him “a tenth of everything,” likely referring to the spoils (“income”) from his recent victory over several kings. The book of Leviticus is also replete with references to tithing resources such as land and animals (e.g. Leviticus 27:30-32).

According to Malachi 3:8-10, ancient Israel robbed God “in tithes and offerings,” that is, by not giving their tithes and offerings. However, God also made this promise: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” God attaches some kind of blessing, not necessarily more money, when His people tithe.

Dr. John H. C. Fritz explained the proper view of tithing:

It is self-evident that the Church needs money, this convenient means of exchange, to carry on its work. The financial needs of the Church do not exceed the financial possibilities of its members; the Lord does not expect that Christians give more than they are able to give. If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. [sic] of their income, as the Jews did in the Old Testament (in the New Testament this is not obligatory), or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power and even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians, 2 Cor. 8, 3, the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit (John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, 259-260).

Tithing as the Congregation’s Practice

When the Christian congregation adopts tithing as its regular practice, it will want to focus on Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The practice of tithing seeks to give money away in order to bless and serve neighbors in the Church at large. The primary blessing may simply come in the form of satisfaction that the congregation, as a corporate person, has served its neighbors in the Church at large.

The pastor will want to guide the process, taking time to teach his members on the Scriptural witness of giving and tithing, as well as the needs of the Church at large. The pastor will also want to ensure that the tithing commitment is carried out because, after all, the Old Adam in each of his members will resist just giving money away.

If giving away ten percent of the congregation’s regular income (offerings)–off the top, before any other budget items are planned–seems “unworkable,” the congregation may choose to grow into that percentage. One way to grow into tithing is to give 10 percent from extraordinary, unplanned gifts. If the congregation receives a $10,000 unplanned and undesignated gift (e.g. a bequest), it can decide to give away the first $1,000 (the tithe) before it decides how to use the remaining $9,000 for its own purposes.

Another way to grow into tithing is to begin with a lower percentage. As the pastor and congregational leaders work through next year’s budget, they can calculate the expected income from regular offerings for the coming year, and then resolve to give away five percent (5%) or whatever is manageable. In successive budget years, the congregation can increase that percentage as it becomes more comfortable with giving away money in order to help missions, charities, and other organizations. Ultimately, the goal is to reach that ten percent mark, but there’s nothing to limit the congregation to that figure either.

As the congregation’s budget is drafted, literally make “Tithing” the first item in the “Expenses” section. Print it out thus, so that members can see it and conclude, “Hey, we’re actually giving to serve our neighbor before we plan our own expenses.” This sets a wonderful example for congregational members to do the same in their own budgets.

After the congregation has decided to give away a percentage of its income, then it must actually set that money aside. Each and every week that approved percentage should be taken from the offering monies and placed in a separate savings account dedicated solely to tithing and giving away. This step is crucial and meant to be executed before paying salaries, utilities and other expenses.

The congregation may adopt one of several timeframes for actually disbursing the dedicated funds–monthly, quarterly, or annually. Keeping accurate records of the money that accrues and when it is given away is paramount.

With the leadership of the pastor and elected leaders, the congregation will also want to plan the recipients of its giving. The congregation should ask itself, “What missions, missionaries, charities, and outside organizations do we want to support?” That is, what missions, missionaries, charities, and outside organizations have purposes and goals that are consistent with those of the congregation? A congregation that prizes such things as clear Scriptural teaching, rightly dividing the Word of truth (i.e. distinguishing Law and Gospel), administering the Sacraments of Christ according to His institution, using the liturgy of the Church, and teaching Christians to live in their vocations will seek to support groups and organizations that prize those things as well.

The pastor and leaders may want to devise some method of seeking input from congregational members, such as a suggestion form, for what missions, charities, and outside organizations they would like to support. Then they will want to vet those organizations, draft a plan, and have the congregation as a whole approve the plan.

Such giving can be organized according to the three emphases of the Church: Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. A Witness category would support the proclamation of Jesus Christ around the globe, including missionaries, training of pastors, and faithful radio programs. A Mercy category would support charitable mercy-work for bodily needs, such as food pantries, housing projects, and pro-life ministries, as well as a pastoral discretion fund for local charity needs that may arise. A Life Together category would support our common life gathered around Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service, including the youth organizations, Lutheran school associations, and even one’s church body.

As the money is given away, anticipate the “blessings.” Members will see that, yes, giving is and can be a way of life, especially since the congregation sets the example. Vacuous will be the claims that “I give my money and all they do with it is pay the light bill.” Congregation members may just “step up” their giving because they see the congregation “as a person” being charitable. In addition, as missionaries, charities, and other organizations send their “Thank you” letters, congregation members will take great satisfaction from knowing that, yes, they did help their neighbor and, yes, they are helping to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world.

“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11-12).

AsburryAssociate Editor’s Note:  With this post we welcome Pastor Randy Asburry to our regular writing crew here at BJS.  I have known Randy for a while now and am very glad to have him writing for us.  Here is a little more about Pastor Asburry:

Rev. Randy Asburry is senior pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO (since 2001). Previously he served parishes in St. Louis, MO; Boonville, MO; and Gillette & Wright, WY. Randy earned his MA in Classics (Greek and Latin) from Washington University, St. Louis (1992), and his STM degree in Systematic Theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1998), writing on Luther’s view of faith in the Catechisms. He has served as Circuit Counselor (Wyoming and Missouri), as staff writer for Good News magazine, and on subcommittees for Lutheran Service Book. He has written Bible studies, devotional booklets and tracts for Concordia Publishing House, and has been a regular guest on Issues, Etc. as well as KFUO’s The Bible Study/Ask the Pastor and Studio A. Most recently, he was the original host of KFUO’s “His Time” (April 2012 – September 2013). Randy and his wife, Rachel, have two children, Christina and Jonathan.

About Pastor Randy Asburry

Pr. Randy Asburry serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO. In addition to earning his MA in Classics (Greek and Latin) from Washington University, St. Louis (1992), he also earned his STM in Systematic Theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1998), writing on Luther’s view of faith in the Catechisms. He has written for Good News magazine and Concordia Publishing House, served on subcommittees for Lutheran Service Book, and has been a regular guest on Issues, Etc. He serves as regular fill-in host for KFUO's "Thy Strong Word" Bible study program, and now produces the podcast called Sacred Meditations.

Comments

A Plan for Congregational Tithing — 13 Comments

  1. Hmmm. I thought that this was a pretty normal practice. Not bound by law. But given by mercy. As far back as I know, our congregation has given at least 10% of its income to sound Lutheran charitable and educational efforts. We have even been able to push it up to 11% over the past several years. Plus a couple of other gatherings for special purposes. We are by no means a rich congregation. But we believe strongly that we should show mercy to others as Christ has shown mercy to us.

  2. A healthy parish will start at 10 percent
    and continue to increase it toward the
    20 percent mark. Giving 20 percent
    to Synod and District missions from
    the total budget of the parish is a
    good goal.

  3. Giving to district and synod is good. So is giving directly to other mission projects. In that I would think you could include seminaries, sister church bodies, Lutheran day schools (our school has more non-member students than member and as such is seen as a mission, even though the money stays here), local needs (food shelf, homeless shelters, etc.), and more. It isn’t just district and synod we can support.

  4. Okay, so giving to the District is good? Why?
    If we send $1 there. They send .35 to Synod; spend .62 on adminstration, salaries, overhead; so .03 (of every dollar) is used outside the building on things (mostly new mission starts that really don’t look too Lutheran). All the while they host youth events I would never want to send our youth to; host evangelism workshops (mostly modern evangelicalism) I would not want my members to attend. Along with giving TCN $150,000 the last 3 years. I could go on with several other non-Word and Sacrament, non-confessional Lutheran endeavors.

    So why send them money and think we are doing some “mission” work by it?

  5. This is a great article that Pastor Asburry has written. When the congregation sets the pace with tithing and over and above giving, the congregation tends to follow. The other piece that leads others to be generous, is when the pastor gives a minimum of 10% of his gross income. [tithe] I have heard a number of pastors who grouse at this and mope about giving and income and salary and all that stuff. But tithing is wonderful because you only tithe on what you have and you give it away first. I wonder what the correlation is between pastors who don’t tithe and the general giving of their congregation? That would be interesting to see. Thanks Pastor.

  6. @Rev. Weinkauf #5
    So why send them [district] money and think we are doing some “mission” work by it?

    Confessional congregations weave the rope by which they are hanged if they do so. At least in Texas, where NO traditional mission starts by district are the rule.

    It’s possible to send money directly to Synod, and until the per cent of use is reversed between district and synod, it would be wiser. If you aren’t sure of synod, there are RSO’s with a positive track record. If “missions” is the first thing to be cut in your congregation (if it was ever in the budget) any number of reliable LCMS organizations will accept checks from individuals. (A few of them are featured at the top and to the right.)

    You should still support your congregation’s general fund, of course. The Pastor deserves his salary and the building needs to be maintained… (you can itemize additionally from there.)

    @Tim Klinkenberg #7

    Pastors don’t make a show of their giving, in my experience, (and I have never been a financial secretary to a congregation) But those I have known about did tithe.

  7. Not to be the odd man out on the subject, but it seems to me, that this is one of those vestiges of pietism that still regularly raises its head in Lutheran churches. To my ear, this sounds pretty close to the grey zone:

    “As the money is given away, anticipate the “blessings.” Members will see that, yes, giving is and can be a way of life, especially since the congregation sets the example. Vacuous will be the claims that “I give my money and all they do with it is pay the light bill.” Congregation members may just “step up” their giving because they see the congregation “as a person” being charitable. In addition, as missionaries, charities, and other organizations send their “Thank you” letters, congregation members will take great satisfaction from knowing that, yes, they did help their neighbor and, yes, they are helping to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world.”

    At the best, tithing is Law… and one that is not extended to the Christian churches by the Apostles. If we think we’ll save the church, or earn “blessings” by tithing, we’ve confused Law and Gospel.

    My recommendation, is that we teach our people that every breath they draw belongs to God, and that in their baptism, every vocational duty (and recompense) is consecrated to God. Thus the father who gives his earnings to support his family, is not doing a less holy work, than the one who gives his earnings to the congregation… or the district… or the synod… or the mission field… etc. Why can’t the church simply state what they collectively want to do, ask for alms to support their proposals, evaluate what the people are willing to give to support, and work with what God’s people are willing to give (and give to)? Sure, it’s no way to run a business… but then again, the church is not a business.

    To my observation, the reduction of funds flowing into the churches, speaks more about the loss of trust people have in those institutions, than some deficit in the people. Sure, there may be stingy people out there, but rather than lay this problem at the feet of the laity, I say, lay it at the feet of the rulers of the church, who have inspired the laity to find church investment a poor stewardship of their God-given resources.

  8. “As the congregation’s budget is drafted, literally make “Tithing” the first item in the “Expenses” section. Print it out thus, so that members can see it and conclude, “Hey, we’re actually giving to serve our neighbor before we plan our own expenses.” This sets a wonderful example for congregational members to do the same in their own budgets.”

    The first priority a congregation should have is to provide a living to her pastor. If I am not mistaken, it is the one expenditure Scripture-mandates. After that, tithe at will…

  9. @Brad #9

    You are not the odd man out. I especially agree with your comment regarding a father’s obligation to support his family. Should I sacrifice paying my spouse’s medical bills to cover her cancer treatments in order to tithe?. Here is another thought Brad. Is not a pastor’s entire life a tithe, indeed more than a tithe? How many second career pastors are there who sacrificed an entire life’s preparation and work in a lucrative profession in order to enter the Office of the Holy Ministry? I have read some horrible evangelical teaching on the topic of tithing, even to the extent that if one does not tithe, you will be under a curse. Your thoughts.

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