Your Teaching on Tithing Probably Sucks (Part One)

In my current position as the sole pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Kingman, Arizona, I always find an interesting mix of ideas and thoughts on a variety of issues. Surprisingly, Kingman is an up-and-coming area that is beginning to see a revival as younger people (mostly former hipsters who now have small families) move in looking for greater levels of personal and civic freedom and the ability to purchase a home and essentially live out the American dream from 50 years ago. They are starting new businesses, refurbishing old buildings on classic Route 66, and regenerating a relatively once forgotten town that offers an opportunity without the ridiculously high price tag. They are backed by a local governmental system that supports growth and encourages entrepreneurship. Interestingly, almost no one is “from Kingman” in my congregation but are transplants from all over the United States. 

As a result, there is a wide range of Christian theological backgrounds and experiences. And as in most congregations, it does not take long to realize there has been a lot of different teaching experienced on tithing, from it being an archaic principle with no relevance to being a Christian law which must be followed… or else. Herein lies the problem: There is uneven teaching in the Church on stewardship, and especially on tithing and money in general. We need a method and plan for teaching tithing which is not only Biblical and Lutheran, but functional and relatively simple for people to live out, and this is possible.

The core and heart of all generosity is God. As a result, generosity matters in our worship, both as a lifestyle and a weekly sabbath and in our relationship to God as He commands it for our good, promises relational blessings with both Himself and other people, and even seeks to free us from the financial tyranny we can so easily fall into. To accomplish this, He has set up many systems for our benefit, but none is better than the tithe.

Percentage giving, which I also call tithing (which can be confusing at first), is a principal element of the overall concept of being a good steward. Unfortunately, as we live out the sanctified life of faith, the topic of stewardship is one where, as I mentioned before, in many Christian circles it is too often dealt with on either edge of the extreme. On the one hand, we find those who wish to say nothing about what it looks like to live as a Christian. They say, “You are baptized and redeemed. Now go and live it,” and then give no examples or instructions about what that may look like. Then, on the other side of the fence, are those who spend so much time on life principles they could give Tony Robbins a run for his money on the motivational speaker circuit. Pastoral care and the life of the disciple of Jesus are neither of these. Rather, as is found in so much of the life of a believer, the middle ground and ‘both/and” are where we regularly find the correct path. 

Again, one of the problems is the variety of good, bad, and ugly teaching on the topic of tithing. When we have uneven teaching, we run into a variety of issues. One is simply how we find ourselves compromising with the ways of the world. The Church easily and quickly forgets who it is and what it has. We see this reality throughout the Old and New Testaments. All you have to do is read Judges, for example, to see how rapidly God’s people can forget about Him. It is time to cut bait with the cultural norms and morals of our day and be the Church. This is done with both good doctrine and right teaching from its pastors, including teaching on the tithe. The deeper question then is this: What has priority in our lives? Is Christ and the love and service of the neighbor really our focus or do we put ourselves and our own fears and desires first? This is, in part, reflected in how we steward the resources God has given us. Of course, we have seen what happens when the self-governed congregation does not give, it suffers and fails. If someone or the majority of people choose to refuse to tithe based on a perceived lack of biblical or personal budgetary arguments, they are also choosing to hurt their church which they profess to be a member of and are, therefore, responsible to and for. If on the other hand, I am someone who continues to tithe, it would be easy to become resentful of those who do not, especially if the church continues to fail financially.

Therefore, we need to even out the problem in a biblically sound and God-pleasing manner. This teaching could be done in a variety of ways, like a sermon series and/or a focused Bible study, or even intentionally including teaching on tithing in small bits which could be appropriated and consumed on a regular basis by the people. My belief is this third option is the most effective to: 1) Create an environment in the congregation where, when the topic of finances is brought up, the people no longer begin to look at the floor to check the shine on their shoes or what time their favorite breakfast place opens on Sunday morning. 2) Rather, create a sense of excitement for the opportunity to return a percentage of what God has given them back to Him and also share their financial gifts with their brothers and sisters in Christ. This will then lead to 3) which is a very real uptick in giving in the congregation which will hopefully be financial, but also include other areas God has given us to be good stewards. This includes our time, relational ability, knowledge, gifts, and talents.

In the end, this is a product of a community-wide change. There needs to be a shift in focus from the priority of self to the priority of the tribe of Christians we belong to. It is a shift from our own lordship over the things we perceive to possess to the ultimate reality that Jesus is Lord, of everything, including our money. This can be a monumental shift in not only the life of an individual but also the cycle of the congregation as it moves into the future. It allows us to dream a little bit, especially if the congregation is already financially stable. We can envision what we might be able to do and how we might live as a community of faith if instead of the usual 15-20% who give a percentage of their income in the neighborhood of a 1-10% tithe, to even a mere 40% who step into regular, percentage giving. This would literally double our giving. 

But why should we give? Part 2 coming soon…

Check out more of this discussion on RINGSIDE PREACHERS PODCAST with Tim Barkett “Sex and Money”:!4ce8c