By George Bullard
Has a more general, difficult to measure, New Testament-oriented concept called generosity snuffed out the clear, easy to measure, Old Testament concept of tithing?
Let me try that again. Has a left-brained legalism about tithing interpreted as 10 percent of income given way to an even greater, right-brained commitment to generosity that blows past a 10 percent mark?
One more time. Has the giving pattern popularized by the Silent and Builder generations, then questioned by the Baby Boomers generation, given way to a new dimension of giving called generosity and created a reconceptualization of how the Missio Dei is financially supported? Are Baby Busters and Millennials redefining sacrificial giving to the work of God’s kingdom as an issue of generosity rather than tithing?
Thousands of congregations in North America each fall have some type of emphasis that calls on people connected with them to make a financial commitment for the upcoming year to or through the congregation. Some call this pledging. Others call it an estimate of giving.
Some congregations have already developed their budget before they ask for commitments. Others plan to develop their budget based upon what people say they are committed to give for the coming year.
Some congregations couch their generosity or stewardship emphasis in terms of asking people to commit to a tithe, or to work toward achieving a tithe. Some focus on obedience to God. Some focus on commitment to the church. Some focus on giving out of an abundance of thanksgiving for what God has done in their lives.
Some focus on faithfulness. Some focus on funding the budget. A few actually focus on generosity because God loves a cheerful, generous giver. Many still raise the flag of bringing a tithe into the storehouse.
What does your congregation do? How does it approach tithing? Or does it?
What in the world is tithing?
Just ask any group of church members and you will be totally confused.
A focus group of a dozen or so people sat around a conference room table having a conversation about tithing and generosity. The people in the room were there because they had identified themselves as tithers. Each person was asked to write down their definition of tithing.
The result? Someone out there knows what tithing is, but I am not quite sure many people agree on the definition. Here are some of the answers. Which one is the correct answer?
• “Tithing is giving 10 percent of my income to the Lord.”
• “Tithing is giving regularly to the work of God’s church.”
• “Tithing is giving 10 percent of line 22 of IRS form 1040 to your church.”
• “Between my church, my civic club, and various other great causes contributing 10 percent of my income.”
• “Tithing is pledging a certain amount of money to my church each year and being faithful to fulfill that pledge.”
• “Tithing is making an online contribution to my church using my smartphone during the offering time each week I am present.”
• “I am not quite sure why I got invited to this meeting. My intention is to tithe but I do not have the money now. I give what I can, and hope I can make it up later when I have more income. Perhaps I can leave my church some money in my will.”
• “I work for a Christian ministry who requires me to make a regular contribution to them. I consider this part of my tithe and give the rest to my church.”
• “I give 10 percent of my take home pay that shows up in my bank through automatic deposit. Someone suggested to me recently that I ought to tithe the gross rather than the net, and the amount my company pays for my fringe benefits. I hope they are wrong because I could not do that.”
Which one of these is tithing? See, that is the problem. The average Christian — even though they may claim to be tithers — have no common understanding of tithing.
It begs the question. Do we need to go back and reinforce the concept of tithing? Or do we need to go forward and create a culture of generosity?
As you consider this, ask yourself these questions: Would you call Jesus tither or the ultimate example of generosity? If you desire be like Jesus, do you want to be a tither or a wildly generous Christ follower?