For the past two posts, I have made the case that mandatory tithing does not apply to believers. Such teaching is unbiblical, legalistic, and wrong. We examined the proof-texts proposed by mandatory tithing proponents and found them faulty.
This is not to say that we should not give generously; Jesus speaks much about helping the poor and needy, and he also had a good bit to say about those who were too attached to their wealth. Believers should be caring and giving people, but we should not give blindly.
Stewardship is a word often used to encourage believers to give more to the local church; but stewardship is not just giving to the church—stewardship is giving wisely.
For many years, I belonged to a church of about 2000. Giving was always heavily emphasized, and mandatory tithing was expected—in addition to generous offerings. The church had a large gym, quite a number of paid staff, and the pastor lived in a parsonage that was nicer and larger than most members could afford.
The pastor was fond of big projects; we had a bus ministry with one of the largest fleets of buses in the nation, and we had a television program for broadcasting church services that included cameras, editing equipment, and a paid television director. All of this took money—lots of money.
When the strain on the church’s cash-flow became overwhelming, the church voted to eliminate the bus and television programs. The pastor was so disheartened that he left, letting the next pastor clean up the finances by raising millions of dollars from the members in addition to what they were already giving. It was a great burden caused by poor stewardship.
This is not the entire story. My church belonged to a denomination that required each church to raise a significant amount to go the denomination’s district offices—plus an equal amount to go to the denomination’s general offices and its departments. In addition, there were regular massive campaigns to raise additional funds for missions. Needless to say, there was a constant emphasis on raising money.
This is not good stewardship. Most churches are not so extreme; but in many of them, when membership rises and more money comes in, the response is not to give to the poor or to the community but to build new buildings, add more paid staff, and start new church-centered projects that enhance the church’s image. Of course, I know this is not true of all churches; but, when it occurs, supporting this kind of financial church-centered orientation is not wise stewardship.
Some television ministries are even worse. How many well-funded TV ministries have you heard say: ‘We have plenty of money now, so you can cut back on giving.’ Not likely.
Many people like the goal of 10% for their giving, even though they know tithing is not mandatory. But the question is: must we give it all to the local church? Some pastors and churches say Yes!; but believers can give to whatever causes they wish. Churches have no legitimate right to dictate how much we should give to them.
Pastors often point to the expenses in running the church, and this is valid. Churches have operational expenses, staff salaries, and building costs to pay off. But I think it is important to ask: Do we really need all those expenses? We are never told in the New Testament to build buildings or to have a paid staff. Now if we want such things we must pay for them; but if I don’t want all the things the church spends money on I am not going to pay those expenses just because the church incurred them. This is not wise stewardship.
In fact, before I give substantially to a church I want to view the budget to see how the money is spent. It IS my business because my stewardship is my personal responsibility. Is the money used too much for internal church projects or is a considerable amount used to provide for those outside the church?
Rather than giving blindly to the church, there are other important uses for our money like supporting services to the poor and needy, relief agencies, and other organizations that make a difference in people’s lives (whether they are tax-exempt or not). There may also be relatives or others we know who need our assistance. Unless a church has a robust outreach to those in need, I don’t think it is good stewardship to give that church all our contributions.
Taking Responsibility for Our Personal Stewardship
Some pastors want to bring in as much money as they can and then find a way to spend it, but I don’t think this is the spirit of most ministers. Some even struggle financially, especially in smaller churches. When we expect so much out of our ministers in terms of responsibilities and theological education, we must compensate them for it. We also need a place to meet, though I think newer and smaller churches often are in too much of a hurry to build when they could remain in homes or rented facilities.
I think we should support our local church, but I also think we should be aware of where our money goes and whether it is wise stewardship. And we should also consider whether we should direct all our giving to the local church or should give some of it to other organizations that help people, or even to personally help particular people who are in need.
Stewardship is not just giving to the church – stewardship is giving wisely.
Articles in this series: Teaching Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
The Bible Does not Teach Mandatory Tithing for Believers: Answering False Proof-texts
5 Reasons Why the Harmful Doctrine of Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
Stewardship is not Just Giving to the Church – Stewardship is Giving Wisely
Does Paul Tell Us to Bring Our Tithes to Church on Sundays? He Does Not
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