Does ten percent make sense?

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It’s stewardship time. We’ve been stuffing cards into envelopes with great fury over at our place. We are not only mailing them out, but we’re also filling them out at home. We always try to give ten percent. It’s our personal goal. Sometimes we achieve it and other times we don’t, but it’s always the target.

I thought about the Burmese monks who protested by withholding their alms bowls from the government and the military, and the great unrest it caused in the country. What would happen if we stopped passing our brass plates and handing out these pledge cards? Would anybody notice?

In Louisiana, the average income of our church neighbors was 28k. In Barrington, the household average was 128k. In D.C.? Well, it’s 250 to 500k. Yet, in each place, people have given roughly the same amount, about 2k.

Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t keep track of who gives what. But, in light of this reality, I wonder if asking for ten percent makes any sense any more. Are D.C. residents much more greedy than Abbeville residents? Certainly not. A number of factors are in play.

(1) Housing costs take up a much bigger percentage of income. For instance, one hundred percent of my income goes to housing. We pay bills with my husband’s income.

(2) People tend to have a variety of causes that they give to, beyond the church.

(3) We have a lot of young urban single households. They don’t have the added cost of children, and they can live in a smaller place, but they’re still living in a place where it takes two incomes to afford real estate. Plus, they have student loans to manage.

I guess what I’m saying is that between Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae, there are many, many factors that a flat tithe doesn’t take into account. Our economy is different than it was two thousand years ago. Shouldn’t we be thinking about this more? Or, explaining it better? Every pastor knows that most people in the pews are not giving ten. Why is that? Are people more uncommitted and greedy than they were in the past? Have we set up an impossible goal?

One last thing, just to play devil’s advocate here (maybe literally…gulp). What if someone in our neighborhood did tithe her 500k, and gave 50k to the church? It would be lovely, because of course, it would pay my salary. But then my position would be completely reliant on one person. Would it be healthy for the church? We all know congregations that leaned too heavily on one or two really generous and wealthy people, and when they moved to Florida, the church budget went into a free fall. Can there be a problem with giving too much to a church?

I have a Rabbi friend whose congregation is charged a “fair share” based on the income and the congregation’s budget. That way, he explains, everyone pays, but the congregation is not too beholden to one individual. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we’d ever move to this model, but it did make me wonder…. Should we be thinking about this more?

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14 thoughts on “Does ten percent make sense?

  1. I think we need to remember that we are entrusted by God to be stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us. As followers of Jesus we have given up our right to ownership (Luke 14:33) and are now to use our stuff for the sake of the Kingdom of God. A $50k salary places us in the top 1% of wage earners world wide, that means we have been entrusted with a great deal and many in our DC area have been entrusted with much more, not for the purpose of buying a bigger home, or being more comfortable, we have been entrusted with this so we can be a blessing to the world.
    I recommend Mark Labberton’s book, “The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s call to justice.”

  2. I think that the best stewardship is the response of those who see all that they have (in deed all of life) as the gracious gift of God. Having said that, I certainly think that some who give 2% of their income may be much more faithful than others who may give 10%. But that I can’t really be the one to judge their faithfulness.

    This year we’ve given up the traditional pledge drive. It just didn’t work in my congregation, every year in my small church pledges fell well short of the projected budget. However, we do ok with contributions when it comes to actually meeting the budget. So the money is there, its just for some reason people don’t want to pledge it.

    So we thought we’d have people just prepare a giving plan that they don’t actually submit to the church, instead we’re encouraging them to view it as an agreement between God and themselves. The hard part is trusting that the money is there, but we were doing that by default anyway!

  3. Jim,

    I had the same thing happen in Louisiana, we would have about 50% of our income pledged. It was more of a month-by-month deal. And it was okay.

    Neil,

    What can I say? You’re right, absolutely. I often look out at our neighborhood and think, “If we all tithed, we could end homelessness. There are so many things we could do….” I certainly see my life (time, talents, resources) as a tool that (hopefully) builds God’s reign, on earth as it is in heaven.

    But, I also think that people in different stages in life can give different percentages. A flat 10% doesn’t account for the amount that people have to spend on necessary debt, medical expenses, or life situations.

    I’m just wondering if we’re being unfair to people if we always say 10%. I heard of a preacher this week who said it was heretical to preach anything but 10%. But I’ve had people in my office who can’t give ten. They feel terrible about it. Then there are others who can give much more….

    I just think we put that number out there so much, as a biblical mandate, but do we think about it?

    Actually, I’m also thinking about other things at the moment. I need to go. Talk about the life of justice being dangerous…an arsonist set fire to Miriam’s Kitchen this morning…FOX news is outside….

  4. Wealth should not be restricted to money. If I volunteer for functions within the church that should “count” towards the ten percent you speak of.
    (This is another reason why the church that I grew up in and myself do not like each very much. I don’t lose sleep over it, but they lost a member.)

  5. I can’t believe that happened to Miriam’s kitchen.
    It is certainly dangerous to just put a number out there, especially for people just beginning a faith journey who have loaded their lives with debt and material goods. I would say that 10% is still a good goal to pursue and for the mature believer should be a minimum. When Paul said we should give generously I hardly think he had anything less than 10% in mind!
    Ron Sider notes that if evangelicals in the US tithed they would raise the $80 billion needed to solve world poverty and still have billions left over for other ministry needs. I can only imagine what that $ figure would be if we added moderate and liberal Christians into the mix! God certainly has entrusted us with a lot.

  6. Wyldth1ng: Yep, but it does say to give up everything to follow Jesus. So I’m wondering if the whole 10% was a way for the early church to “sweeten the deal”.

  7. I like to think that Micah 6:6-8 is a valuable text on stewardship. What God requires of us is not necessarily that we give 1,000 rams and 10,000 rivers of oil, but that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. If you are giving these things back to God, God is satisfied. They will influence any other gifts.

  8. For me, the 10% figure is for my own spiritual discipline. We are the richest people in the world and giving away part of my money, before I spend it on other things, is a discipline that reminds me of how much I have. It isn’t about the church budget for me at all. And I don’t give my whole tithe to the church. But I do think having a discipline of giving away money (and stuff) is a necessary counter-cultural move, in order to stay clear about who and whose we really are.

    I know there are all sorts of mitigating factors and I’m not going to judge anyone on what they choose to do. At the same time, I’ve watched so many people talk about how they “couldn’t possibly” give away 10% of their money. But they can eat out at restaurants, buy new clothes, finance a house, get expensive haircuts, be a two-car family, get cable TV, take nice vacations, etc. They are all choices. It’s not my business what choice others make, but I think we need to acknowledge that they are choices. Tithing forces me to notice my choices. And that’s a good thing.

  9. I live and serve a church in one of those places were people “earn” 6 and 7 figure salaries…where the cars never get old and the wine never stops ageing. I’ve also lived and served in a place where people “live” on less than $1 a day. There is no doubt in my mind that greed is an insidious and infectious disease that gnaws away at the soul of all of us who live in a culture of unbridled capitalism that feeds off of an irrational fear of scarcity. People hoard when they believe there is not enough to go around.

    God has proven time and time again that there is more than enough for everyone. And when the need for re-distribution is made known, then the haves will begin to give.

    Here in Westchester, New York the people don’t come close to giving 10%…however, when a crisis is made known (especially a crisis amongs people with whom they have a relationship), the people will dig deep into their pockets.

    In my mind, this type of a behavior is tantamount to an indictment on the church. People will give…and they will give big…if they need and the cause are clear and relevant.

    Unfortunately, the cause and the purpose of the church is not…hence, people are reluctant to give.

    If we want to achieve 10% or higher…it begins with us…leading the church to relevance.

    I’m sorry for the sermon.

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