Thursday, January 19, 2012

No Tithe-No Offering Plate (Value & Practices: Part 14)

You may need to sit down before you read about our next defining practice, Member-Driven Funding. We don't collect a tithe. We don't pass an offering plate/bag/bucket around. We don't even collect money for a general fund.

Instead, we post a list of the basic needs of the church, including building rent, children's supplies, staff salaries, etc.  That list also includes all the needs our church members and also some needs from outside our church body. (The elders coordinate what goes on that list.)

Our members then choose how much to give to whom, as the Lord leads them. And they don' t need to give it to the leaders first. In fact, I discourage people from just giving me undesignated money. Yes, there have been times when the Lord leads people to give to the church, and I'll accept it. There's no command in the Bible against giving undesignated funds.

So, if there's no rule against it, why aren't we handling our giving like everyone else? Why not the 10% tithe and why not the general fund?

First, why not promote the number 10%. I mean, that's in the Bible, right?

It is. But only in the Old Testament. It's clearly a part of the Levitical system God established with Moses. The tribe of priests were not giving a plot of land to farm or ranch. They were to focus on being priests for the nation. The other tribes were asked to bring a tenth of their supplies to them as sacrifices to God (that the Levites got to keep and eat). And God promised to bless them for faithful giving. But it's not mentioned after Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament).

We don't require any other element of the sacrificial system, today. Why this number?

The New Testament does call us to give. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying giving is only for Old Testament times. There are many verses urging us to give in the New Testament. But the 10% standard isn't in any of those verses. Instead, as usual, the New Testament ups the ante.

In the Old Testament, you just had to follow specific behaviors: don't eat pork, don't commit adultery, give 10%, etc. But the New Testament moves beyond behavior only and makes it about the heart. You can eat any meat--but you have to pay attention to the weakness of your brother and decide meal by meal what you should or shouldn't eat. Adultery isn't limited to physical behavior, but happens in your heart even when you lust. And we should give how much the Lord leads us to give. It may be less than or much more than 10%.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NASB
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Second, how about the general fund? Isn't that in the New Testament stories?

Actually, there's plenty of examples of church leaders collecting money from many believers--but not for an undesignated cause. Some early churches gave money to Paul to help the church in Jerusalem, for example. But it was a response to a specific request for Jerusalem. Paul does urge people to put some money aside each week so they're able to give when the need arises. But that's a general savings plan, not a general fund giving plan. In fact, that's much more like what we do. We urge our members to save up their own money and spend their month in prayer thinking about how God wants them to use their money. They can even use their own tithe to fund their own ministry efforts. I don't make them give it to me and then ask for it right back to do the ministry project God has laid on their heart.

I want to be clear--the general fund issue isn't required one way or the other in the Bible. They didn't have 501(c)3 bank accounts in the days of the early church. So I do accept checks from members who say God told them to give the money to our church's general fund (we do have a bank account).

But I found that our decentralized process, where money often doesn't even pass through my hands, produces better growth than the general fund plan.

In the typical model, members give a fixed amount to a general fund and they're done. Aside from once or twice a year when a special offering request is made, they don't need to think much or pray much about it. The message is simply: obey. Obedience isn't wrong (and sometimes requires prayer and thought). But our approach requires them to hear from God on how much to give to whom.

It inspires a closer walk with God and a more personal connection with the ministry efforts of their church. And isn't what we're trying to design church to do?

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