Why the Backlash Against Tithing

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Tithing is under attack these days as noted in the recent article entitled “The Backlash Against Tithing” by Suzanne Sataline of the Wall Street Journal (11-23-07). And, well it should be, in my opinion. I discuss this and a plethora of other issues about giving in America in my recently released book, The Giving Myths: Giving then Getting the Life You’ve Always Wanted ( www.stevemcswain.com).
I’ve been in stewardship development for more than a decade providing consultation and annual and capital fundraising for hundreds of congregations in virtually every denomination in America. All of them, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic notwithstanding, are facing declining revenues. And, I know some of the reasons why…
1 For one thing, it’s dishonest to teach people that tithing is the Biblical standard for giving when, in fact, it is NOT. What is taught is, however, is giving in response to grace. When this is the approach, not only is it more Biblical, but it will create a much healthier kind of giving–giving motivated by gratitude, filled with joy. It will affirm people wherever they are, whether 1%, 10%, or, as in the example of Rick and Kay Warren who practice reverse tithing, living on 10% and giving away 90% and encourage growth. Generosity grows best in an environment where grace abounds, not an environment where people are told dishonest things like, “If you want to make $100,000 per year, give $10,000” or where people are browbeaten with the Bible and told they must tithe in order to please God. The more rules you make about tithing, the more rule-breakers you create.
2 The church has created a culture of non-giving because it has for centuries perpetuated the myth that giving is supposed to be a private, secret matter between the giver and God alone. We have completely misread Jesus’ meaning about “not trumpeting in the streets your gifts to alms” but doing your charity in secret. How do I know we’ve misread him? Because Jesus also said, “And, when you pray don’t pray in public, but pray from your closet and in secret.” No church that I know of practices this. So, why has the church created a whole culture of silence and privacy around the matter of charity? Now, I’m not suggesting we go back to the days of publishing people’s charity. But, what I am saying is that, until we help people learn how to talk publicly about their generosity and how it is not only helping others but changing their own lives, the church will continue to struggle with the problems associated with declining revenues.
3 When this is the approach that the church adopts, giving can be addressed throughout the year instead of two to three Sundays per year. Most churches only deal with the subject of giving around budget promotion time. It shouldn’t surprise church leaders, therefore, that churchgoers neither see nor realize the positive benefits their generosity can have which is a reality they must know if generosity is to flourish. Instead, churchgoers have developed the idea that giving is something they’re expected to do much like paying a bill. That’s why they’re reacting to. So, giving degenerates into the very thing warned about in 2 Cor. 9 – giving motivated by “oughts” and “shoulds.” When joy in giving is missing, motivation to give soon wanes. Just telling people they should give won’t cut it. Giving by credit cards, direct deposit, etc., as important as the development of these technologies might be in the ways that people could express their generosity, will not solve the giving crisis faced by most churches. People deserve to know what difference their giving is making in the world.
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