Rector's Blog: What Percentage of Your Income Do You Give to The Church?
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What percentage of your income do you give to the church?
Do you know the number? I have almost never known this number my entire life. I remember learning that in the Bible there was a mandate for 10% of all income going to the priestly tribe, and that this has often been translated to our modern context and the expectation that people give a tithe – 10% to their church. Jim Hanisian, one of Redeemer’s previous rectors, was fond of reminding people that, “a tithe is great: you get to keep 90% of everything God gives you."
Of course, for many people – myself included, 10% has always felt nearly impossible. If we are seeking some respite from such a high percentage, the New Testament is no help: It turns out all the first Christians held their possessions in common and shared all their resources equally among one another. There’s a word for that and we American Christians don’t like it. So, what are we to do?
As an adult, I have pledged 10% not knowing how I’d make that work, and then had some miracle money fall in my lap to pay that. It’s pretty exciting once, but it’s no way to structure your life. I’ve made pledges and had to double back and decrease the amount or ask for forgiveness. These have been painful experiences that did not leave me feeling closer to God or closer to my worshiping community: Mostly I felt like a bad Christian for not getting it right, and a worse Christian for not being cheerful in giving because I was living in a scarcity mindset and was not sure how it would all work.
In every situation I’m describing to you, I always loved my church. I’ve always wanted to get it right. I’ve always wanted to show my commitment and care, and to prioritize my faith. But did I ever structure my budget and my spending in such a way that giving to the church came first? No. No I didn’t. It’s that simple. I would pay taxes and bills and insurance and buy groceries and get to the end of the month and see what I had.
This kind of spending was not consistent with the way I felt about Jesus, how I felt about the church,
Then I put my giving on autopay. It started going straight to my church right away. I had resisted this because someone I loved told me it didn’t really count if I wasn’t physically writing a check and putting it in the offering plate. (I’m not sure why I believed them, but now I run a church and oversee a budget, and I’m here to tell you: autopay giving counts exactly the same way to the organization you love as putting a check in the plate.) From that point on, my giving has been consistent, and I have been able to keep my commitment. This has given me a huge peace of mind. Knowing I am giving what I promised, and that my church can count on it monthly has changed my relationship to giving. It has united me more fully to my community. I feel empowered in my giving, rather than embarrassed.
I cannot stress this point enough, because I have talked with enough of you for whom the process of deciding what to give to your church has been a source of shame, embarrassment, pain, or uncertainty. I get that feeling. I am talking about this because my relationship to giving is itself a process.
I currently give 5% of my pre-tax income to the Church of the Redeemer. Some people think you should calculate after taxes. I’m not going to quibble on that point. That’s between you and God. I give 5% of my pre-tax income to the Church. I am working towards 10%. That is my plan. It won’t happen overnight. I am learning how important it is to know this number and to be clear about it. I am learning what it means to set a goal like this and build toward it. I’m learning how to prioritize my giving to God and sacrificing other things for that purpose. It’s a process.
So, what percentage of your income do you give to the church? Do you know? I invite you to do the math if you haven’t already. Are you comfortable with that number? Does it reflect the way you see the church working in your life? Does it reflect how you believe you prioritize the worshiping community you love, and to whom you belong? What is Redeemer’s role in your life? Does your giving reflect that?
If giving is a negative, foreign, or uncomfortable experience for you, I’m hoping that we can change that together and that you can feel empowered and peaceful in your financial relationship with the church. Because, as I said last week, Jesus is present in your spending. Your budget is a moral document, and you have the capacity to spend in a way that embodies God’s love in this world. You have the ability, in a very practical way, to unite your values and actions. This is holy work, and we are in it together.
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