Tithing. Its like a dirty word.
You even know where the idea comes from? The whole "give 10% of your money to the church" is Biblical. But it is often misunderstood. This guy in Genesis 14, Melchizedek, set the standard. Abram (Abraham) runs into Mel in Salem (Jerusalem) and gives him a tenth of everything. Money, wine, animals, etc. Most people, when they think of tithing, think of giving 10% to the church because Abraham himself gave 10%. Of course, there are LOTS of places in the Bible where 10% is a great starting place. Of course, there are other mandates that the Lord also gets the first fruits, your first born, etc.
The priestly orders (Levitical) were different because, unlike the other Israelite tribes, did not receive an inheritance from the Land. God was their inheritance. While that sounds really cool and I'm sure had wonderful implications spiritually, it also meant the other tribes had to support the priests financially, with food, and sometimes with land to keep the priests doing their duty.
Tithing wasn't always about money. It also wasn't always about a minimum. For the record, financial giving in churches in the United States hovers somewhere around 2-3% across the board and most of that is done by givers who give more than 10%. I'll try not to talk about tithing in just financial terms, because there are great ways to give of yourself in other ways than money.
At its core, its worth saying that the Biblical mandate to tithe is less about duty and more about passion and enabling God to move. Its just an old church word for caring about what God cares about.
Look, I know there are lots of good reasons people don't want to give to the church.
For one, there isn't a whole lot of money to go around. We have to stretch it sometimes.
Maybe I don't really like the minister - this is a common reason to withhold support in a church.
Maybe its because a strong case can be made that there are better places to put your money (c'mon, its really an investment, isn't it?) Besides the obvious places that give you a return, some Christians feel they should give their money to organizations with less overhead. For example, lots of people my age have no problem giving to non-profits (a horrible descriptor, but its all we have) that get more of their dollar to the impoverished kid. United Way? Sure! Compassion International? Absolutely!
And hey, I'm not saying we shouldn't give to those places. But I have a few really good reasons to give to a church.
First, the church, like it or not, imperfect as it is, is the most obvious sign of the living breathing Christ in this world. You cannot ditch the church and call yourself a Christian.
Second, for every single mismanagement, I believe the church has plenty of Godly activities that would cease without giving. I don't want to hypothesize about what would happen if the church ceased to exist financially, but I'm sure the people aren't going anywhere and there is Biblical precedent for the rocks crying out...God will make things happen, but this isn't about forcing God to move elsewhere but being faithful where we expect God to move.
Third, a lot of great opportunities for good in this world start in a church. Churches inspire, empower, and equip the work of the Saints. Salvation Army? Started in a church. Compassion International? Started in a church.
Ever. single. Christian. relies on the body of Christ, and that is found in community. God's community. The church.
Take away the giving, and you starve the body.
And because I'm bored, here are some frequently asked questions (and my answers):
Should I feel bad for giving less than 10%? Well, the question might be better asked, do you feel bad for giving less than 10%. If you do do, kick it up a notch, son. You don't have to get it right the first time, but surely you can make improvement. I'm sure God has enough blessings and providence to go around, even if you are having trouble If you don't feel bad about giving less than 10%, I'd say you better talk to God about that. I don't know if God would rather you not eat and give to the church - but I do know if you give without fear of provision in the future, God will bless it (and maybe not, as Prosperity Gospel proponents attest, with more money).
Should I give more than 10% when that's what God asks for? Absolutely. Jesus constantly emphasizes that you have more to give. And until you've given it all, you are still holding back from God. The woman who gave two copper coins comes to mind. I also think of what it means to give your whole self. The best gifts to God are always sacrifices. If giving 10% is easy, its time to look for more ways to give.
Should I pledge or just give as needed? I had this conversation with someone just yesterday, actually. A church must run (on some levels) like a business. Budgets necessitate forethought. The bigger the budget, the more important the forethought. If you don't give your church some idea of how much you can give this next year they won't know that money is available for ministry/mission/etc. If you can give more than your pledge, awesome. Everyone wins. But hey, if you don't make your pledge, what is the church going to do to you? God will continue to provide, even if everyone stopped giving to the church today. Please, worry about the one that you are actually giving to, which would be God.
How do I determine which of my resources/gifts/talents to give as my tithe? A good rule of thumb is the more it hurts, the better the gift (for you). Have lots of money and not much time? Giving financially is great (and I'd encourage it) but you'd have to give a lot more money to equal the amount of sacrifice you could make in time. Lots of time and not much money? No worries, give of your time, fo sho, but show God how much you care by carving out some relationships.
Giving, caring, and tithing, are really about whats important to you. Caring is easy. We all care about stuff. Maybe we can care more about the church.