In my brief reading and prayerful listening for the Spirit’s guidance, two words kept coming to mind with regards to how I (and I imagine others) approach and resolve the topic of tithing. Either it is something met with faith or avoided in fear. I would venture to say that all of us are constantly moving along the spectrum between these two poles—sometimes responding with more trust, other times consumed by overwhelming concerns of scarcity. I’m not sure we ever can or do get to a place of perfect giving or full ease in the idea and practice—it is always a question we (should and) must wrestle with as we traverse the intersections of where faith meets action. This faith or fear we have is not something that remains just within us, but can be exacerbated or extinguished by how others around us talk about and encourage the subject. Though few, I’ve heard from those who were taught about tithing with gentleness by parents and congregational leaders. Yet, I’ve also talked with numerous people who bear much guilt, shame, and pain from judgment they felt in churches where the message heard was either: “We need MORE, MORE, MORE!” or “You’re not giving enough.” As, myself, one who got nearly no education on tithing when I was younger, it’s not hard to understand why for the majority of us tithing is held at bay by great fear. I confess that I’m one of many, many pastors who has avoided preaching and teaching on tithing because of fear I possess. I fear I don’t know what to say or how to say it faithfully. I fear I’m being hypocritical asking others to live more generously when I know me and my family fail to give as we ought. I fear I will hurt or push people away from the church by sending the wrong message. Fear is a word, and feeling, that’s been close abreast for me over the past nine months at least.
Our relationship with God—salvation as we know it—does not depend, rest, or change based on how faithful we are in tithing or not. We are loved and cared for all the same—whether you give a full tithe, exceedingly more, or even less. Despite how some might act, there is no ranking of status in the church based on who are the ‘best’ givers and who are not. The church is not here to become rich while its people become poor; but rather its purpose and function are to care for all those who call it home regardless their giving and to encourage everyone—from young to old—to live more faithfully in all aspects of life as Christ calls us. One way we demonstrate this faithful discipleship is through our giving back to God a portion (the practice of tithing) of that which we have been blessed with in our lives. This is where faith and fear come into play. How we give, whether stingy or with grace, ultimately points to our faith or fear. When it is looked upon as a means to earn or secure something for ourselves, tithing is captive to fear; but when it is seen and expressed as a grateful response to the One who daily protects, sustains, and provides for us, it is freed in faith. Fear confuses tithing with depravity—a demand to do without or sacrificing one’s basic necessities. Faith honestly portrays tithing as one among many ways we live in thanksgiving for all that God has given us. Tithing is not some archaic mundane part of the church, but actually an active living ministry critical to healthy congregational life and mission. It doesn’t seem too off-base to suggest that our tithing is a sign of either a spiritual immaturity—stunted from growing by fear, or a spiritual maturity—flourishing abundantly. When tithing is a last thought or not considered at all, it points to a faith seized by fear; but when it becomes the first thing to be set aside we communicate that we know God’s rich blessings in our life, and that we trust God will continue to care for us in all our needs.
I by no means have tithing all figured out. Whatever struggles others face with it—either in theory or practice—I have had, currently wrestle with, or am not far from in my own ongoing journey of hopefully becoming a more faithful disciple and steward. Faith and fear are a couple of F-words we never fully master or completely overcome. Daily, Christ is calling us to renewed faith and continual growing in faithfulness, while simultaneously we are faced with a multitude of hurdles (if not barriers) along the pathway of life. Tithing is not something that can be assumed or forced. Such approaches only breed fear and resentment towards the practice. More and more, I’m coming to believe that it must be taught with encouragement, gentleness, and patience. Perhaps setting an example for others through modeling it with honesty and openness, just as other faith practices are shared and passed down, is what is needed in order to better root tithing in faith. We must not shrug off the baggage each of us carries along regarding giving in the church—it’s real—and ignoring or disregarding it only intensifies the problem. The topic of tithing is not something we can shy away from or prayerfully avoid, it must be taken seriously and met with an eagerness to learn and grow. I pray the Spirit leads and guides me in my tithing. I pray the Spirit gives me the gift of faith to respond with thanksgiving and generosity in all aspects of my life. I pray the Spirit uses me as a vessel to work in and through to help educate, encourage, and equip others as we all seek to practice tithing from faith instead of fear. Amen.