By Joe McKeever, retired pastor and DOM, author from New Orleans
“Southern Baptists are not even approaching anything close to a tithe of their total income.” – Dr. Will Hall, The Baptist Message
The Baptist Message for Oct. 8, 2015 goes into detail about the financial situation facing our denomination. For the first time ever, we’re told, designated receipts are outpacing gifts to denominational causes through our Cooperative Program.
What that means is that our churches – and that means our pastors – are directing larger and larger portions of the offering plate money to the causes they wish to support. As a result, they are slowly beginning the process of defunding the causes they’re not supporting.
Underlying the various aspects of this financial crisis is one huge factor: Fewer of our people are tithing their income through their churches these days.
Will Hall writes, “Southern Baptists are robbing God…. Southern Baptists teach tithing, but whatever we are doing is not connecting with our people…”
That stopped me short.
I appreciate Will’s positive spin on things in saying we teach tithing.
But he’s wrong.
We are not teaching tithing.
We used to.
There was a time when churches would have stewardship revivals and conferences lasting for several days or even a week. They would bring in outside speakers who would teach the biblical concepts of giving. They conducted stewardship campaigns inside their churches, most of them lasting for weeks, culminating with a churchwide banquet and a pledge day on Sunday. Our people came to conferences and revivals and study courses devoted to nothing in the world other than stewardship and tithing.
Try that now and let me know how it goes.
Ask any pastor. Our people simply would not attend.
Whether churches quit holding these stewardship conferences and revivals because the people were not attending or they quit attending because the leadership no longer offered the meetings is anyone’s guess.
The bottom line is we are not teaching tithing.
We are preaching tithing.
I don’t know of one SBC pastor who does not believe in tithing and mention it occasionally in his messages.
But it’s a rare pastor who will devote more than one or two sermons a year exclusively to tithing.
And we wonder why the younger generation is doing little more than tipping God when the offering plate goes by.
Several fallacies are current in our churches these days. Here are some of the most obvious ones….
1) The typical SBC pastor actually believes that good preaching is going to bring in bigger offerings. The only way that works is if the crowds get bigger and bigger each year. And where is that happening?
2) Our leaders believe that if people get “good and saved,” they’re going to become faithful and generous givers. We make jokes about “baptizing their wallets.”
We are expecting them to do something they are not being taught. Where is the sense in that?
3) This generation thinks that if their church is doing well financially, there is no need for sermons on tithing or an emphases on stewardship.
They have forgotten that the individual Christian needs to grow as disciples and honoring their Lord with their income is a major way of accomplishing that.
4) Many pastors are afraid to mention money.
I’ve had them admit that to me. “My people don’t like me mentioning money. It puts them in mind of the prosperity preachers on television.”
I wonder what about the biblical admonition to “Preach the Word”?
Two predictions, both of them awful…
One: At Judgement, multitudes of Christian people are going to point accusing fingers at their pastors for not teaching them to be faithful stewards of their money, for not leading them to become victorious tithers. They will arrive in Heaven and learn they have not “laid up treasure in Heaven” as our Lord commanded.
Two: At Judgement, untold millions of the unsaved will point the finger of accusation at God’s people who did not send missionaries their way. Because we chose to spend God’s money on ourselves, on expensive luxury items in our homes, and on fancy campuses and technological doodads for our churches, missionaries were called home and people died without ever hearing the gospel.
What I’m calling for…
I am not suggesting a return to 1960 with its weeklong study course meetings on stewardship, although there would be nothing wrong with it.
What I am urging is for pastors and church leaders to face one massive fact which we cannot get around: People have to be taught and motivated to tithe.
However we do it, they have to be taught, and that means using all the proven techniques of teaching concepts and changing behavior.
They have to be taught that tithing is a matter of faith.
People say, “We’re going to start tithing just as soon as we pay our debts and get a little money ahead.”
I tell them, “No, you’re not.”
There will never be such a time. Furthermore, God does not want you to tithe that way.
When we say we’re going to start tithing as soon as the money is available, what we’re saying is I’m going to tithe just as soon as I don’t have to do it by faith.
But that’s not how it’s done. We tithe by faith, the same way we do everything else in the Christian life!
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
“For we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
And the big one: “The just shall live by faith” (found in Habakkuk 2:4 and 3 times in the New Testament: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38).
It’s hard to start tithing. It’s uphill. It’s counter-intuitive, meaning it looks like you’re making matters worse for yourself financially instead of being really smart.
Only those who truly believe in Him will tithe.
Ask the old-timers in any church, people who were taught to tithe generations ago and have given faithfully and regularly ever since.
Tithing was hard at first. They had to make sacrifices. They had to rearrange their priorities. The second year it was still tough. But for most, tithing became easier over the years and they readjusted their spending. And now, as that generation comes toward the end of their earthly pilgrimage most give thanks that even the humblest have given a small fortune to the Lord’s work.
Only the pastors and leaders who truly want to bless their people and grow them in Christ will be willing to teach tithing.
Only courageous leaders will give more than lip service to tithing and take extraordinary steps to really help their people.
Our Lord asked, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Whoever teaches me to tithe has blessed my life forever.