Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Giving First

Tim Dalrymple looks at giving:
Tithing to mainline churches has reached its lowest level in at least 41 years. Of the smaller amount churches are receiving, a smaller proportion of church funds is serving the needy outside the congregation. These are two of the findings from an analysis of mainline churches' tithing and giving patterns from 1968 to 2009 by Empty Tomb, Inc.


As churches receive less, they may need to retain a higher proportion of their resources in order to meet their operating costs and retain their staff. Yet "turning inward and valuing the happiness of its members" over the needs of others is "moving on a spectrum toward pagan values," argues co-author Sylvia Ronsvalle, Empty Tomb's executive vice president. Such trends, she says, require careful examination, not a knee-jerk defense of the church.


Yet the astonishingly low tithing levels found in the report ought to provoke self-examination. It is not only spending on physical services that has declined, but spending on missionaries as well. If American churches had devoted the same proportion of their resources to benevolences in 2009 as they had in 1968, then another $3.1 billion would have gone to the needy. And if American Christians had tithed a full 10 percent of their income in 2008, then the church would have had another $172 billion at its disposal for missions and services. This would have been more than enough, suggest the authors, to send missionaries to every unreached people group and all but eliminate the deaths of small children because of starvation and disease.
He's right about the need for self-examination. There are lots of nits I could pick with this post, but I want t focus on the call for self-examination - where does it start?

The starting point is the fact that the churches discussed put themselves ahead of others. The figures make it plain - no argument, no spin will change it - the churches clearly elected to give less to mission for the sake of maintaining their own programs and staff.

And yet:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
There it is in plain language - mission giving should be the last budget item cut, not the first.

So, examine yourself indeed - and look to spiritual formation for your answers.

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