Tithed and Tired v. Storied and Inspired

Many congregations’ websites describe the practice of tithing on their giving pages, almost as placeholder text. Sometimes it’s simple and direct:

“The biblical model for giving is to tithe, allocating 10% of one’s income
to the church, so that should be your goal.”

Other descriptions are more subtle:

 “We appreciate your support for this church, where our mission to share Christ’s light with the world includes the practice of directing 10% of church gifts to support global charities.”

Thereby implying, we tithe as a church so you should, too!

As congregational leaders of Stewardship, we are aware that many in our congregations give closer to 1% than 10%, so giving invitations might not mention percentages at all. But avoiding the conversation entirely may abandon an important opportunity to nurture disciples in the joy of giving. Whether it’s welcoming a handful of crumpled dollar bills from a single parent, or a retiree’s hefty Qualified Charitable Distribution, we must provide a way for everyone to grow in their generosity and giving.

There are serious limitations if we structure our Stewardship message around the supposed “Biblical Standard” of tithing. Let’s rethink how we invite people to give, inspiring their giving rather than obliging it.

Tithing 

The data indicates that, on average, U.S. individuals give around 2-3% of their after-tax income to charities (including churches). So while there may be some tithers in your congregation, average church-goers will give away 2-3% of their income and probably not to your congregation alone. Given this reality, if our Stewardship pitch focuses on the tithe which may be as much as four times what someone is currently giving, there is a good chance our Stewardship goal is probably not going to make its mark.

A fair reading of scripture does not reinforce any goal or requirement that Christians today should give 10% of their income to their local congregation. If tithing became a key concern of Jesus, he would probably mention it. Instead, while Jesus talks about money all the time, he is nearly always addressing people’s relationship with money, and the injustice associated with the distribution of money. In imagining the Christian life, Paul embraced generosity, cheerful giving, and caring for those in need. But there is never any sense of a 10% catchall expectation in the Gospels, epistles, or elsewhere in the New Testament.

The Old Testament includes several passages that note the practice of giving 10% to the Temple. This money went to support the Levitical priests, temple upkeep, sacrifices, and charity. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 suggests tithing also led to huge parties with good food, strong drink, and great rejoicing.

Stories

So, if we don’t use tithing as a rhetorical device to compel giving, what should we do? This path is where we should lean on invitation rather than the obligation. And for Christians, invitation is a key ingredient of discipleship.

As Henri Nouwen famously observes,

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer
other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”

Stewardship ministry then becomes a way to proclaim what we believe.

One of the best ways to make this proclamation is to tell stories; stories of our ministry, stories of lives changed, stories of the Spirit working through the gifts we give to God in the offering.

  • Tell the story of Dave whose life was changed by volunteering at your food shelf.
  • Tell the story of Nikkeya who led confirmation classes and is now going to seminary.
  • Tell the story of Haden who discovered God on a mission trip.
  • Tell the story of Edna who was touched when the pastor visited her last week.

We are made of and moved by story. Stewardship, at its best, invites people to join in the story of God’s work in your midst — an invitation that can truly inspire generosity.

 

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

 

*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

 

The Currency of Money

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

The Rev. Lisa Cressman, an Episcopal priest and the Founding Steward of Backstory Preaching, recently wrote an article for the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary titled, “How Our Failure to Address the “M” Word Damages More Than Budgets.”

With stewardship season fast approaching and knowing many preachers feel uncomfortable talking about money, Lisa wanted to know why. Why does preaching about money — or talking about money in just about any context — make us squirm with awkwardness? Here’s what she concluded:

When did talking about money become taboo?

Interestingly, while talking about money may be taboo for you and me, it isn’t off limits for everyone everywhere, because talking about money—or avoiding it—is culturally specific.

For example, in some cultures talking about money is seen as genuinely helpful, and not discussing it is rude. If I’m paying a higher price for rent than you are, or I paid less than you did for a car, it’s polite to talk about it so we can both pay what’s fair. In the United States, especially among the middle class, it seems we inherited the taboo of talking about money from early American colonizers from England.

In England, the wealth of others was easily estimated based on the amount of land one owned and all it required to build up and maintain it. A person’s wealth, and the status, power, and prestige it implied, was self-evident. People who had money didn’t need to talk about it. Therefore, those who talked about money were the ones who didn’t have it.

And thus, the discussion of money was associated with those in a “lower class.”

To oversimplify hundreds of years of social development, to be “classy” (meaning to be polite, genteel, respectable) meant not talking about money—and so our social norm was established.

What is the cost of avoiding the “M” word?

Think about how much time, emotional energy, and relational labor is spent worrying about money in the life of your average congregation member. Practically speaking, this taboo around money talk traps people in ignorance, stress, and scarcity:

  • financial illiteracy leads to uninformed consent when we sign on the dotted line, leading to unwelcome surprises when the bills come due
  • as a country, we continue to amass the greatest amountof personal debt in the history of the world
  • financial distress is a factor correlated with domestic violence
  • immense unnecessary stress occurs when the spouse who managed the finances dies without leaving a trail of bread crumbs to the family’s bank (or the computer passwords to the online accounts)
  • college grads amass student loan debtwithout calculating whether a chosen profession provides an adequate salary to pay it off
  • women and minorities continue to experience injustice in pay equity because ignorance of what others are paid makes it impossible to know if they’re paid the same

What we gain by breaking the silence? 

Money itself is amoral—neither evil nor good. But our perspective toward it can make it decidedly corrupt or benevolent. As Stewardship leaders, we have a responsibility to disrupt the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture of silence around money to cast a sacred vision for money.

When we avoid discussions of money, we forfeit an opportunity to free people from the anxiety or shame of financial distress. Here are some of the ways we might do that:

  • promote justice for our lesser-paid colleagues by advocating they receive the same pay we earn for the same work
  • teach financial literacy—beginning with our kids so they learn sound financial decision-making skills
  • focus on the joy of living well within one’s means with enough left over to give to those in need
  • learn the virtue of patience, which is so often missed with every purchase we pay interest on
  • provide dignity and respect to our loved ones after we die by sharing with them the amounts and locations of our assets and debts
  • experience joyful financial giving because we no longer care whether we are “keeping up with the Joneses.”

During this season of Stewardship, find ways to truly talk about money, not in terms of scarcity, but in terms of abundance. What does your budget say about your mission and ministry? How can you free your congregation to share their own financial stories and how it impacts their ability to freely give?

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

Holy Currencies

Eric Law is an Episcopal priest and the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute in Los Angeles. Eric has an understanding of what it means to lead an organization and struggle with money issues. In his ministry, he has found that congregations who talk about sustainability spend a lot of time focused on money. How can we make our ministry sustainable? Where do we find the money to finance our ministries? How can we raise the money to start a needed ministry?

Congregations who talk about being missional tend not to talk about sustainability. Eric found at the Kaleidoscope Institute that what made it sustainable was not just about the money. They increased their annual budget entirely from contributions in exchange for the leadership-training programs and resources they provide. They were serving, resourcing, and building networks of relationships. Serving, resourcing, building relationships, and giving! Isn’t that what we are called to do?

After more than a year of research, Eric concluded that there are at least six currencies that flow through a sustainable missional ministry. In addition to money, these currencies are time and place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, and wellness. These currencies “flow” through your ministry, exchanging themselves for other currencies, forming what Eric calls the “Cycle of Blessings.” The sequence rejuvenates what is spent initially, recirculates resources, and regenerates more currencies, thereby growing and expanding the ministry.

In his book, “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries,” Eric Law discusses each of the following types of currency and assists congregations in assessing the currencies that are often overlooked and under-utilized. Here is a brief definition of these six currencies:

Currency of Time and Place – This currency includes the paid and volunteer time that leaders and members offer to the church or ministry. It also includes any properties from which a congregation operates, and other property which can be accessed by the congregation. Imagine the volunteer hours that people give to the ministries of your church. Imagine your facility being used to its fullest capacity!

Currency of Gracious Leadership – This is the ability to use skills, tools, models, and processes to create gracious environments within which mutually respectful “relationships” and the discernment of “truth” across differences can be built among members and with non-members. Differences can be racial/ethnic, age, class, political or simply day-to-day relationships with one another.

Currency of Relationship – This is the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of a church have such as relationships among members in small groups and classes, workshops and seminars. It might also be connections with organizations outside the congregation to build relationships and partnerships to meet the needs of the community.

Currency of Truth – This type of currency is the ability to articulate the stories of your congregation, the beliefs of our denomination, and the experiences of our ministries. We often fail to use this currency to show the community, the neighborhood, the city or town what makes us unique and inviting and transformational.

Currency of Wellness – Wellness is the state of being healthy physically, socially, economically, ecologically, and spiritually within our congregations, within our neighborhoods, and within our country and the world. Congregations in a state of wellness have energy, intelligence, imagination and love enough to share with others.

Currency of Money – Money is the medium of exchange, a measure of value or a means of payment. It is often the only currency we can envision.

Consider these important facts:

  1. It is the flowing of these currencies that gives them value. If you have a beautiful church building, but it’s only used on Sunday, the currencies of time and place are not being maximized.
  2. The flowing of these currencies needs to include all six in order for ministry to be sustainable and missional. If a church uses the time of volunteers to provide wellness to the members only, there is no energy flowing outward to build new relationships.
  3. The flowing of these currencies must recirculate back to replenish what was spent to ministries can be regenerative. People experience the mission and ministry and respond with their giving.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you more about each of these currencies and how you might incorporate them into your stewardship efforts.

Please contact me at Deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032 if I can assist you in your fall Stewardship planning.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

*Excerpts taken from “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries” by Eric H. F. Law.

Carols for Year End Stewardship

As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do:

An Expression of Faith

“Think of us this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”

I was recently asked to prepare a Statement of Faith as part of my training to become an active elder on the session of my church. I’ve read many well-articulated Statements of Faith from candidates who are being examined for ordination as pastors, so I considered this to be both a privilege and a challenge.

An Annual Stewardship Emphasis

In their recent book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson claim that generosity is a practice, not a “haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life.” In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul talks about generosity as a virtue, a habit of the heart, and a character trait. Generosity as both virtue and practice connects attitude to action.