Show Me The Money

2 Weeks of Pagan Christianity

Chapter 8 takes on the explosive duo of tithing and clergy salaries.

“The issue under scrutiny in this chapter is the appropriateness of the tithe as a Christian law and how it is normally used: to fund clergy salaries, operational costs, and church building overhead.”

This was a fairly short chapter and the history, particularly on tithing, was very brief. One of the statements follows:

Giving in the early church was voluntary. And those who benefited from it were the poor, orphans, widows, sick, prisoners, and strangers.

It will come as no surprise that in the book, clergy salaries are viewed as reinforcing the clergy/laity divide and the professionalization of ministry.

Here are a few references for further reading about these issues:

The topic of tithing was discussed here previously in my post, Don’t Preach to Me About Tithing! I asked, “Has the church been a trustworthy steward of our giving and resources?”

For a comprehensive study on the topic of tithing, I recommend this free online book by Russell Kelly, Should the Church Teach Tithing.

Alan Knox did an extensive scriptural study concerning clergy salaries in his series, Should Elders/Pastors Be Paid A Salary? In this series, Alan covers many of the questions that have come up in the comments during this series concerning this issue. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, I believe that you will appreciate the thorough research of his study.

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19 thoughts on “Show Me The Money

  1. Pagan Christianity is the next book onmy list to buy, the subject of tithing is very personal to me at the moment because my wife and I just received a letter with our tithing statement that ,in short said if we are not giving ten percent of our gross income directly to our church we are not doing as God commands.

  2. A church I used to be involved with completed a $30 million building project not too long ago. The building is nice — coffeeshop, basketball courts, atrium, 3000 seat auditorium. The electric bill alone was over $15,000 per month. That was the point that I started questioning where and why I should be giving money to the church.

    Seriously, $30 million could buy a ton of freshwater wells in Africa. Or india. It could do a lot here in the US as well. Instead of extending our reach to the people who need “the church” the most, we spend the money on more pastors, more buildings, more equipment. Infrastructure, really. I see it as extremely self-serving.

    I think giving is extremely important — not tithing. Giving is a natural expression of a loving, grace-filled heart. Giving implies that we aren’t getting something back, like new church facilities or a new sound system or better preaching.

    Aaron, I pray you recognize that that letter is an attempt to manipulate and shame you into tithing. We are free under grace, so the rules of tithing no longer apply to us. We are to give as we see a need, and not to supply a pastor’s salary.

  3. I have not read this book, but have read Barna’s “How To Increase Giving In Your Church.” I’m wondering if George has changed his mind, or exactly how he reconciles that book with this chapter(?).

  4. dan h,
    I’m willing to bet that Barna has changed his mind. He wrote the book you mentioned over 10 years ago, and I know he has gone through a personal revolution since that time — as have many of us :-).

    On a side note, I once met an author who had an out of print book that he wrote and had since changed his views. He said that he wished he could buy back all the books and burn them.

  5. Since I buy my groceries out of the money people give to a church I’m not sure there’s any way for me to comment here without a hint of hypocrisy. I don’t necessarily take issue with the idea of clergy salaries and church buildings although the scale in many cases makes me squirm. Like Dan K, I had a moment of questionning as a member of a megachurch opening a new building addition for which I personally pledged the largest single chunk of money I’d ever spent on anything in my life except a home. I was volunteering to help with moving into the new facility and my assignment was to unpack 30 plus massive plasma TVs that were to be used for monitors and lobby announcements. When it occurred to me that my pledge wouldn’t even cover the cost of one of those devices I started to feel used.

    I think that too often the cart comes before the horse. Instead of having ministry flow out of the generousity and degree of surrender in a local church, we create a budget and pressure people to get in line.

    All I can to Aaron is, dude that’s just wrong!

  6. Late I know but as I read the post and the comments it reminds me how much I struggle with this issue. I am a paid pastor and have a question for the multitudes, Who makes the visits at the hospital, the nursing homes, takes care of the family in turmoil, lifts up the broken, guides the lost and all that stuff.
    I have personally said I need to be like the appliance repairman, I don’t get paid a salary but when I come to you and help you pay the fee for the service. The falicy with that is many cannot pay.
    In my community there are several pastors who have declined serving as hospital chaplain and helping at the nursing home. (not their thing) This is a small community without benefit of professional chaplains. Who is going to care for these people????
    I cannot get done what I do and work a full time job. I do not necessarily agree with the pay the pastor but also see the need. It may be the way the church has become structure over time and this should fall on elders and deacons and be spread out over the time of all believers therefore not requiring a paid person.
    The thought of tithing (10%) always leaves me with this thought. On the one hand are those who have been giving 20% or more and they see it only requires 10% so they give less. The other is the one giving 3% and struggling to pay the bills seeing it as hopeless and giving up the whole thing.
    Hope this is confusing and arrousing to all of you Pastor WaynO

  7. WayneO,

    “It may be the way the church has become structure over time and this should fall on elders and deacons and be spread out over the time of all believers therefore not requiring a paid person.”

    I would say that you have hit the nail on the head, brother. I think this is exactly what Jesus is using as his goat/sheep filter at the end of Matthew 25. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to love our neighbors as ourselves…we are now allowed to get off the hook by hiring that task out.

    This mindset has, however, been accepted for such a long time that it will take tremendous intentional education and effort to turn it around. But the effort to rehabilitate the Body of Christ is well worth the price, IMO.

  8. Well, IMO, highering the pastor to do ministry is absurd. I’m on the road to being a pastor or something of that sort myself, and I can’t justify getting money for ministering. God calls all of us to be ministers. I see the job of the pastor as an equipper. It is the pastor’s job to equip me and others around me to minister.

    In my opinion, of course :)

  9. I happen to be a strong advocate of tithing. My wife and I started at a tithe and have now moved up to 18% and the Lord has greatly blessed us (not with great wealth, but with plenty and very few anxieties about money). Those I know who tithe share similar stories.

    The question becomes – where does my tithe go? If we look at both the OT and NT, I think we can find 4 key areas –

    1) Preservation of divine worship – including providing for the priests (paid staff).

    2) Construction and maintenance of the temple (building costs).

    3) Care for orphans and widows (serving poor).

    4) Making disciples of all nations (mission).

    Now, not all churches financially support these four areas at adequate levels. Some pay 90% or more for personnel and property. In that case, I think it’s entirely acceptable for someone to divide their tithe between the church and a mission agency doing the sort of work the church isn’t.

  10. I believe any genuine christian would want to give cheerfully and with out compulsion to further the gsopel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also will give to support the needy.Paying of tithes to me is not Christian giving.Christian giving should been done voluntarily and according to what God has blessed you with.All this talk about being prosperous when you tithe is just to motivate christians to give out of greed.However having said this whether you pay your tithes or you give let all be done cheerfully and ministers should not burden their members with guilt, when they do not give enough.

  11. Some of my random thoughts:

    When I hear that a church has just started or completed (the construction, not the payments which often last for years and years) a building project, my heart just sinks. Why in the world are we spending millions (billions?) of dollars on ourselves? Are orphans, widows, the homeless, the desperate, the abused, the lonely really being helped by our fancy buildings, dazzling architechture, large parking lots, coffee bars, high-paid staff, TV monitors, impressive sound systems, etc? Money or tithes that believers think they are giving to God, according to their consciences, are hijacked, in my opinion, so that we may gather in comfort and pass along our responsibilities to those who are paid to do them for us.

    I think that having paid clergy does widen the clergy/laity gap because it wasn’t too long ago that I and many others that I know believed that one wasn’t in “full-time ministry” unless one was being paid to do it. Plus, if someone is paid to visit those in the hospital, for example, I believe that many see that as an excuse for why they don’t need to go themselves.

    I know that there are many sincere, caring paid pastors, though I think that there can be an unintentional conflict of interest if they preach on tithing.

    I don’t believe that we’re commanded to tithe, pay clergy salaries, or spend the outrageous amounts that we do on buildings and related operational costs.

    Yet, what are we to do? What do we do with the real estate and assets that our tithes have bought? If we do away with clergy salaries, then how can we help the thousands of pastors who need to support their families?

    I agree with Peggy that changing this mindset is a big undertaking. I just don’t know how to do it.

  12. Yet, what are we to do? What do we do with the real estate and assets that our tithes have bought? If we do away with clergy salaries, then how can we help the thousands of pastors who need to support their families?

    I agree with Peggy that changing this mindset is a big undertaking. I just don’t know how to do it.

    It is always a ‘stretch’ of what-if’s when the likes of Barna & Viola start making the quick-and-easy list of what is okay vs. what is wack…

    Like any politician they can make the list of wrongs so elegantly obvious. What they cannot provide is how to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again once he has been toppled from his institutional church wall…

    I would assume that at any point along the journey any sincere saint is traveling, God could indeed revisit the traditions any of us are comfortable with. Simply wishing to ‘do good to all men’ not the same option for each individual or group. Jesus did say we would have the poor with us until the end. But the immediate fix is no more effective & simple than deconstructing church culture.

    I may take pity upon the poor beggar in the street. And I am touched by his plight. But putting $20 in his Styrofoam cup may be the least helpful thing for him. Could be he needs a coat. Or health care. Or job training. Or simply a job. So the approach to alleviating poverty within the community or neighborhood a body of believers wishes to impact for the kingdom likely to be as varied as the demographics that community consists of.

    Now I cannot create a job for that man. But a local church could cooperate with social services & local businessmen to see if such help can be extended. My point here is this: there are macro issues along with the micro ones that will be addressed differently by individuals or by groups or by para-church/governmental cooperation.

    If there are large buildings dedicated to God that seem oddly extravagant to others, then simply do not support such efforts. Personal conviction then. Just be careful about pointing out the speck of sawdust in those mega-church folk. And what if God does bring new direction for the senior pastor on down? Sorta like Nineveh’s response to Job’s pronouncement? I would think they could become better stewards of what they have. Let’s say they decided to end more building programs. As things wear out do not replace the flashy stuff, just get by with less. And turn off the heating during one month in winter & give the savings in utilities to the Salvation Army. It will be a good object lesson for everyone to remember those less fortunate during the colder months.

    Simply eliminating one supposed abomination to the Lord does not immediately reap blessings. A pastor I know experienced this when he was in Las Vegas. Was asked by James Dobson to support his Congressional presentation regarding the evils of gambling. All pastors in the city were contacted by Focus on the Family to supply testimony about the harm gambling wreaked on families there. This pastor actually supported the gaming industry since it provided the jobs much of his congregation relied on. And simply outlawing gambling a greater hardship on the least of these than the crusaders of superior morals probably gave much thought to. So he turned Dobson down & from what this pastor explained Dobson simply came unglued over the phone. Yelled, screamed & implied John was not a Christian…

    So much for behaving as the champion against eroding Christian virtues in America…

    I do not give any money to a church building fund. And when I did give regularly, I earmarked my money for the Deacon’s Fund that was there to help the needy. I did not give anything to the church general fund to be used as the church determined. But I would not expect any paid clergyman to give up employment based solely on principle when I would not be willing to do the same. Those people that work for a brewery or winery or work in a bar do not cause me any offense. Same as those working for a casino. Of course even I would be uncomfortable encouraging a stripper to continue in that line of work she engages in to support herself & her child. But then I would not make it a prerequisite for including her in my local gathering of believers either…

  13. Edit – meant to communicate this idea in my closing sentences:

    “Of course even I would be uncomfortable encouraging a stripper to continue in that line of work she engages in to support herself & her child. But then I would not make quitting said job a prerequisite for including her in my local gathering of believers either…”

    We must be careful about putting expectations on others before we consider them “with the program” & therefore in God’s more perfect will.

    That goes with paid clergy, mega-church members or pole dancers…

  14. Mary wrote/asked;

    Yet, what are we to do? What do we do with the real estate and assets that our tithes have bought? If we do away with clergy salaries, then how can we help the thousands of pastors who need to support their families?

    Um…, a guy I know said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Where did we get the idea that we’re supposed to be accumulators of stuff?

    What do we do for/about pastors that need to support their families? Well, part of the proceeds from selling the realty could be applied to a severance package which also includes career/vocational training and counseling.

    Why should pastors not be expected to work jobs like the rest of us? What gives?? What’s the “difficulty”?

    Tom

  15. That goes with paid clergy, mega-church members or pole dancers…

    Joseph,

    I can see the symmetry between the first and third individuals, but I’m having difficulty fitting the m-c member with the other two… ;o)

    Tom

  16. Er…you mean paid clergy, mega-church members & pole dances/strippers?

    Do you remember a few years back the stink raised by an exotic dancer that had her kid in a Christian school? She was told to take her kid elsewhere, you know, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed…”

    She sued. I don’t know the result. But the attitude was get another job befitting a single mother claiming Christian values are important, or get your demon spawn outta here!

    Just as we cannot simply expect any paid church person to simply abandon said job for the sake of principle, so we should be careful about anyone that is making a living doing things we do not think appropriate (for whatever reason).

    My ‘grouping’ rationale simply for the whiplash effect; no theological connection implied. :)

    Hey…I’m just glad someone was paying attention!

    Regarding the “sell all you have & give to the poor” response mentioned on your other post: I know another guy that halved such a requirement & still got the big Thumbs Up from the Lord:

    But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

    Point being: It is not the amount distributed to the poor that guarantees eternal life, but the response to the Lord when He requests to stay at our house.

    Even Bill Gates giving away half of his wealth would have no impact on his lifestyle. His half far exceeds most third world countries gross national product any given year. Zacchaeus was commended for his response to Jesus inviting himself over. And right after that story, Jesus tells a parable about investing money or “putting it to work.”

    If we actually care to look at what is implied in Jesus’ directive to The Rich Young Man, following Jesus was going to be a full-time ministry gig. Supported from the communal purse Judas kept. He was going to be provided for as part of a ministry team. And nothing is implied either that says that same young man could not have reentered the business world after Jesus ascended.

    If we care to put a literal meaning to that directive, one might just end up becoming worse than an unbeliever: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

  17. Joseph,

    I enjoy and learn from what you write. Humor is fun. ;o)

    My question yet remains…Why should pastors not be expected to work jobs like the rest of us? What gives?? What’s the “difficulty”?

    And the corollary…where does the idea come from that pastors/elders/shepherds/overseers are to be viewed and treated as some kind of high-paid specialist? Why is their spiritual “speciality” apparently more valuable than mine?

    Tom

  18. “Why should pastors not be expected to work jobs like the rest of us? ”

    If the apostles couldn’t be taken away from their primary job of preaching and prayer to distribute funds to the widows of the community (a very pastorly thing to do), do we think that they thought it a beneficial use of their time to hold down jobs to support themselves?

    MB

  19. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

    So the [Jerusalem] Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

    Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

    I had brought up these scriptural references before regarding the precedent set right out of the gate for full time ministry positions supported by the church. I suppose if you aspire to be an overseer, then it is a noble undertaking. If you wanted to commit yourself to prayer & the ministry of the word & sowing of spiritual seed, then Paul makes it clear: such a person has the right of support from those being served/ministered to.

    Food, drink, wives, material harvest: all within the rights of the apostles, the Lord’s brothers & even Cephas. Which makes an interesting segue: why doesn’t the Pope claim this right of taking a believing wife?

    Anyway, there is ample reference that a man wanting to devote himself to the affairs of the church full time was worthy of support. Now it could be this ‘right’ was not demanded or expected or coerced or manipulated back in those early years. And of course such support could be refused as Paul did. Seems his line of work lucrative enough to keep his needs met while releasing the churches he founded from their support. I would like to think that every devoted servant of God who wanted to minister full time would also have a lucrative side job requiring minimal attention sufficient to make a good living to support a wife & family & have some left over to share with those in need.

    I suppose if the concept+practice of church support was good enough for Paul & Peter it must still have some merit today…

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