by Scott Sutton
My attitude toward tithing has changed. Is changing. I don’t know exactly when it began, so I’ll take you all the way back to the beginning and then show you where I’m going.
Growing up in a non-churchgoing family, I had no concept of tithing. I was aware of the word “tithe” and always associated it with churchfolk. My parents were generous people so I had a concept of generosity. I assumed “tithe” was just a churchy word for “generosity”. This is the attitude I brought toward tithing when I finally became one of those churchfolk. I perceived tithing as a way of being generous with my money.
Through those early days of my faith during my college years, this concept of tithing as generosity led me to being pretty erratic in my giving. If a cause in which I believed was raising support, I gave to it. Something. Whatever felt right. When the offering basket went by me on Sundays I would open my wallet, examine how much cash I had on me and how much I needed until next payday, and give whatever felt generous. $20. $5. Whatever.
In the span of three months, I graduated, got married, started my first “professional” job, and moved to a new part of the country and a new church. Yup, all of that. In three months. It was a little chaotic. As my newly wed wife and I were merging our new finances together and coming up with a plan, she was insistent that we tithe 10% of our income. 10%! This rattled me for a few reasons – we weren’t making all that much money, we had a lot of “getting our lives off the ground” expenses, and it just plain felt like a lot of money. But she was right. We saw this pattern, this model in scripture of Abraham giving 10% of his belongings to this mysterious man named Melchizedek who was a figure of Jesus to come. We saw how the Israelites sacrificed their first and their best to God at the temple. We saw the command in Paul’s letters to support those who dedicate their lives to carrying and teaching the gospel.
So we began tithing 10% of our income. I confess that sometimes when money was tight and we would write that tithe check (yes, we still write checks) I would think about how nice it would be to have that money sitting in our account. But it was a sacrifice that we were honored and happy to make. I perceived tithing as form of cheerful sacrifice.
But lately my attitude toward tithing has been undergoing another shift. If the notion of a 10% tithe has a downfall it’s this: that we might be tempted to think of the first 10% as belonging to God and the rest of it as belonging to us. What I’ve seen in my life over the years is that while we have consistently tithed 10% to our local church and nowadays about another 2% to missionaries, the money we spend on ourselves has grown dramatically. In fact, if you look at it from a dollar perspective over the past 15 years, for every $1 we have increased our giving, we have increased our saving/spending by $5. Sure, we save a whole lot more than we used to. Sure, the cost of healthcare has become irresponsible in our country. Sure, we have doubled the size of our family. But 5 to 1?
And, so, over the past year-ish we have been shifting our perception. We are learning to perceive tithing as worship. And worship requires all of us. Worship isn’t a 10% thing; it’s a 100% thing.
One of the ways we are practically living this out is that we have walked away from much of the traditional mindset about tithing (yes, we still give 10% to The Grove and would tell anyone else to do the same). But we have walked away from the idea of 10% as a target. We have walked away from the idea of “10% is God’s and the rest is yours” (an idea we have heard taught from several pulpits). We are now approaching giving with a perspective of, “How can we give as much of this as possible to bolster the work that God and his people are doing locally and around the world?” How can we intentionally limit and reduce our lifestyle as much as possible so we can give as much as possible? How can we be more strategic and more tactical in our approach to money to free up as much as possible for giving?
Tithing is generosity. It is sacrifice. It is worship. And wherever you are in your journey, the most important thing is simply to consider where your heart is in giving. God doesn’t want someone to give $5 or 10% or 20% begrudgingly, out of a sense of obligation or of guilt. God loves cheerful givers. So start there. Why do you give? What is the position of your heart when you give? Where are you on your journey?