To the Church ... and Beyond!

This post is the fourth post in an 8 part series. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage ... Short Series: On Giving.

Have you ever heard a sermon on giving encouraging you to bring your whole tithe into the storehouse? (lifted out of context from Malachi 3)

The idea is simple.  Israel was supposed to bring their whole tithe to the Levites in the storehouse (as commanded in Malachi).  The "storehouse" is the local church.  The staff at that local church are "Levites."  And church members get to play "Israel."  Plug.  Chug.

But this doesn't work.  The church is made up of Jew and Gentile ... no Israel here.  The staff at our local churches are allowed to own property, rarely inherit their roles and aren't all male or all Jewish ... no Levites here.  So, why should we consider the "storehouse" to be the local church?

Frankly, I don't think that we should consider the local chuch the new storehouse.

Christians are free to give their money broadly.  To a local church.  To several local churches.  To missions and ministries.  To individuals.  To charities and causes.

Look at Paul's example.  He travelled from church to church taking up a collection for the starving church in Jerusalem.  He accepted gifts from the church in Philippi and cast vision for financial support from the church in Rome.  Advancing God's kingdom and caring for God's people were priorities for Paul.  And he never mentioned the "storehouse."

Now, I understand the complexity of church finances.  I've been in conversations where church strategy was influenced by fear of "losing the tithers."  Many pastors teach the storehouse idea out of fear that people will stop giving.  But at what cost?

I believe, to paraphrase Bill Hybels, that God intends the local church to be the hope of the world.  Our call as Christians is a beautiful, compelling call.  People will give their lives, not just their tithe, to this call.

Perhaps our appeals to the storehouse reflect doubt about the beauty of our call.  Perhaps they reveal that we aren't captured by the call ourselves.  Perhaps they show a drift in our mission ... we've abandoned our first love and our primary call.  We may get money through guilt and gimmicks, but the local church needs more than our money.

Our churches need people to respond to the call of God.  He calls us to worship, to serve, to care.  He is the storehouse and we are to bring to him not just a tithe but everything.

Wise churches encourage people to give to God's mission, wherever it breaks in.  (Full disclosure: this includes parachurch-folk like me who minister to college students)  And, perhaps, at first, churches that encourage giving to mission experience a dip in the money that comes their way.  But a church that cares about God's mission first and foremost will soon draw people who are responding with their all to God's call.  And then they'll have other problems.  What do we do with all these volunteers?  What do we do with all these ideas?  What do we do with all this money?

How would you respond to a church that encouraged you to give to the church and beyond, that seemed interested in God's mission in the world and God's cause locally?

One big issue that keeps coming up for me is the biblical teaching that God loves a cheerful giver.  So much conversation around Christian giving orbits around wisdom and obligation, ignoring the impact of freedom and joy on the experience of giving.  I'll be reflecting on this next: "Cheerfulness in Giving"

1 comment:

  1. I had an interesting, fun, authenticity-caused-tension-filled conversation with a friend today. He had read this post and asked me to provide a little more clarity.

    When I picture mature Christians, I see people who are fully committed to God and his kingdom. And I don't think you can do that without being deeply involved in a local church.

    As our hearts lean toward God's kingdom, they also lean toward the local church. And, since our hearts follow our treasure (see a later post in the series), giving significantly to the local church goes hand in hand with (but is not the same as) committing to God's mission.

    But this comes with a lot of caveats ... too many to touch on them all here ... but here are some of the relevant bullet points richocheting in my head ...
    - missional priorities for the local church
    - Protestant value of church choice
    - financial accountability for local churches
    - diversity in polity influences giving/needs
    - strategic emphasis on mission over obligation
    - freedom, freedom, freedom
    - giving and the bigger story of our growth
    - priority doesn't necessarily indicate size
    - dangers of a partial equivalence hermeneutic
    - where should the parachurch get money?

    If you'd like me to expand on any of this, let me know. It's helpful for me to verbally process this (even if my "verbally" is through a keyboard). :)

    But, to clarify, I think it's a wonderful thing to give to a missional local church. Look for an opportunity to do it ... and quickly.