04 October 2006

Is it Wednesday already?

by Frank Turk

While Phil is metaphorically licking his technological wounds this morning, I realized that this is Wednesday and that I ought to do something about participating here other than antagonizing evangelizing the random atheist who might wander by.

This morning I'd like to talk about the idea of being a joyful giver -- because I'm sure that unlike the rest of the world everyone who reads TeamPyro is a joyful giver who gives generously to his or her local church, and also makes offerings of charity in various kinds all the time.

No?

This topic comes to my attention because (and this is one of my hobbies, so forgive me for being a bit of a nerd) I was looking at some stats lately on giving that pretty much blew my mind. I was talking with a friend, and he let me in on something that shocked him into laughing about his own church.

Recently, the church took a "state of the church" survey provided by a ministry and counselling organization which will remain nameless. It's a new tool they are developing which measures a church's "well being" (whatever that means), and they are about to go live with the tool selling it to many churches so they can find out scientifically exactly how they are doing as a community in Christ.

Yeah, OK: that's not the punchline, but you can roll the laugh track here as I get back to the point.

In taking this survey, the church self-reported "tithing" (that is: giving 10% of net household income, or more, as defined in the survey) at a rate of about 60% of the households participating -- which was about 80% of the regular attending membership. So in that, the statistical validity of the survey has to be pretty good because the sample was pretty large, right?

Well, my friend is also on the finance committee of his church and happens to know something factually about his church. If there are 1000 "giving units" (read: households; also read: these are not the actual counts but are the same proportions) in his church, only about 300 of them are giving regularly -- let alone giving anything resembling a "tithe".

Moreover, the same survey had them self-report a net income base for the church of about $100 million, but it has never given more than $5.5 million, including years when there have been special emphases for capital improvements and what-have-you (same caveats as above apply).

So what, um, gives?

The first thing I have to say is this: you should pay your taxes, and you should support your local church. You know -- when Jesus had the opportunity to establish conscientious objection to paying taxes (cf. Mat 22:15-21), he made it clear that men should not make a moral issue out of a purely-political issue. Man coins money; man lays claims on money; don't haggle with man.

But in that same breath, Jesus also said something which is far more convicting (because, of course, he's Jesus): "[render] to God the things that are God's."

What, exactly, are we to make out of that? A big take-away there is that God doesn't really care about your money. That seems rather creepy when we understand that there are literally dozens of passages of Scripture that talk about the use of money -- why would God waste so much pneustos over a thing that he doesn't care about?

But let me suggest something in that: in this particular instance when Jesus could have gone off about the cattle on a thousand hills and all that, he says that money is not half as important as something else. Let's read the whole exchange there:

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 22When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. [emph. added]
The thing which Christ was vitally concerned about here was the condition of men's hearts. Yes: the conversation was clearly about money -- but who brought it up, and why? Was Jesus giving a Financial Peace seminar?

No: the topic came up because some hypocrites wanted to entangle Jesus with his own words. So in saying "pay your taxes", Jesus doesn't just leave it at that -- he wants to expose hypocrisy for exactly what it is. These men not only did not want to pay their taxes, but they wanted to make Jesus (you know: Christ; son of God; Wonderful Counsellor; Mighty God) look bad in order that they might look good.

"cent," says the passer-by, "OK: I've read it before. What does this have to do with half of the people who report themselves as 'tithers' being liars about it?"

It has this to do with that: man has not changed in 2000 years. We still want to make God the liar; we still want to trip God up in his words -- especially us religious people who prop up words like "tithe" for what we do when the last person to truly tithe probably died before Nehemiah was born.

Listen: this is not a rant about whether you should "tithe" or not. This is a rant about whether or not you're like Jesus or like the Pharisees. On the one side, there is a kind of giving which is purposed and cannot be thwarted because it is not only intentional but is made in real love for the sake of real ministry without any conditions; on the other, there's a kind of giving that thinks it looks pretty good, is a duty that is carried out with military precision, and which, because of the motives and intentions behind it, separates itself from God and robs God of something owed to him.

Personally, I have no stake in whether you "tithe" or not. But as a blogger here at TeamPyro I have a stake in the Gospel, and that Gospel ought to get to some place in you that causes you to be grateful about something -- in fact, about everything. Be grateful -- don't tithe: be grateful. Act like a grateful person. Do something which demonstrates thanks in a flesh-and-blood way to the one who did the work already.

That's what a joyful giver looks like -- not someone who knows the tithe on mint and cumin (which is, of course, fine duty), but someone who is also involved in the matters of justice and mercy and acts like he's the one who deserved justice and got mercy.






32 comments:

jeff said...

Wow. First to comment!!

Frank, that was one of the most convcting things I have ever read on Pyro, but spot on. You really got me where I needed it. It seems I always find a way to rationalize why I am not giving regularly, and that usually because I have previously been a poor steward and not given to God first. So I spent it all and had nothing left for God. But I believe Jesus said in Matthew 6 "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom..."

I have recently committed to God to give a certain amount each week for the rest of the year, and to write that check when I deposit my paycheck. Not trying to earn anything from God, but Iam trying to "bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance."

Thank you Frank. Great post.

Trinian said...

Wow... to not give to your local church is one thing, but to LIE about how much you're giving??
I heard a funny story about that once - Acts 5:1-11.

Kaffinator said...

I guess the laugh track didn't work. I'm just puzzled.

What exactly is wrong with surveying church membership to determine its spiritual well-being? Didn't the very survey mentiond above expose a serious problem with honesty, accountability, and/or humility.

Daniel said...

Trinian said, "but to LIE about how much you're giving?? "

I expect the numbers reflect a growing ignorance in the church - at least to some degree - for many regard the word "tithe" not as meaning specifically "one tenth" but rather as just being church jargon or "christianese" for "giving." That wouldn't account for all of it of course, but I expect that some are saying "tithe" out of ignorance and not deceit.

On another note, this post has the potential to degenerate into a discussion about whether or not tithing is for New Testament believers or not.

I wonder how many posts it will take...?

donsands said...

Wonderful passage of Scripture. Thanks for bringing out the heart of this portion of the Word.



"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. ...
Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, ...
No one can serve two masters; ...
Do not worry about your life,... But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." Matt 6:1,19,24,25,33

Trinian said...

That wouldn't account for all of it of course, but I expect that some are saying "tithe" out of ignorance and not deceit.

I would hope that I could give them the benefit of the doubt in this case. Unfortunately, cent mentions that "tithe" was specifically defined in the survey.

that is: giving 10% of net household income, or more, as defined in the survey

Then again, how many people actually read through the survey? You may still be right. I hope very much that you're right. Perhaps Cent can clear up a bit about whether this was the case (or indeed at all the point of his post).

On another note, this post has the potential to degenerate into a discussion about whether or not tithing is for New Testament believers or not.

Heheh, we'll see. In any case giving is unarguably "for us".

DJP said...

On another note, this post has the potential to degenerate into a discussion about whether or not tithing is for New Testament believers or not.

It's only for NT SB believers.

C. T. Lillies said...

Josh chuckles quietly and writes:

Dan wrote: SB believers?

Context please?

Actually Frank this is something that periodically raises its ugly head 'round my house so I appreciate you dusting this off for us.

Much Grace
Josh

Taliesin said...

Great post Frank. I do agree with Daniel that a lot of people probably don't know that a "tithe" means a tenth. Biblical literacy is way down, even in churches.

Not that I think tithing is manditory for NT believers. :)

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Frank, this is a great reminder.

Tim Brown said...

Boy did you NAIL this one!

Wonderful post. Thank you!

Tim

Tim Brown said...

kaffinator:

The survey is a human-derived method of evaluating what is going on at a given church to see "if it's ok". The church I attend (a BGC Baptist church) had an ouside entity come in and ask a bunch of questions. They didn't hang out with us, they certainly couldn't have seen anything more than what was on the surface, but somehow they were qualified to tell us that we're "ok".

The issue is that God's priorities are not man's. God's thoughts are not our thoughts. By measurements considered important by the contemporary church, Jeremiah was an utter failure. And it's not always God's Will that a given local church grow numerically.

Any church that really wants to know what *GOD* thinks should simply look at the letters written to the 7 churches in Revelation. Indeed, this would even work on an individual level, as we do as Paul said in 2 Corinthians and examine ourselves.

For this reason, I would argue that, at the very least,such a survey is unecessary and at worst is very misleading.

Just wondering, does anyone have access to one of those things so it can be posted? These things are discussed alot but never seen.

Supraman said...

Centuri0n,

Thanks for the timely post. As an elder, I am currently seeing how much of an issue this is at my church. Man, do I have my work cut out for me...

centuri0n said...

supraman:

It's one thing to blog, "hey: don't you love Jesus?" and another to say that to your brithers and sisters in business meeting.

If you find the right way to say, "listen: I think giving is really about saying thanks to God" without causing a split or a lynching, I want you to e-mail me.

Matthew Henry said...

I appreciated this post as well Frank. You are probably already aware of Alcorn's book on Money, Possessions and Eterniry, or his smaller one on the Treasure Principle, but they have been a tremendous help in our church. For myself, the "truth" that has most helped me is that the only treasure that I shall enjoy forever is that which I give to the Lord (called "storing your treasure in heaven" according to Jesus in Matthew 6). My errant belief was that though I was to give faithfully, somehow that money was the money I lost. Now, by God's grace, I realize that the money I "lose" is that which I keep for myself. Granted there are subtlties that can be discussed here but the general sense was greatly encouraging to me as a believer. I truly have joy in my giving as I see the promise of blessing from my Lord in it.

Supraman said...

Centuri0n,

Will do. Though I understand the struggle we all have living a genuine, God-glorifying life, I am still surprised to see it so blatant. Plus, in my experience, LCMS folks are insular and hands-off with respect to elders - which makes things a bit more difficult.

DJP said...

Frank -- If you find the right way to say, "listen: I think giving is really about saying thanks to God" without causing a split or a lynching, I want you to e-mail me

You know, if I'd said that, the I'm-of-Piper gang would have been all over me for a "debtor's ethic."

Al said...

DJP---

I was just about to mention that...

Thankfully I didn't.

al sends

Oh, and well posted Frank.

al sends

Kaffinator said...

Hi Tim,

I appreciate your comments, but still don’t understand the objection.

Nobody is saying that the survey results are the end-all of information about the spiritual health of the church. But they are a data point that may be of some use. In this example, knowing that members were reporting more giving than what they actually gave seems like useful information to me. That doesn’t mean that all surveys are conducted well, or measure what they intend to measure. In the case you mention I don’t know what the “outside entity” was purporting to measure.

Your point about “God’s priorities are not man’s” is true but a red herring. God tells us exactly what his priorities are. He tells us exactly what the fruit of the spirit is. And he says that that fruit is going to be so obvious as to actually be a key indicator of whether we are walking with Him – even to non-believers (see John 13:34-35). Walking in the light should have obvious, detectable results—just the kinds of things that a well-executed survey might be able to measure.

A good shepherd knows his flock. And a good pastor knows the spiritual needs of his congregation so he can effectively minister to them. How is he supposed to get that information? Guessing?

Bryan Riley said...

I think it goes back to the God/god we serve. Jesus told us we can't serve both God and Mammon (a god of money). When we let our wallet dictate our obedience we clearly are serving Mammon, and not God. And, when we struggle with joy and gratefulness for what God has given us (which is everything we have), then something is entangling us in the area of Mammon. And, yes, I'm not casting stones here because it is a struggle for me.

striving... said...

Something I have been trying to remember is that not only are our tithes supposed to be for God, but even the way we spend the rest of our money is to be for God. It is hard sometimes not to splurge on things I do not need, all the materialistic things, only things I truly need. So that is a lesson I have learned.

Tim Brown said...

*A good shepherd knows his flock.*

I think you nailed it. If the fruit is there, it will be seen. And if I'm a pastor who knows his flock, I don't need an outsider to come in (who doesn't know the flock) to come in and tell me what's going on.

God's thoughts are not ours. That is a biblical truth. He doesn't work in the ways we expect Him to work. We want things to be formulaic, such as a standard "church health evaluation" that we've come up with to be "scientific". Man looks at the outward stuff, such as "*how much* money did you give", God looks at the heart and judges the unseen motive.

"You have 100 'giving units' and 80% are giving 10%" so you're healthy (of course this is a simplification of such a 'study'). That's a human evaluation. I'd prefer God's. Again, look at the letters to the 7 churches.

The Word of God is sufficient.

You asked "what's wrong with it" and that's my answer. Scripture is sufficient.

SFB said...

Frank, excellent post. Once again, the wickedness of men's hearts is shown to be absolute and, outside of the manifold grace of God, invincible.

I am reminded, oddly, of a scene in "A Hard Day's Night", the Beatles' first film, where they are traveling to a show on a train. An old, stuffy type gets in their compartment with the Beatles and starts complaining that he is entitled to quiet and comfort because he "travel(s) on this train regularly; twice a week, so I suppose I've some rights." Ringo responds, "So have we!"


For illustration purposes, the gruff old man is the tither according to the written code/church tradition, Ringo et al are the givers who do so out of the SAME gratitude but not according to the same code.


My point is that there are the same rights both for the Christian who "gives regularly, 10% plus" and the Christian who lays aside as the Lord has prospered him (and that not necessarily according to the OT code). The right to NOTHING that God does not give in His grace and goodness to us.

I believe that when we give to the work of the Gospel as Christians, both the Tither and the Giver should figuratively link arms, smile into one another's faces, and go forward rejoicing in God's great love for His elect.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Tim, if the intent is a blind reliance on external observers, or an attempt to boil down the children of God to a formula, then we agree.

I don’t want to read to much into the survey Frank briefly mentioned, but remember, it didn’t tell the church leader how much the flock was giving. He already knew that. What it told him was that his flock tended overrepresent what they were giving. That’s a potential indicator of a spiritual problem.

Scripture is sufficient, yes--to equip us for salvation. But I can’t say “Scripture is sufficient” to tell me what particular challenges my flock is experiencing at the moment. That takes observation. Without observation I can’t tell if the flock is sliding towards Thayatira or Philadelphia.

Tim Brown said...

kaffinator:

I think in some of this we may agree. My problem with it stems from the experiences I've had with it -- it can be very superficial.

That's part of the reason I'd like to see a few of them myself.

I think my statement "God's Waya are not our ways" mislead you. I think that we can imitate God but the problem is that in the framework of what passes for "chriatianity" or "biblical" (and is really purely psychological and superficial), that's what bothers me.

My former church had an eval done, but it was related to a pastor search. It was a joke. I can't give you specific questions because that was over two years ago. But I remember seeing it and thinking "itching ears".

I think too that my position is more like "Yes, a pastor should know his flock" but that this really isn't necessary. What kind of questions are being asked? How much of it is really scriptural? And if, as we both agree, the fruit will bear witness, then why is it necessary to have an eval?

And "data point" value depends on what it is; Specifically, what "data point" would show that something in particular pleases God? What percentages is GOd looking for at a particular point? We look at numbers, God looks at the heart. I can give 60% of my income and look good on an eval and yet God may not want my money because my attitude is wrong.

I'm sure that, like you, we see a big slide away from biblical sufficiency...and who could miss it? So, I guess that's part of my feeling and reasoning being so strong in this direction.

I just want to know "What did God say and how do I/we measure up"? I'm sure we agree on that.

As I've said a couple times now, I'd like to see a few of these "evaluations". They may be different, some ok and some purely a joke. I know that some are very superficial.

These are the kind of concerns I have. And it does have to do with the sufficiency of Scripture.

Maybe Frank could say it better.

My questions in this post are not aimed at you. I'm not debating but rather trying to give my position out of a frustrated heart.

I guess my question, if any, for you would be "what data do you think would be helpful?" What kind of questions would you see fit for an eval?

I can't think of any.

Tim Brown said...

Kaffinator:

Bear with my post. It rambles. I just got of work. I work in a nursing home. Have mercy.

Kaffinator said...

Hey Tim, no worries mate. I've never been directly involved in a survey like this but I've been curious -- but maybe I should listen to your voice of experience and eschew them completely!

Barna has an assessment but you have to buy it. If you google for "spiritual maturity assessment" or "spiritual inventory" or suchlike you'll find a bunch of hits of varying quality. Grace and peace to you, friend.

Tim Brown said...

Kaffinator:

thanks for extending the grace. I've been running into alot of debates lately and so I'm kind of edgy.

I haven't googled that yet, but I appreciate the information. If it is doable I'd like to get my hands on one of them and see just what is involved. Again, how would they decide what to ask? What could they put into a question that the scriptures don't address? And if it's extra biblical then what's the point?

Enough of my preaching. I'm just so used to the Word being marginalized.

Tim Brown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim Brown said...

Kaffinator:

Just did a search on "barna spiritual maturity". Here's a section of one of the pages. Looks kind of man centered -- and the "felt needs" issue is mentioned.

----------------------------
Areas Selected for Improvement

Respondents were also asked to name the single aspect of their spiritual life they would most like to improve. There were two especially noticeable outcomes. The first was that many people have not thought about prioritizing a dimension of spiritual development, which commonly results in a lack of effort. The second outcome was that not even one out of every seven adults listed the top-rated dimension. People’s felt needs covered a broad range of emphases that defied a more compact categorization.

The most keenly felt spiritual needs were to increase their commitment to the Christian faith (identified by 13%) and to increase their Bible knowledge (12%). No other factors reached double figures.

Among the other needs expressed by respondents were a desire to improve their prayer life (7%), becoming a better servant to others (4%), developing better relationships (4%), understanding the Christian life better (4%), doing a better job of sharing their faith (4%), developing better character (3%), improving at forgiving others (3%), and becoming more spiritually mature overall (3%).
----------------------

I'm not just trying to be down on Barna but they don't make me comfortable. There was another page where they were even talking about a church and it's "market share".

Talk about being off track!

I found this at:
http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?
Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=200

Tim

Kaffinator said...

Hi Tim, what specifically do you feel is "man-centered" about that snippet from Barna? Is it a bad thing to desire a better prayer life or increase one's knowledge of the Word?

I'm not trying to be snotty or anything but I just don't understand what's wrong with someone doing an inventory, identifying an area of weakness, and seeking to "apply all diligence" in that area (for example see 2 Peter 1:5-11)? And, if a pastor knew that many in his congregation believed that their prayer life could use shoring up, couldn't he use that info to focus his teaching, or find other resources and helps to better minister to his flock in that particular area?

To me this all boils down to "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded" (Matt 28:19). It's a task for which Christians, and particularly Christian leaders, are charged and equipped.

Tim Brown said...

Hi Kaffinator:

To be honest with you, I think what bothers me is the "felt needs" issue. What I "feel" I need may be different than what I really need. Just as the lost need salvation and not "a feeling of acceptance" per se, those who are really converted may need something other than what they "feel" they need.

Going by feelings puts me (a man) at the center.

I may "feel" I need to pray more but perhaps my "real need" is to shut my mouth and trust God instead of myself. I can "pray more" but if it's performance based, it isn't anything. I deal with this problem -- being performance based.

There is another issue here. And that all that data is really unecessary. So, the pastor has all that data. The issue is that it isn't *his* job to do all that. In other words "I have to help that 13 percent, then that 25".

The conviction I have behind that is that it isn't the psator's job to do all that. The modern church is failing miserably at a basic discipline -- discipling. In other words, older believers teaching the younger and the young ones teaching younger ones.

Forgive me for not being able to quote my source, I've heard it too many times. But the saying goes that each one of us should be discipling a younger brother while at the same time being discipled by a more mature one.

To be honest with you, my "bent" on this comes from a deep frustration with the lack of being able to find this. It's called "accountability" to one another. The modern church doesn't 'get it'. Ever hear of a "lone ranger Christian"? That phrase, in the past, was used to describe Christians who don't attend a local fellowship. Well, that term could also be used to refer to those who do attend a local assembly but don't disciple or be discipled. And that is tragic because it exposes us to the "I'm the only one who suffers from 'x'" syndrome. Since no one is linking up with someone else, everyone just wears an "I'm Fine" mask.

It's a serious problem in today's church. It's so bad that I heard a program on christian radio about it a few years ago.

Yes, I am disclipling someone. He is friend of mine who is still deacon at the church I left two years ago. We meet on Saturday mornings for breakfast and discuss things. That's part of it. But 8 years after my conversion I still haven't been able to find some to be held accountable by. And I have TRIED. People just don't see it as "their job". It is. That is how maturity is developed.

The bottom line is that if we were to start working with one another as we should be, that Barna study would be unecessary. It's not the pastor's job to disciple everyone. His primary "job" is to teach the flock. And you can't teach everything all the time.

What is happening I think, Kaffinator, is that we have forgotten about one to one discipleship and people are hurting in various areas of growth. So, we do a study, get the data and dump it on the pastor's door. That is wrong.

Besides, pride plays into it. If we start discipling one another, we will have to start "confessing our faults one to another that we may be healed"! And in our day we are into autonomy, which is a pride issue.

You know, I just remembered the other side of this. My wife and I went to the Pheonix area for our honeymoon to visit an old friend of mine who was a Dean at the school at John MacArthur's church when I was there YEARS ago. I attended a Men's Bible Study on that Tuesday night. I remember one of the more mature men there stating his frustration with not being able to find "younger" brother who wants to be discipled. When I said I wished I lived there so I could work with him, he couldn't believe his ears! You know, after 8 years, I have yet to see another believer who is interested in investing time in another life!

It's a part of "body life". Eph 4:12, the gifts are given to each of us so we can help build up the body so WE can do the work of the ministry, not just a paid guy.

I'm not saying it's man-centered to want to learn to pray better but we have a man-centered view of how ministry is done; in this case do a study and have the top guy do all of it.

No, you aren't being snotty. I think what you are helping me do (believe me) is put a finger more precisely on what is bothering me about this. We have a man centered approach to doing what God wants done, not a God-centered one. We need to do what God wants done the way God wants it done.

Does that make sense?

I hope I made some sense to you with this. And I wish I could point you to an article on it. But it's not the pastors job to do all that!