The Tithe of Tithes and A Tale of Three Cities - Part 2
A Tale of Three Cities
The second church I was called to pastor took me two thousand miles from where I was serving as a State Director of Youth and Evangelism. I had gone to a western mission state to serve as state youth director on the promise of $400 per month and all the revivals I could preach, in hopes of bringing in enough to support my family.
Moving from less than a part-time State Office position to an established church with a regular salary, parsonage, and benefits was as different as night and day in a financial sense. At my second church, I inherited a full-time staff of dedicated people, plus a host of committed volunteers. Numerous ministries were in place at the church, and for a young man who had just turned 29, it was a tremendous opportunity. I was too young to be concerned by the fact that the church had split the previous summer and more than 300 people had found other places to worship. Several of the 250 who remained were also contemplating a quick exodus, but they had stayed long enough to see if the new, young pastor could preach, if he had good sense, and if he knew how to love people.
Reality soon set in for us all.
Due to a financial miscalculation, after paying the monthly bills of the church, there was no money left for the so called “established salary” to be paid to me on week one and a few other weeks that followed. Most of the expenses involved in my cross-country move had been placed on my own credit cards, and they were reimbursed by the church here and there over a year’s time until finally and fully paid.
Balancing The Books
One day, only three hours prior to my first financial meeting with a 40 to 50-member “all Men’s Council,” I was handed a financial report that was to be presented shortly thereafter in the same meeting. The financial statement did not balance - by several thousands of dollars - and there was no explanation as to why, except “we’ve never worried about that before.”
As I had already discovered, it was confirmed in that meeting, that during a desperate time and leadership void, it had become the practice of the church to favor the general fund or the building fund in order to avoid sending the tithe of tithes percentages to the State and General Offices. There was an open encouragement of this practice among various leaders of the church, and it had spread through much of the membership. Much like the first and smaller church I had pastored, this older, more established, and larger congregation had caught hold of the same “fund management” concept. For numerous reasons, including previous relational hiccups with “those people at the State Office,” various and sometimes questionable methods were used to determine what was “tithe” and what was not - mostly, what was not. There was no real rhyme or reason to the process, but the general fund typically came out on top and the process was deemed justifiable by those working with it more closely than others.
The bottom line was that the church had not recovered from the emotional, spiritual, and financial wounds brought on by the earlier church split. The church was top heavy in staff, plus we had some ministries that no one wanted to discontinue, even for a brief recovery time. It was felt by some, though thankfully not by all, that the low hanging and easy to pick fruit was the tithe of tithes. I had professionals and businessmen that questioned it every time we discussed the church’s finances. If I allowed such, all kinds of urgings, suggestions, and various considerations usually followed their questions.
The bottom line was that the church had not recovered from the emotional, spiritual, and financial wounds brought on by the earlier church split.
Addressing The Issue
I let the situation rock on for about a year. Just before Christmas, and on the day I turned 30, it was time for another council meeting. By then, I had already crossed the bridge of reducing the church council down from 50 or so to a more manageable number of 12. I didn’t have very much proverbial “pocket-change” of influence in just one years’ time, but I was willing to spend at least a little of what I had. In that evening’s board meeting, and at some risk to my leadership abilities, I proposed a trial “faith” approach to the tithe of tithes problem. To this day I remember exactly what I said: “Gentlemen, let’s reverse our practice around here. Instead of looking for ways to direct what we really believe are tithe dollars into the general fund, and intentionally bending things in that direction, let’s purpose tonight to begin to honor and celebrate the tithe as holy and if that decision favors the tithe fund, then so be it. We’ll inform everyone and believe God to honor it.”
let’s purpose... to begin to honor and celebrate the tithe as holy and if that decision favors the tithe fund, then so be it. We’ll inform everyone and believe God to honor it.”
I don’t mean to bore you with what you already expect me to write, and you’re ahead of me I’m sure, but I believe that God indeed honored the decision. That year a series of financial miracles began to happen in our church. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts were eliminated and major expansion projects were undertaken - and paid for. In one year alone, three churches were built through World Missions and a church was planted in another state, all through donations from our church. Average attendance soon increased to over six hundred, with special days topping out over a thousand. Television and media outreach expanded to multiple states and regions. And on and on I could go, but bottom line, we made the choice to view our local ministries as an integral part of the the global work of the church and moved on with purpose.
Over the years, I have often looked back on that meeting and have always landed on the fact that God honored our faith, commitment, and our covenant to do what we believed to be right.
A Committed Track of Consistency
You’ve got your own story, I know. You have your own challenges and hurdles to jump. Maybe I should have begun with the disclaimer of “don’t try this at home.” That’s your call, I suppose. I’m just saying, I’ve been there. As a pastor, I’ve heard the comments and I’ve been asked the questions. I’ve gone home and lay awake many nights replaying those questions and comments in my mind.
“Hey Preacher, do they want our tithe of tithes or do they want to make the church payment?” Yep, I have been there.
On many nights I have wrestled with the ideas between what was the right thing to do and what would I ultimately do about sending in the tithe of tithes.
Bottom line — just between you and me? Our paths haven’t really been too different in this regard. We’ve all been there and today we’re in this thing called ministry together.
We love our church and we love keeping and honoring the commitments we believe in. When the tithe of tithes including missions giving was at 25%, it was changed through a mechanism called the General Assembly. We did it again when it was a total of 15%. Now it’s a flat 10%, and no doubt, some would call for the tithe of tithes to be decreased again. As you might expect, I personally don’t think we should change it again and I base my opinion on a number of factors. But please understand, I don’t exercise that privileged thought as the General Overseer, but as a member of the Church of God and one who has pastored local churches. Likewise, you have the privilege to think and feel otherwise and still walk with me shoulder to shoulder. Remember though, that whatever you and I think individually, we must ultimately arrive at our corporate conclusions together by that same vehicle called the General Assembly. Until we do, each of us need to run on the committed track of consistency that we have approved together through our deliberative process as a part of the General Assembly.
...each of us need to run on the committed track of consistency that we have approved together through our deliberative process as a part of the General Assembly.
So, what lessons did I learn in my second pastorate?
I learned that desperate measures are not always motivated by impure hearts or reckless people bent on system dissolution.
I learned that while allowing faith to have its place, we have to live within our means as God provides. That means establishing a budget, cutting where necessary, and planning carefully for everything.
I learned that a leader often has to lead against contrary winds. That leader is guided by principle, integrity, wisdom, and honor, and he or she must do what is right.
I learned that people need right information, and as a leader, my responsibility is to inform, invite, and engage so that workable solutions can be found and celebrated.
Well, the next city and ministry role had its own challenges uniquely different from anything else I had experienced. More about that later!