Leaving Church #5: Non-transparent use of money

In some churches, pastors seem to constantly talk about money.  Sometimes, we pastors can over-spiritualize tithing.  We don’t want to talk about giving money to the church so we prefer talking about giving to God, and to the work of God’s kingdom.  Personally, I think I’d be embarrassed if I had to publicly announce that their tithes were partly going to pay for my pastor’s salary.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not even talking about unfaithful stewardship or misuse of church funds. I do believe in tithing. As a family, we do try to tithe as best we can.  I believe 100% in doing the work of God’s kingdom and fulfilling God’s mission on earth to the best of our abilities.

In the past, I have personally become dissatisfied about how some churches continually talk about the importance of tithing–and it conveniently happens just prior to offering time.  They continually stress the idea of bringing up to God’s storehouse (from Malachi), and that the bible shows  how tithes and offerings have a direct correlation to God’s blessings on your life.  I would assert that there’s an indirect correlation.  Anyways , the time some spend talking about this just prior to offering time is almost the same length of a full-length sermon of some churches.  When does our over-spiritualizing of tithing reach the point of spiritual abuse? When doubts arise, some will begin asking questions:

Is the money really being used for the work of God’s mission in God’s kingdom?  Or is a part of it being used to build their own kingdom, or used for their own personal benefit?  Where is my hard-earned money really going to?

I ask this question because I have wondered about this myself.  If people don’t have answers when doubt and questions arise (and they will), they will feel disillusioned, and eventually leave. Why not?  I did.  Why is it that some churches expect their people to give while assuming they are also gullible? Are we parishioners that gullible?

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

20 thoughts on “Leaving Church #5: Non-transparent use of money”

  1. The church we were in for years and years was very large. We would get the annual budge (for millions) and the line items were so large a lump, we were left wondering exactly what might be included. I’m not saying I need to know where every penny goes, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to know where every 1000 is going.

    As a ministry leader, I was given freedom to spend the money allocated to me, but I really wanted people to see the little amount the media center received. That ministry received the same amount annually for the 10 years I chaired that ministry and there was no discussing that it should be increased. But the main point was that no one could have found it if they wanted to. I didn’t even know what line item it was in. That it wasn’t obviously stated anywhere made it easy to never increase those funds. Maybe they wouldn’t be increased anyway, but I think people needed to know that. Obviously part of my disillusionment with the institution of church.

    Someone would come by the MC and tell me that they gave a designated gift. One ended up being thousands of dollars that was months old. I always wondered how many of those gifts were made and the ministry leaders not informed. I never heard about those unless I asked. Where did that money go – when designated and not informed? Obviously absorbed somewhere else.

    On the other hand, at our current church – last Sunday’s emphasis was on stewardship. Ron and I braced ourselves for a sermon on tithing, but it was on not getting caught up with temporal things instead of the things of the kingdom. It was really odd (in a way I haven’t quite worked completely through yet) after so many years of tithing sermons.

    At the same time, I’m reading Jack Fortenberry’s book on the Corinthian elders. It’s been eye-opening questioning whether we should really relegate our authority to paid staff. How easy that is to do with a paid staff.

    Just how much money does a church need? I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t like the “good old boy network” that likes to keep things so generalized that they might as well not tell us anything.

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  2. Bitsy, I really appreciate you sharing your personal story about your experience in this issue. Ten years with inflation and no increase, while designated gifts were coming in? What?! It must have been really frustrating to see what was happening (or what was not happening and should’ve been). When financial statements are often not clear and understandable, doesn’t it make you wonder if they are being intentionally non-transparent?

    When church leadership gather too much power and surround themselves only with people who agree with them (“good old boy network”), I’m not sure if we can keep ourselves very accountable this way. Regarding your issue with not having paid staff (Fortenberry book), I’m not sure how that would work out in congregations. I don’t have experience in one. Have you seen it work?

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  3. Kevin, I’m only half way through the book and it’s an entirely new concept to me. I’ve read the first half several times and am still grasping what he’s saying. He is using biblical support though. I think it’s sound – just foreign to me!

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  4. Well, as you keep reading, you’ll know whether it’s a good concept and workable in the life of the church. If there’s no paid staff, pastors like me will have to quit and start working.

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  5. I’ve been discussing this topic with our associate pastor recently (paid staff). People tend to place the expectations of ministry on the paid staff, and then don’t participate themselves, since they are paying someone to minister on their behalf. Kind of like throwing money at a problem, without actually taking an interest in the details.

    I could go on all week about money/tithe and the church. A short summary of my views is that I think there is an erroneous emphasis placed on the concept of the tenth/tithe that is not applicable for today. Instead we should focus on giving and being generous, with percentages being irrelevant. There is nothing wrong with giving away 1% of your income one month, and 30% of your income the next. Many people I know are very strongly invested with the notion of 10% and the occasional gift on top of that. Anyways, I’m a bit too tired to elaborate any further.

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  6. Nathan, maybe the problem could also be organization. There really is no definite biblical model for paid or unpaid staff so either is okay in my view. But when some church organizations get to be so large that volunteers cannot manage, paid staff is absolutely necessary. I guess that’s when my pastoral job can also be justifiable from a practical point of view.

    I totally see your point on tithing. So I’ll elaborate on your point if I may. Given our taxation system and government programs like social services, our concept of the tithe is not that relevant anymore. The church does not have responsibilities in social services like they they had in the Old Testament days. So why are churches still talking about 10%?

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  7. I agree that a large church structure pretty much demands paid staff. So the core issue then would be how large is too large? 20, 50, 200, 500, 2000, 5000, 20000…? The industrial revolution and urbanization of humanity have caused large shifts in population dynamics and it is now very difficult to ascertain a good community dynamic.

    Now whenever I hear teaching about 10% tithing I die a little inside. Fortunately, this is becoming less often, though people still mention it in passing as if anyone who is a Christian agrees with them. I make it a point not to discuss it unless directly asked, because I don’t want to incidentally cause someone not to give at all.

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  8. That’s a good point. How large is too large? Maybe there’s nothing right or wrong about a large church. I can see a large church having a large more complex organization and a small church with a simple one. I think complex organizations will inevitably be wrought with difficulties and controversies.

    Nathan you’re too thoughtful. I totally know what you mean. When someone really believes it, I don’t try to change their minds either. But if I do and they start giving more than 10%, that’s one person free from religious bondage.

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    1. I try not to think in percentages, though it will probably be ingrained in me for the rest of my life. I try to keep enough money free after bills and expenses that I am able to give freely or help someone in need. It makes a difference to me now to know that I am actually helping someone that needs it instead of just appeasing my conscience.

      To go back to your original post, I can’t recall a single sermon about money that really bothered me. For the most part, I think it is usually approached pretty tactfully, unless it’s on the TV, heh.

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  9. Nathan, I like how you think of your personal giving or assistance as a part of our offerings to God. That’s the right approach. I think God sees our giving in private in the same manner as if we were putting it in the offering plate. Same difference.

    I’ve seen the approach on TV and in a church I’ve visited where tithing 10% to the local church was taught as a rule. Anything above that to other ministries was an offering. To me this almost seems like a kind of religious bondage.

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  10. I was raised with the Tithes & Offerings paradigm. You give 10% and then anything extra is the offering. Supporting missionaries or building funds were offerings. The big debate was whether to give 10% before or after taxes are withheld… I have always religiously given 10% after taxes, up until last summer. Never again!

    Since then I’ve been trying to follow the teachings about giving as found in the New Testament. It’s an interesting journey, and the guilt is gone.

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  11. We don’t want to be seen as stingy but yet we want to follow a biblical model of tithing. Too many of us have been made to feel guilty if we don’t tithe like they say we’re suppose to (10% after-tax). I hope preachers of this type of paradigm can begin to feel what they are really saying to the people.

    ….and the guilt is gone.

    Ah… when I hear good news like that I’m always elated. Discovering how to follow Christ is definitely a journey. It sounds like you’ve made a discovery along the way, Nathan.

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    1. The hard thing about discoveries is dealing with the disillusionment. I’m trying to get over myself and get on with figuring out how to live my own life. It’s a bit hard when your beliefs are sorta tied to a billion other people that are all practicing a similar faith in a thousand different ways.

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  12. Well Nathan, I know it`s not easy sort it all out. I`ve had to do that in my life too and they were big changes. I`m still here and my faith is as strong is ever…I think. The way to do it is to take it one step at a time. As you learn new things and make changes, it won`t be the end of your faith or the church. Just keep your eye on the big picture.

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  13. Hi Kevin, I can’t see a single commandment in the New Testament on tithing, is there? None of the apostles taught it. Paul in his two lengthy chapters on giving (2 Cor 8-9) never mentioned tithing even once. As tithing is part of the Law and Gentiles are no longer bound by the Law, so tithing is no longer binding today. Those who are wealthy can certainly give more than 10% of their income while those who are poor can ill afford to give 10%.

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  14. Hi Tony, absolutely! So if we’re no longer bound by the law, then we can give 20% of our income if that’s what we feel we should give. I think it was the William Colgate, founder of today’s Colgate-Palmolive, who starting from 10%, ended up giving 50% of his total business income to the Lord. If that was done today, Christian ministries would be flourishing. But who is willing to do that today?

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  15. I believe that tithes must be paid, however I know that the love of money is the root of all evil, as written in the scripture. We should spend more time on bible study because the worst thing is the fact that so many are trusting in money, their own works of righteousness in the flesh for salvation through natural wisdom and understanding. Here is an interesting bible study site that unlocks the hidden, spiritual wisdom of the word of God.

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