Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published back in 2014 for our “Life 201” advice column by Eddie Kaufholz.
Question: Lately, I’ve been giving to Christian charities instead of tithing to my Church. Is that OK? —Olivia
Before we get into it, I want to affirm the fact that you’re not asking IF you should be generous, but to what end. You already want to leverage your resources for the sake of others, which is commendable. Well done!
Your question has been really challenging for me to answer. For the first draft of this response, I wrote an incredibly boring exposition on tithing. I’m sparing you the torture of reading it because I realized I had reinvented the wheel.
You can get a lot of wisdom from a lot of people who are smarter than me, who will brilliantly argue that the whole 10-percent-to-the-Church thing is either mandated, antiquated, or a bit of both. I particularly learned a lot from this, this, this, this and Google. I would encourage you to do your own exploration and learn, pray about and consider the purpose and importance of tithing.
But what gets me about your question is the word instead. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I get a vibe that you don’t see the value in your church getting your money. You’re not asking about splitting 10 percent between your church and a charity, you said instead.
So for learning purposes, let’s shelve the whole tithing, biblical mandate thing and, for now, treat your particular church as another charity. Let’s think about some big-picture questions that people tend to ask when deciding if they’re going to lend support to a person or institution:
1. Do I believe in the mission?
I’m guessing that if you go to an evangelical church in America, they have the mission/vision/purpose statement plastered everywhere. It’s probably a lot of single buzz-words with periods after each word. God. Real. Community. Coffee. Banjo.
No matter how they’ve branded the mission, the question remains: Do you know why your church exists? Does your church know why it exists?
2. Is the mission being accomplished?
I’m assuming you know the answer to #1, or you wouldn’t have landed there in the first place. However, it’s one thing to say we know why we exist as a church, it’s quite another to actually see that mission bearing fruit.
When you look and listen around, do you hear the stories of lives being changed? When you see what’s really being accomplished at your church, does it line up with what they’ve set out to do?
3. Would I trust them with my money?
This seems like a trite question compared to #1 and #2, but if we’re looking at the church as it compares with every other nonprofit/charity, we have to ask—are they leveraging their resources well?
Here’s how you know: they are incredibly transparent about their finances. If you’re at a place where that’s happening, you’ll be assured both from the leadership and from the evidence that your money is doing what it’s supposed to be doing: building the Kingdom.
So Olivia, how’s your church doing? If any of those questions gave you pause, take a step back and prayerfully consider if this is still your community (which I hope it is) and then (if it is) dig in!
Your church needs you, in fact, your church is you. If there’s something going on that’s just not sitting right with you, be a part of fixing it.
Don’t choose instead, choose both. Because unlike a charity, you’ll never find a more important mission (see #1) than the mission of the Church (See Acts 2). Social justice and sponsoring kids is vitally important, but if the Church was really doing its job, those charities would be overwhelmed with support and eventually not need to exist. Which leads me to my final point …
One of my favorite pastors used to say, “God doesn’t need your stuff. If He needed it, He’d just take it, you know, because He’s God and can do that kind of thing.” Olivia, tithing isn’t tipping. You don’t need to give 10 percent to buy your seat or pay the band.
You give because, as a Christian, you’ve been called to leverage your life for the building of God’s Kingdom. This extends far beyond money, this extends to your time, your resources, your relationships, everything. We’re called to go all in, and for my money, I’d go all in at my church. I also support a number of charities, but the first fruit goes to my community and the work that we’ve been called to do.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.