October 5, 2011

Simple Giving

Filed under: Children and Families,Financial Commitment,Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 6:03 pm

Last Saturday, during a stewardship workshop session on tithing, I made the remark that I have tithed since the age of three. How is that even possible? How much money does a three year old have?

Well, this three year old had 25 cents a week, $1.63 in today’s economy. I earned it by being in charge of returning the empty glass milk bottles to the milk box on the back porch each evening when my parents tidied up from dinner and washed the dishes.

I also had a budget: five cents to the Sunday School offering basket; ten cents into a little box in my dresser drawer, to be used toward the family’s summer pool pass; and ten cents to my purse for the days when my mother and I went into town and I could buy penny candy—or even better, a two-cent pretzel rod.

Not high finance by any stretch, but a foundation in share-save-spend that has served me well.

In this week’s Feasting on Gratitude stewardship reflection series, Gary Chubb asks, How is giving a sign of trusting in God’s goodness and generosity?

I’m not going to lie—tithing is a discipline that takes a lot of trust. I also find that tithing takes a lot of the stress out of giving: I don’t have to figure out how much to give; I don’t feel guilty or ashamed in years when I am able to give less; and because I use the Baptismal Covenant and Millennium Development Goals as frameworks for the modern tithe, I am able to be clear with myself around which organizations I support in addition to my local congregation.

As Chubb relates in his reflection, God’s goodness and generosity is both a leap of faith and an opportunity for spiritual growth. In this same workshop, the story was told of a couple one of the participants had known in graduate school. This couple had committed to tithing, and to making their tithe the first line of their budget, after which all other needs and wants fell into place. The teller of this story marveled at how this commitment completely changed this couple’s thinking around money, completely re-shaped their relationship to the other lines of their household budget. After accepting in faith that 10% of their pay simply didn’t exist, they made the rest of it work.

In this annual commitment season, when many congregations are talking about these things leading up to ingathering or commitment Sunday, we need to remember that the tithe is a big leap. Ten percent of our net income can be a lot of money. Even proportional giving that is less than 10% can represent a paradigm shift in the member who is more accustomed to thinking in terms of “fair share” or “what I can afford.”

In this season of prayer and discernment around financial commitment, I encourage people to start by first assessing what they actually give. Try this: Add up what you have been giving annually to your congregation and to those organizations whose mission and program support the commitments that you made in your baptism. (If you itemize deductions on your tax return, you already have this number on the “charitable donations” line of your most recent filing.) Divide that total by 12. What percentage of your monthly income does this number represent?

Next, make a commitment to maintain the current percentage—not the current amount, but the current percentage. This paves the way for prayerful discernment around whether you will work toward increasing this percentage in the coming years. For many, 10% may indeed be an unrealistic commitment, at least right away. For others, it may be a journey you feel called to undertake now.

There is no right answer. The only right answer is that we all say “yes” to the invitation to prayer and discernment—even those of us who are already tithing have the opportunity to examine the abundance of our 90% and discern whether we are called to make an offering and sacrifice as well.

The feast is prepared. It is now up to us to trust and take joy in returning the first fruits of our labor in gratitude for God’s generosity, goodness, and the promise of life abundant.



  1. I seldom do post but, I do read all that you write. This post has had a big impact on me. What great conversation at church also. Thank you very much for this post on tithing. It has given us a lot to think about . Nancy

    Comment by nancy matulis — October 20, 2011 @ 4:36 pm |Reply

  2. We have quoted a paragraph from this blog in our stewardship letters–the part about assessing what one already gives and seeing it as a percentage of their total giving–and an incentive to increase their giving, if they are dissatisfied with that percentage!

    Comment by Nancy Moore — December 9, 2011 @ 9:27 pm |Reply

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