I was in the middle of my brief tenure as a Vineyard worship leader, at the last church I would ever attend as a member. We were a few weeks into the new year and my pastor called me to discuss the church. We agreed to meet at Starbucks to go over the upcoming schedule and events.
Later that day, we met up for an overpriced cup of joe and some conversation. After talking kids and politics, we finally begin talking about the new year for our church. I had some minor suggestions for developing the worship team, but beyond that, I was interested in hearing what my pastor had in mind.
He began talking about the current crunch financially that the church was facing. It was before the housing bust and stock crash, but the pinch was beginning to hit a lot of families and giving was down, the church was in the red most months and was beginning to dip into savings just to cover it’s weekly expenses for pastors and facility costs. I asked how the church had gotten so far behind in the budget. He told me that they recently had moved locations (a move instigated by my pastor) and that it increased their expenses by 20%. I gulped when he told me that number.
“You committed the church to a twenty percent increase in expenses?” I asked.
“We did…I figured our new location would bring in more families and giving would go up to cover the costs” he said.
“If my boss told me I needed to increase my sales 20% with only the same customers, I would have told him he was crazy.” I replied. “Unless God specifically told you to do this, how could you have done this without letting the congregation know? It just lacks wisdom..” I continued.
It was at this point that he pulled out the silver bullet from his bag of pastoral tricks and told me “Well, I think we just need to teach people to give…I’m planning on a 6 week series on giving and tithing.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Old Testament tithe was an offering of 10% of all sorts of grains and foods that were given to the Levitical priesthood to provide for offerings, feast days, and for consumption by the priests and sometimes the poor. But the one thing tithes were not, was money. But this hasn’t stopped many a Christian pastor from insisting that his congregation tithe (give 10%) of all their money to the church. Even using ominous verses from Malachi, which warns that those who do not tithe are robbing God.
And now my pastor was suggesting he needed to hit our little congregation over the head about tithing, because HE had decided to obligate the church for 20% more money than was typically given to the church. I wasn’t buying it.
He asked what I thought about the idea for his upcoming sermon series…I flat out told him that I HATED the idea. First off, because tithing is not even taught as a requirement for Christians and that secondly, it seemed to me that he was using tithing to guilt trip people into giving more money for a decision in which they had no say.
I literally thought he was going to jump out of his skin. He looked both angry and panicked that I was not going to have his back on this. He began to desperately try and convince me that Jesus mentioning the tithe in Matthew was justification for teaching it to the church. I countered that Jesus mentions it in passing to those still under the law and that he used it as a negative example. Hardly the wringing endorsement that justifies using it to cover up his own financial follies.
I don’t remember all the specifics of our conversation after this point, but I do remember that it was tense and that my pastor decided he was still going to teach on giving, but maybe do a little research on tithing. But there was one more thing he wanted to discuss….two services.
Even though we didn’t fill out the church with one service, he figured more people would come if we had two services. Again, it seems that the decision to go to 2 services was based on the hope of growing the church quick, to help cover the bills. It seemed that very little thought was given to the fact that the worship team and many other volunteers would now be doing double time on Sunday morning. I didn’t like the idea, but I held my tongue. I had frustrated him enough already and two services was not a given at this point…
I am sad to report, that he did go ahead and beat the sheep with his tithing and giving series. He also laid out the church financial crisis without ever taking any responsibility for the decision, and he did finally get his wish of two services.
He decided to begin two services on Easter Sunday. So, he fished his wish. But he also lost a worship leader that Sunday….it also happened to be my last Sunday as an active church member. It will probably be the Last Easter Service I’ll ever attend….