Does it matter if the pastor is not a tither?

Oh man.  When a friend suggested we ask Facebook friends what to do when a pastor or staff-member is not tithing–and not even giving anything to the Lord’s work–I went with it. And the fur flew, far more than I expected.  Answers ranged from “Terminate the guy, immediately” (a large contingent said that) to “Tithe? That’s Old Testament law and has no place for New Testament believers!” to “Who are you to judge?”  They argued back and forth, and some became rather unChristian in their comments.  Then, one group accused the other of Pharisaism and condemned the condemners.

Amazing how this issue arouses the dander of some otherwise reasonably minded people.  Even so, ever the one to charge hell with a water pistol, I thought I’d take on the subject.  Here goes….

First, I write as a tither.  But it was hard getting started, I will admit.

Giving one-tenth of my income to the Lord was never taught in the churches I grew up in.  As a college student I joined a Southern Baptist church where tithing seemed to be a pillar of the faith. One day, the minister of education approached to ask if I would give my tithing testimony. I stared at him blankly and said, “What is that?”  First time I’d heard of this thing called “tithing.”  He was aghast.  But then, Ron Palmer had come from a longtime Southern Baptist family where tithing had been ingrained in him since childhood.  It was new to me.

Learning to tithe was slow and hard.

I’m unsure at what point early in our married life we finally managed to give at a level that could be called a tithe, but had someone called me on the carpet about it, I would have had to sheepishly admit that “We’re trying, but aren’t there yet.”

Yes, it is hard.

Almost no one has an extra 10 percent laying around the house, discretionary money which they may effortlessly decide to divert to the Lord’s use.  Every tither I know struggled to get started. And truth be known, that’s good.  In fact, I’m convinced that’s how the Lord wants it. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  “For we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Pause: If the idea of tithing offends you, please stop reading now.  If you are convinced that tithing is “Old Testament law”–and you ignore that Abraham first tithed to Melchizedek in Genesis, a long time before Moses ascended Sinai–then please find something better to do with the next ten minutes.  You are not going to like anything that follows.

I believe in giving at least a tenth of my income to the Lord, and that all other giving I do–to various faith-based enterprises–should be “over and above.”  My tenth goes to the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA.  Over and above that, I give to the church’s mission offerings, to send teams from our church on short-term missions, to the student-aid fund at my seminary, to Global Maritime Ministries (our local outreach to seafarers and port workers), to three colleges (two I attended and one where my wife graduated), and so forth.

No one ever checks or asks to see if I tithe or not.  No church (to my knowledge) has ever checked up on my giving status. There were no henchmen poised to crucify me for not giving at a certain level.  Anyone thinking that’s what we have in mind is missing the point completely.

We’re talking about giving generously to the Lord with a glad heart, and giving at least a tenth to the church.

Honestly, if I did not give generously, I would feel like the biggest hypocrite.  How can I urge others to give to support the Lord’s work a large part of which is paying my salary! if I did not set the example? And surely pastors know how important the contributions are to everything from paying the light bill, maintaining the mortgage, supporting the personnel, and funding mission work.  If I do not give faithfully, how can I ask anyone else to do so?

There! See what just happened?  I established my credentials to speak on tithing.  Without that, you would have no idea whether I was preaching something I was not practicing.  And, I say with a smile, you will also notice I did not tell the amount of my tithe or my gifts. That is no one’s business.  (And granted, you do not know whether I’m telling the truth.  But you will know by your pastor’s life in a hundred other ways whether he is given to truth or falsehood.)

Ministers of the gospel should be tithers.  (In case you missed it above.)

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I do not want a pastor who is not a strong giver. As a pastor of a church, I do not want a staff member on my team who is not a faithful giver. Whether that comes out to an exact tithe or not is between him and the Lord.  But if he is not giving at all, as far as I am concerned, he is only one step above an infidel. He does not believe.

How clear is that?

There is nothing–absolutely nothing–legalistic about this.  I do not “tithe the cummin and mint and anise” as the Pharisees did in Matthew 23:23.  Our giving is a pure joy.  (I promised the Lord decades ago that I would devote myself to encouraging pastors and being generous with what He has given me.)

I know of no pastor, Southern Baptist or otherwise, who preaches tithing as a legalism. We preach a stewardship of all we possess, emphasizing that it all comes from a generous Father, and thus, “freely we have received, so we freely give” (see Matthew 10:8).  We teach sacrificial giving and proportionate giving and cheerful giving.

And frankly, if that ends up meaning I give less than one-tenth of my income to the Lord, that’s between the Lord and me.  What is not a private matter between the Lord and me is my employment at my church as the shepherd.  The people who made the decision and look to me as a role model have a right to expect me to be faithful, and if I am not, to give account.

Here are some thoughts on the subject.  Not exhaustive, I admit, but frankly the subject has about exhausted me! (smiley-face here please)

1) When a minister is being interviewed by the church, it should be made clear to him if he is expected to tithe his income.  If this is not an issue with your church or denomination, then don’t make it one.  You may stop reading at this point and see what’s on the news.

2) I would simply ask the pastoral candidate, “Are you a tither?” If he says he is, follow that up with: “And do you give your tithe through your church?”  Wait for an answer.  And then, the biggie: “What would you do as a pastor, if you discovered that you had a staff member who was not giving regularly and generously to the Lord’s work?”

His answer will tell you all you need to know.  If tithing (i.e., generous giving) is a big deal with him–as I personally think it should be–he will let you know that this would not be tolerated.  If he is lax on this issue and says a staff member’s giving is a private matter between that one and the Lord, then I would find this troubling.  How about a person’s private morality, what he does on the computer, when he’s away from home? Are those private also and not to be questioned?

If a pastor does not expect his staffers to give generously and would not hold them accountable, he will go easy on himself also. Don’t be surprised if you soon find yourself with a non-giving pastoral staff.

If that would not bother you, then your standards for spiritual leadership leave a lot to be desired, my friend. As a Facebook friend noted, “No wonder the spiritual power in so many churches is so weak.”

3)  Question: How should we verify whether the pastors (plural) are tithing their income to the Lord through the church?

Discuss that among the finance committee.  Have the pastor and staff discuss it. There has to be a way.  Find a solution that suits everyone.

Clearly, you do not want more than 2 or 3 people with this information.  But the bookkeeper or financial secretary will always know, I can guarantee that.  Who else should know?

4) Next question: Whose responsibility is it to approach the minister or staffer about delinquency in this area? Who should “bell the cat,” as the saying goes?  No one volunteers for this!

We’re not talking about confronting a pastor whose giving is slightly less than last year’s or who goes a month without a contribution. We’re talking about a major lapse in giving.

The pastor should deal with the staff.  A key lay leader would be right for approaching the pastor.

5) Question:  What if the pastor or ministerial staff member admits to not giving and says he has no intention of giving?

Personally, I’m with those who say he has given up the right of leadership.  Why?  Because this is important.  Here are a couple of words from our Lord on the subject….

“He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  Therefore, if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

The non-giving leader is showing himself to be an unbeliever.

“He who receives the seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). 

Our Lord said the seed which fell among the thorns is choked off by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches”.  That is precisely why many in leadership positions in the church do not give. Period.

6) Someone says, “If the church is not paying the pastor enough to live on, it should not expect him to tithe.”

Answer: Tell that to the widow of Mark 12. She’s just dying to hear your excuse for not giving generously.

We are not giving to the church.  We are giving to the Lord through His church.

7) What if we disagree with the way the church is spending the money people give?

Tell that to the widow also. When she dropped in her small coins and received the commendation of the Savior, the temple was under the control of a bunch of crooks.  In Mark 11, Jesus called them “a den of thieves.”

Learn to submit. “Be in subjection to one another in the fear of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21).  Among other things, we are to give in to others of the Lord’s people where we have a disagreement. The one who says, “I am going to submit only when I agree” is saying, “I’ll go with you so long as I was going that way anyway.” To him, submission is a meaningless concept.  If you cannot submit to brothers and sisters in Christ on non-essentials (salvation, major doctrines, etc) when you and they are in disagreement, you are going to be a stumblingblock in the family of the Lord.

I fear for any disciple of Jesus who grabs at excuses to keep from giving to Him through His church.

Satan has been collecting excuses for thousands of years, my friend, and when you tire of the one you’re using now–“Tithing is Old Testament!” “I can’t afford it!” “Jesus expects me to pay my bills first!” Or my favorite: “I’m a minister and get paid from the offering plate, so in that sense I’d just be giving to myself!” (Give me a break)–he’ll pull out more.  Just trust the enemy. He’ll do all in his power to see that you do not conquer this fear and grow in your faith.

He’ll even make you angry at this article that seeks only to encourage you to do the faithful, Christ-honoring thing.  After all, if you cannot be faithful in the little thing, who will trust you with the larger?




3 thoughts on “Does it matter if the pastor is not a tither?

  1. I will take it a step further and say that no one should be in a ministry position if they do not tithe. Tithing is not legalism, it is an indicator of the depth of an individual’s faith in God, and is given back to Him, not the church, as an act of love. How can one lead others into an intimate relationship with God if they do not have it themselves? Those that claim it is Old Testament and does not apply to Christians, do not understand the Old Testament. I have found that those who use that as an excuse have a divided heart, and as Jesus said, “you cannot serve two masters.”

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