“Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8)
Some people are going to be mighty upset with their pastors one day.
When, standing before the Lord, it becomes obvious that Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when He said that in giving to Him we are “laying up treasure in Heaven” (Matthew 6:20), many who were never taught to do that on earth are going to be pointing the finger of accusation at the preachers who failed them.
Why would a pastor shy away from preaching a message on giving? The answers are many and complex, but most boil down to one: He’s afraid.
He is a coward.
Pastors do not like criticism and nothing will get him criticized quicker than a rousing sermon on turning loose of the almighty dollar and rerouting it into the offering plate.
Pastors do not like anonymous letters and nothing will fill his mailbox sooner with these orphan missives than declaring the whole counsel of God against materialism and greed.
The cowardly in any congregation enjoy anonymous carping at their spiritual leaders. If the preacher is silenced before he even begins, they have won.
Pastors do not like it when their most influential (and verbal) supporters are unhappy with them and nothing will achieve that distinction quicker than sermons on giving.
I suggest that ministers constantly remind their people that “I was not sent to make you happy, but to make Jesus happy and to make you mature and Christlike.” Those are not the same thing.
Pastors do not like to be accused of selfish motives for sermons and a sermon urging people to bring offerings into the church which will pay the bills and could conceivably increase his salary will result in accusations of self-interest as quickly as anything you can think of.
Since some preachers do indeed abuse their position and urge people to give so they will have more money, many a pastor refuses to preach on money at all. And that’s a great disservice to their people.
Shall we stop doing good just because some wrong-doer will be offended?
Pastor, even if some get it wrong, don’t let that stop you from doing it right.
This is not a theoretical situation. I know plenty of pastors who never preach on money (stewardship, tithing, materialism, greed, giving–call it what you like). They hate the reaction they get from the pews and therefore choose safer topics, the kind that generate lots of compliments and ‘amens’ from the pews. As a result, those who need to hear the counsel of God on these very issues go without. Those who would respond to healthy scriptural teachings on this subject never hear God’s truth and go on in their bondage.
Meanwhile, the Christian workers at home and throughout the world who depend on churches for their financial support go hurting.
All because of pastor’s cowardice. All because he caved in to the critics and naysayers, the compromisers and the rebels.
All because he would rather be liked by his people than to please His Lord.
I’m urging you to reconsider, servant of God.
When you and I choose not to preach the Word of God on the subject of giving, we are failing the Lord, abandoning our people, deserting those who need their support, and ultimately betraying ourselves.
People are robbing God.
Malachi 3 says this as clearly as anything in Scripture. When the people of the Lord fail to bring in their tithes and offerings, the Lord’s work goes wanting. “That there may be food in my house,” is how the Lord phrases it in 3:10.
God is honored when we faithfully bring our offerings and insulted when we don’t.
I dare anyone to dispute that scripturally.
Non-giving church members are abandoning the Lord’s workers.
Pastors, ministers on your church staff, and missionaries at home and abroad depend on the offerings from your church and mine for their support so they can do the work to which God called them. As Paul said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”
Yesterday, a young minister in Michigan told me that due to financial hardship in his church, he is being terminated. The congregation cannot afford him any longer. Without knowing a single thing about his church, I will categorically state that in all likelihood his church does not have a financial problem; it has a spiritual problem.
People do not give their offerings because they love things more than they love God, they resent being told this, and they would rather let the Lord’s work slide into disrepair than to give up their wide-screen high-definition television and their new cars.
People are sinners. Get used to that. They need to be told the truth, and they will resent it until they yield to the Lordship of Christ.
God takes the subject of giving/stewardship far more seriously than we do.
There are pastors whose names have been entered on His appointment calendar to account for not telling their people the truth in this matter.
Cowardly pastors are failing their own people.
As your pastor, anything I can do to help you break the stranglehold of materialism and greed and to grow in Christ is a good thing and is for your ultimate benefit.
Just because you find it painful at the moment when you are going through the difficult decision–and the demon of greed is screaming and crying that he does not want to give up all his pretty play-things and the right to buy more of them!–does not mean the Lord’s spokesman should be silent. Quite the opposite.
What if the surgeon refused to operate because doing so might be uncomfortable and cause you to spend weeks recuperating? What if the dentist refused to do a root canal because he would have to shoot your gums full of pain-killer which is uncomfortable to you and could hurt?
What if the house repairman refused to renovate because doing so might inconvenience your family for a few days? What if the plumber refused to come because he might have to shut off the water into your house and he sure would not want to upset you?
Our congregational form of church government has produced a monster that is killing our churches: the people in the pews have gotten the idea that the pastor is there to make them all happy. And if any are unhappy, surely the minister is failing to do his job and needs to be reprimanded or even terminated.
The remedy for this is for ALL the Lord’s servants to stand united and courageously preach the whole counsel of God on the subject of money, giving, stewardship, materialism, greed, and generosity. If there’s no place for the complainers to go–if every church is hearing the same consistent message from the shepherds of the Lord–they will either get right or get out.
Either will be an improvement.
I can guarantee you, pastor, that in churches where the ministers have gotten this right, there are a world of members who praise the pastors to the high heavens for helping them. They will praise him for his courage and applaud him for not backing down when Sister Grasping threatened to pull out if he preached on tithing one more Sunday. (And they will laughingly tell you that as a result of that, he preached another five weeks on the subject!)
When those church members get to Heaven, they are going to find that all they gave away in the name of Jesus, they received back a hundredfold as treasure in true riches. (I have no idea what form this will take, only that we can believe the Lord Jesus when He promised this.)
We fearful preachers betray our calling when we omit certain themes.
To fail to preach on ANYTHING because some member will be unhappy is to betray the Lord who called us into this work in the first place.
In the Mississippi Delta in the racially charged 1960s, I preached on racism and against prejudice. In the largest church in the state where the governor who had tried to keep his university segregated sat on the front row, I preached on racism.
To do otherwise was to betray the Lord.
The pastor who serves in tobacco country and cannot preach against smoking’s evils is selling out. The pastor who serves in a town where the biggest employer is a brewery has a responsibility to speak the truth in love.
In the early 19th century, the pastor who served a church filled with slave-owners and would not address the evils of that system was failing God and his people.
Such a pastor betrays the Lord, his people, the watching world, and ultimately himself.
If I cave in to an outspoken member, if out of fear for my job I take the path of least resistance and speak on nothing controversial, if I shy away from addressing giving and tithing because someone will be unhappy, in addition to disappointing my Lord and abandoning those who depend on our faithfulness, I betray my own members and end up destroying my own self-respect.
Let me end with a personal situation which illustrates this as clearly as anything I can think of…
I began pastoring Southern Baptist churches in the early 1960s when the denominational retirement programs called for churches to contribute $400 annually to guarantee their pastor an income in his latter years. Think of that–four hundred dollars a year. (This will tell you what a primitive economy America had back then.)
Along in the mid-1970s, when the inflation rate was ballooning out of control, our denominational leadership–I have no idea which ones were primarily responsible–decided they had better act quickly or retired ministers were going to be in big trouble.
Pastors like me are eternally grateful they did.
These leaders began encouraging churches to set aside one-tenth of a minister’s salary for his retirement. In most cases, the church contributed that amount over and above what they were already paying the ministers.
That was no little thing.
As the young pastor of Columbus, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church, I recall taking only slight notice of all this. Associate Pastor Bill Hardy became the point man for our church and led our people to do the right thing. And because the leadership was mature and wise, they came through. There was hardly any discussion and no controversy at all.
So–get this, please–starting in my mid-30s, the churches I pastored began setting aside with our denominational Annuity Board a sum of money for my retirement equal to one-tenth of what they were paying me. After Columbus, the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, did the same. Then, in 1990, when I came to serve the FBC of Kenner, Louisiana, which was still trying to survive a massive split which had left them with half the members and all the debt, the amount the church could contribute to my retirement diminished greatly. Then, in 2004, when I became director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans, the association once again set aside one-tenth of my income toward my retirement.
One-tenth. You will recognize that as a tithe.
I have been tithing my income to the Lord through my church all these years. Giving one-tenth.
Now, although I have no idea how much my contributions to the Lord’s work have grown and what the total figure would be now, I know precisely what the amount of my retirement income is with the SBC agency known now as Guidestone. Each Saturday, I receive an email telling me what that figure is and how much it gained or lost over the past week. Sometimes, it increases several thousand dollars in a week and sometimes it loses that amount.
As a result of the churches “tithing” my income, so to speak, I enjoy a nice retirement.
In a similar fashion, as a result of our tithing our income through the years, I have been laying up treasure in Heaven, according to our Lord in Matthew 6:19-21. That “treasure” is not for my retirement, but for the next life. (I have just said more than I understand. The details are strictly up to the Lord, who is the ultimate Money-Manager, I think you will agree. Smiley-face goes here.)
And may I say another word on the subject of giving?
I tithe through my church, the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana. In addition, I contribute to several other ministries over and above that tithe. Global Maritime Ministries is our work with seafarers and portworkers from all over the world, and giving to this ministry is a privilege. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is another cause dear to my heart, as it educates and trains the next generation of the Lord’s servants. Beyond these, I contribute a little to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and a number of other ministries.
Someone asked recently, “Should I tithe my retirement income? After all, I tithed it when we set it aside years ago.” I could only tell them what I believe, that God has supplied my needs so wonderfully and generously, I am glad for the privilege of giving to Him by tithing my income through His church. To make this a matter of legalism is to miss the point entirely.
A suggestion to the pastor who is considering preaching on this scary subject and knowing that to do so will cost him: Print out the first part of this article. Hand it to your key leadership. Ask them to read it, then ask them, “Do you want your pastor to be courageous or cowardly?” And wait for an answer.
I’m betting they will prefer a lion for a pastor, not a mouse. Some will caution you–and wisely–that they do suggest you go gently into that minefield the first few times until you have found where the explosives are. Good advice.