Since money is a nasty little idol, Living Stones has spent a significant amount of time discussing financial giving. But despite our emphasis on this area of discipleship, there are still numerous myths swirling around.
So I have been tasked to play Mythbuster, except I can't explode things.
And, in the spirit of Mythbusters, I have used bad science to compile this top ten list. Gallup can spend their energy accurately polling the populace to determine ranking. I will continue to eschew proper sample sizes in favor of personal conjecture.
But regardless, I’m fairly confident that you have fallen prey to at least one of these myths, so read on.
Myth #10: Giving time and energy is a valid substitute for giving money
Giving time and energy to serve the church is definitely a sacrifice, and is often underappreciated, but the Bible talks specifically about money on so many occasions that this myth is dropkicked into the horizon (Mk. 12:41-44; Matt. 6:21; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; Lk. 16:9-11; Matt. 25:14-30).
The truth is, we are not our own and were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20), meaning that Christians are to give every part of ourselves to God - free time, skill, relationships, money - because there is nothing of ours that does not first belong to him.
On the flipside, there are some who think they can give only their money. This, too, is a myth, but giving it a slot of its own would have made this a top 11 list, which would be annoying. So I will sum these two errors up in one point: You might be “richer” in either time, money, or energy, but that does not mean you can be generous with one and horde the others - Christians are to be generous with all things.
Myth #9: Giving to charities instead of giving to the church is OK
This seems like it's efficient because the middle man is cut out, but the church is not primarily responsible for caring for the poor - it is primarily responsible for spreading the gospel and making disciples. While there are good Christian charities, this order is flipped for them.
Biblically, collections were taken specifically for the local church (1 Cor. 9:9-12; Gal. 6:6; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15; Phil. 4:15). And, since the church is secondarily responsible for caring for the poor, the church elders are responsible for wisely using money to do so. It is more than acceptable to give to charities on top of regular giving to the church, but they should not be seen as a legitimate substitute.
Myth #8: Tithing is only found in the Old Testament
It is true that in the Old Testament the people of God were commanded to give a tithe (literally "tenth part") to the priests (Numbers 18:24), and that the New Testament doesn't explicitly prescribe a figure of 10%.
However, Randy Alcorn observes that not only does Jesus validate the mandatory tithe (Matt. 23:23) - like everything else he raises the spiritual bar. Alcorn also points out that every NT example of giving goes far beyond the tithe.
God's law is now written on our hearts, and that's where the amount we give must stem from (2 Cor. 9:7). So while 10% is not written in stone, it is a good starting point.
Myth #7: Living Stones (or whatever church) is wasting my money on buildings, staff, and art
We live in a time and place (‘merica, ca. 21-century) where we have the ability to have a public meeting place that is aesthetically comfortable to non-Christians, pay people to do the work of the ministry, and finance missions teams, city outreach, and benevolence. Many churches across the world do not have this luxury, so we can use the freedom God has given us to minister effectively in our context.
Now, the issue over the church's stewardship of money is always of concern. I can't speak to other churches, but here are some key points about Living Stones' spending habits.
- We own virtually nothing, aside from various pieces of equipment. Our church has no debts or loans.
- Living Stones tithes, too. 11% of our budget is given away.
- Our church budget is pretty small compared to other churches our size. If there was a bell curve of church budgets, ours would be on the left.
Here's the point: The individual Christian’s job is to give; the church’s job is to be a good steward of what’s given. This leads to another point - As Pastor Harvey Turner says, “If you can’t trust the church with your money, don’t trust them with your soul.”
Myth #6: Pastors don't need to be paid
The argument usually goes something like this: "Ministry is not a job for professionals, and Paul supported his ministry with tent making."
However, believers of this myth have to deal with two passages that explicitly teach that pastors, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching, deserve to be paid (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:13-14).
And practically, when pastors are bi-vocational they have less time to devote to counseling, oversight, and study, which people seem to demand from them. Also, pastoral ministry becomes a much bigger strain on their families. When pastors are stretched extremely thin, they succumb to burnout and/or full blown insanity. Nobody wants an insane pastor.
If you want a more detailed explanation, Sparks Lead Pastor Kyle Bateson wrote a good post on this a while back.
Myth #5: Giving sporadically is acceptable
If you believe this myth, you've probably said something like “I gave to the building fund last year, and dropped a twenty in the plate in September, so I’m good.”
However, the concept of regularity stems from the concept of the tithe itself. The agrarian Israelites were required to give a tenth of their crops and livestock (Deut. 14:22-29), but, since they didn’t harvest every month, they were required to tithe once a year. This means that they gave, generally speaking, as often as they received.
In our day and age, it is most common to operate on monthly budgets, so monthly giving fulfills the heart of this requirement. Some jobs only pay sporadically (as many who are self-employed know), so the frequency of giving can vary, but giving when income rolls in is the point.
Myth #4: Giving is between me and God, so the church elders shouldn't know how much I give
In a sense, this is correct. But in a more accurate sense, this is not. While only God who knows what’s in the heart and whether or not giving has been truly sacrificial, this does not mean that your giving habits must be completely private.
In 1 Chron. 29:6-9, the leaders' giving is specifically measured as an example for the people. And Paul claims that the Macedonians gave according to their means, which he would only know if he knew how much they gave (2 Cor. 8:3).
This myth probably stems from a misinterpretation of Matt. 6:3-4. However, this passage warns against parading your charity around. It is not arguing for complete privacy of giving habits.
Myth #3: Collecting money makes Christianity seem like any other business
The gospel - the message that Jesus Christ is Lord and that faith in him is the only way to be saved from sin and reconciled to God - is free. There is no entry fee. There are no membership dues.
I’m not an economist with vast knowledge of global finance, but there are a few things that I know-
- We can’t volunteer our power bill
- Landlords don’t lease in exchange for side hugs
What distinguishes our church and any other business is the intent behind gathering money, not that we collect it. Our intention is not to acquire wealth and assets - it's to advance the gospel to the ends of the earth.
- We make no profit on our bookstore. All books are sold at cost or below.
- Our artwork is not only produced at a very small cost, it is sold to fund future projects, not for profit. It just appears to be expensive because it looks so freaking good.
Here is the point: money is a necessary means of the mission, not the goal of it. And the money is God's - the church is simply managing it as his steward (2 Cor. 8:5; Num. 18:24).
Myth #2: It’s unwise to give away hard earned money in a bad economy
Oh yes, what about the future? There's retirement, college funds, and the nest egg to think about.
But giving is an expression of trust, oh doubter.
This myth is debunked by Jesus himself in the parable of the rich fool (Lk. 12:13-21). The fool (very foolishly) stores up his money and is content with his safety and security. But then God tells him he's going to die, and that his possessions will go to someone else.
Trust in wealth is misplaced trust.
It is God who gives the ability to produce income (Deut. 8:18), and, like I said above, we are God's financial stewards - not owners. Giving when resources are limited is a strenuous test, but it is wisest to trust God. As martyr Jim Elliott said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
Myth #1: If I give my money faithfully, God will make me wealthy
This is the myth of the prosperity gospel. But, technically, this isn't a myth. This is a diseased heresy that is more vile than if cancer could be spread to others through thoughts.
When treasure on earth becomes the goal of worshiping God, it is idolatry. This idolatry is peddled with promises that if we show faith, God gives us the things we want.
Now, it is not sinful to be rich - but it is sinful and dangerous to want to be rich (1 Tim. 6:9-10). The prosperity gospel peddles a message that feeds this desire, and believing this myth is a delusional attempt to use God for personal financial gain.
Our treasure is in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21), and Christ is our first treasure. We are blessed when we give, but this blessing is not necessarily material. This life is temporary, and we can't take anything with us when we die.
So don't cash out on your reward before it matures.
If you have been impacted by our ministry and would like to give to Living Stones Churches, you can do so here.