The following letter presents, in concise form, the basic financial doctrine of Living Way Church. You are receiving it in written form, as apposed to a Sunday sermon, because it seems easier to process, reflect and think through these ideas when they are on paper in front of you. This letter is not a fundraiser, it is simply continuing our journey and growth in faith and follower-ship. The goal is to present these ideas about money, Living Way Church and God as part of the holistic understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus – while steering clear of guilt, fear, manipulative phrases and emotional pleas.
Money and giving are important parts of following Jesus because finances are a significant part of our lives. Since our daily lives and our follower-ship of Jesus cannot be separated into two individual areas, we must understand how our love for Jesus and our finances should interact. We cannot divide up these areas of our lives and believe they do not effect each other. Our love for Jesus shapes our giving patterns and our giving patterns (along with the other habits of our lives) shape our love for Jesus. This letter is a bit long, but hopefully you can get through it, have meaningful read and be encouraged to think honestly about faith and finances.
We begin with a common question. What is tithing? Tithing is the concept that we should give 10% of our money (or resources) to God. It is an Old Testament truth that was literally attached to a curse. If you didn’t give 10% of what you made to God, he did not bless your life because that 10% literally belonged to God. If someone failed to give it back, that constituted stealing from God. Whether you were happy about it or not, you gave your 10%. You didn’t have to care about God, His love for you, the world, or His mission to redeem humanity. You gave your 10% because God demanded your obedience.
It is clear in the New Testament that Jesus changed all this and we are no longer are obligated to give 10% to God to be blessed. However, Jesus also reveals a new reality to us – everything we have comes from God and belongs to God, not just the first 10%. It is inaccurate to say that God still demands my first 10% to be given to the church in order for my life to be blessed. Why? Because the grace and blessing of God is on the world because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We receive God’s goodness as the result of what Jesus has done for us. We no longer have to make offerings to obtain God’s blessing. The reason Jesus-followers give is personal, genuine generosity, not guilt or obligation.
Why should Jesus’ followers be so generous? Because we are very aware of how generous God is to us. Jesus does expect us to be mindful of this divine generosity as we return His resources to His kingdom work. I use the word return because we really can’t give God what already belongs to Him, we can only return it to Him. He does anticipate a generous return from us. When we consider what amount to return to God, consider the great things Jesus has, and is, doing for us. Our offerings are not given out of guilt, fear or shame but are given out of great admiration, appreciation and love for Jesus. So, our giving cannot be attached to a specific amount, required by God to receive His blessing. Instead, our giving is the generous return of God’s amazing, limitless provision. We return this provision back into His kingdom work as a demonstration of our love and our desire to participate in the mission to redeem the world. This simple shift in motivation changes the question about giving from, “How much of my money should I give to God?” to “How much of God’s kingdom resources should I keep for myself?”.
Here is the line you probably won’t hear anywhere else – you don’t have to give all of what you are returning to God to your “church”. Some, if not most, churches will remind you that your offerings should be given to your church and that’s about it. Living Way has never functioned this way and Living Way has never claimed to be God’s only designated receiver of our financial offerings. Living Way intentionally avoids extra offerings, missions pledges, guest speaker offerings and the like. We keep our budget low so that Living Way can release more to needs and individuals/families are free to give funds to other programs/projects they believe in. Simply put, Living Way doesn’t demand your tithe, plus your missions pledge, plus your extra offering, plus guest speaker offerings and a building fund pledge etc. Living Way only receives the offering that you know God has asked you to give. We have discovered this to be a life-giving, fun and meaningful way for all of us to participate in God’s mission. Still, the question remains, how much should a person/family give to their “church”.
This is the section of the letter where we could launch into a long list of reasons for giving, the details of our current financial situation, family giving averages etc. The bottom line is – Living Way has no wealthy benefactors, no denominational support and no outside funding sources. We are Living Way and it exists because we believe in it and support it.
If we believe in Living Way, its mission and its vision, it seems only logical, and spiritually sound, that we would prioritize a portion of what we return to God to be offered to our church-community. The idea of 10% is a good goal because it has some biblical precedent and Jesus also mentions it. The 10% mark was a natural reference point for the people of Jesus’ day. He was trying to change their motivation for giving a tithe, but he did not disqualify the amount completely. Today, 10% is a giving amount that requires faith and discipline, while leaving each of us enough extra income for giving to other ministries and sponsorships. You might think that 10% is a lot of money, and it is. However, when we consider our standing in the world and the resources/finances each of us has access to, it seems good to make giving 10% a starting goal. If each of us would would return 10% of what God provides back to Living Way, together we could make lasting impacts on our communities and our world – while leaving enough extra money for personal/family giving outside Living Way.
Remember, God has promised to bless us as we return resources to Him. This blessing is not just a financial return (I do believe you cannot out-give God financially) but God also returns blessings like health, peace, friendship and grace into our lives. Although God is always distributing these whether we give or not, recognizing God’s great generosity and grace inspires us to give back to Him. As we learn to be generous, God has promised to honor that with even greater blessings.
Let’s end on a practical note. Living Way doesn’t exist in a financial utopia where our expenses vanish without payments. Living Way also, because we believe it is theologically sound, does not use high-pressure Sunday offerings to increase or maintain financial support. So here are some thoughts that are specific to Living Way, our Mission and how finances play a practical role.
Consistency is a super-blessing to Living Way Church. If giving can be done in a consistent manner, it is much easier to manage expenses like insurance, rent, technology, giving projects, etc. If we prayerfully set the amount we believe God is asking us to return and give weekly or bi-weekly it makes operating easier for Living Way.
Can people attend Living Way even if they don’t give 10%? Yes, absolutely. The goal is to have our giving be the result of prayerful, thoughtful, thankful reflection not a legalistic requirement. We are all on the journey and God is guiding each of us in our faith. However, if someone does truly believe in Living Way it seems natural that they would be a contributor to the Living Way community. We encourage people to join our community, start giving, adjust priorities and work toward generously returning finances to God’s mission.
Living Way rarely discusses our financial ups and downs. Please don’t assume this is because we have an abundance of financial resource. Living Way’s budget is extremely tight as we make every effort to give 50% away and operate on low overhead. Our operating fund historically has only a few dollars surplus each month. I should confess here that in 2015 we have not had enough income to operate without using giving funds to pay some operational expenses. We all trust God for provision – as individuals, families and as a church. However, if Living Way’s income does not cover expenses for an extended period, Living Way faces some challenging realities. Financial support is one way God places the success of His mission ultimately in the hand of Jesus-followers. It is a big responsibility and blessing. We are all in this together, our combined giving is one way we keep Living Way moving forward.
The finances of Living Way are, and always have been, an open book. Feel free to take a look. Remember to take some time to prayerfully, thankfully and thoughtfully consider what you are returning to the Kingdom and what you are returning to the Kingdom by giving to Living Way.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.