July 11, 2012

Only 10 Percent?

Is the world church missing out on $12 billion in tithe?

A news article published in the Adventist Review (Apr. 26, 2012) posed this tantalizing question and pursued it as follows:

How much money would the Seventh-day Adventist Church have for mission each year if world membership records were
accurate and each member returned a faithful tithe?

About US$14 billion. The denomination currently receives a little more than $2 billion annually.

Ansel Oliver, writing for the Adventist News Network, articulated this as he analyzed the Global Tithe Index 2010 report, which suggests an unrealized potential in worldwide tithe income.

Fighting the images that threaten to pop into the imagination of the potentially animated reactions to this question by both church members and administrators, not to mention the treasury, one finally settles down to the question of all questions: Why? Why would a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church not return tithe faithfully? This question is more fundamental than it first appears.

2012 1519 page28The Global Tithe Index (GTI) is a resource highly appreciated by, among others, the Stewardship Ministries Department, both at the world church headquarters and in the world field. The GTI has proven practically useful at regional and combined stewardship ministries summits, advisories, and congresses. It serves to aid in the assessment and analysis of the facts and factors affecting stewardship on a level playing field, as it were; and helps devise strategies for stewardship education, and for minimizing that enigmatic $12 billion gap.

But in order to proceed with any peace of mind, the aforementioned why question needs to be answered. Why is it that members do not return tithe faithfully?

Another Question
It could be argued that the answer is best found in yet another question: Who is the member who returns a faithful tithe?

Someone once said that you find a person’s point of greatest sensitivity when you “touch” their food, because what we eat is highly personal; but you find their ultimate boundary when you “mess” with their wallets. We know this is true, but why?

Money has become the measure of our existence. If we have a lot of it, we consider ourselves well off. If we have too little, we are miserable. And if we share any of it, we consider ourselves generous. In short, in money we trust—whether it is cash, credit, or any other bargaining chip we have in hand. It is ours, and we wield adeptly, or sometimes not.

However, this way of being is quite foreign to the biblical doctrine of stewardship. Stewardship suggests an owner beyond ourselves of all goods, gifts, even life itself. The Creator of all, who owns everything, is generous; He shares authority over His creation with us. In doing so, He risks not only the well-being of the planet, but His very name, because His name is only as good as that of His stewards who represent Him. And since we Adventists know so much about the great controversy, we know that God’s name, His character, is under attack.

Could it be that our stewardship begins with how well we carry the name of Jesus Christ, the one who was willing to give His all for us? And would the faithful steward not also be the one willing to give his or her all back to Christ in gratitude, in generosity, with complete confidence in His providence? And would that be 10 percent? Only 10?

No. My all in response to God’s all—that’s real stewardship.

Living God’s Ideal
Of course, in practical terms there would be a good deal of sense in taking one’s paycheck and returning the mere 10 percent tithe, adding a generous offering to the church, to special mission opportunities, to those in need, then planning one’s monthly family budget to take care of tuition, groceries, fuel, rent, doctors’ bills, car repairs, clothing, etc.

Jesus said, “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Matt. 6:28, 29).

It’s a difficult thing to live in this world and live by faith at the same time. We need money to live, yet we trust in our Savior also.

The wonder of biblical stewardship is that the poorest of the poor are completely capable of being good stewards. Much of the world, even within our Adventist membership, is made up of people who use very little money for daily living. They have to trust God: for enough rain to grow their crops to feed their animals and to sustain their families or to find a little piecework each day for enough to buy the next meal. They are often part of enormously generous communities; sharing what they have, raising each other’s children, and being faithful to God’s church. Generosity becomes a way of survival. These are the areas in which our church is really growing.

We all know the story Jesus told of the widow’s mite. She gave more than everyone; she gave everything she had. She was a faithful steward.

Perhaps the way to minimize the $12 billion gaps—between the actual and potential tithe, according to the GTI—is to see that this gap is directly proportional to another gap: the gap between how much we trust our Savior and treat Him as Lord of our lives, and how much we trust in our “own” wealth. Because when we trust Him completely, there is no gap. He gave His all. In return I give Him my all. And certainly the 10 percent is part of that.

This is a fundamental answer to the question Why are we not all giving? Better yet, why are we not giving all? Perhaps we don’t fully trust, or fully live by faith. This concept has to inform the way we do stewardship, the way we teach people how to give. The presentation resource “Reviving Stewardship—Transforming Stewards” is the contribution of Adventist Stewardship Ministries to the Revival and Reformation initiative of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.

A case in point is the remarkable growth in the South American Division. Quoting Oliver once more: “The GTI also indicates increasing faithfulness among members in countries such as Brazil, which in 2010 was responsible for about half of the gains in world tithe.” Of special interest is the approach to stewardship education by the leaders in that division over the past number of years. Their efforts have emphasized a wholistic approach to stewardship in which spiritual maturity is fundamental to faithful giving. The results speak for themselves.

The challenge remains for Seventh-day Adventists to grow in faith and generosity as we seek to represent God’s name faithfully and be good stewards of the work He has entrusted to us.

When He comes, may He find us 100 percent faithful. 

Join the ongoing worldwide stewardship conversation at www.adventiststewardship.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Dynamicstewards with your thoughts and opinions. View the GTI report on www.aiias.edu/gti/reports.html

Penny Brink is assistant director of the Stewardship Ministries department of the General Conference. This article was published July 12, 2012.