They wanted to know why they have never seen me come out to give my tithe.
They asked in the nicest, most polite way possible. I understood that their intention was not to be offensive, and I took no offense. I also sensed that this question was a sort of build-up to another, overarching question – that this visit was no ordinary visit.
I have to explain what they meant by ‘come out.’
For years in my church, tithe-giving (that is, giving a tenth of one’s income towards the work of God) was a private affair. In the recent past, however, this changed unceremoniously. As I remember it, one Sunday, a visiting pastor asked all those that had their tithes to come out to the altar for a special prayer. And that was it. From then on, it became a weekly occurrence – an announcement each Sunday for all those with their tithes prepared to come out for prayer prior to the act of giving.
I thought this was odd as I had never witnessed this practice before in my years of church attendance in various countries, but I also reasoned that it wasn’t obligatory to come to the altar if one didn’t feel right about it. (This wasn’t a cult, after all.) I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself, though, and have continued to give my tithe privately. No one had ever called me out on it, and I never expected anyone to as no rationale was ever given for this abruptly-introduced, new practice. In the meantime, I have observed as the number of tithe-givers at the altar increased from month to month.
I appreciated the fact that I was now asked this question point-blank by a couple that I deeply respect. My response to them was that the fact that one doesn’t give their tithe publicly doesn’t necessarily mean that one isn’t a tithe-giver. My position is that the important thing is to give your tithe, and that the process of doing so may be different for different members. If the church has concerns that its members are not doing so, then it needs to devote time to teaching about the rationale and power behind giving.
I’m very aware of the debates around tithing and I’ve met one or two members of my own church who are of the opinion that tithing isn’t meant to be a modern practice. Even then, few people I’ve met that have issues with tithing believe that Christians should simply not be givers. I think most people of faith are more concerned about being manipulated (or about watching others experience this) than about giving itself.
With my divorce, I’ve had to get smarter about my finances, and so I have a number of finance-related books by my bed. I must have at least 4 of Suze Orman’s books. I read Jean Chatzky, too, and some others. One of the things that I know Suze Orman teaches for sure is the importance of giving some of what you have away (I think Jean Chatzky does, too, but don’t quote me on that!). Giving really does seem to be an important principle that the wealthy tend to adhere to, whether they are people of faith or not – and, of course, there are so many ways to give that are beyond finances alone.
They assured me that the church didn’t raise any concerns about my giving, and that these were just their personal questions to me. I explained that I thought it was a bit manipulative to have all tithe-givers make themselves known publicly. It also had the potential to encourage certain wrong motivations for giving. There was some agreement about this, but I was asked to consider those who might not be giving their tithes because they had the impression that I (as a church worker/leader) wasn’t giving mine, either.
I pointed out that it all goes back to proper teaching, if this was indeed a concern. Besides, why would anybody base their tithing decisions on my behavior alone, and not on that of the majority of the church members who did give their tithes publicly?
There was a reminder that being ‘under authority’ in a church, sometimes you do things out of respect for the authority that you operate under. I explained that I believe in reasoning with the authorities about things I may not agree with. Plus, even the authorities have blind spots, and if no one points them out, then we’re all in big trouble.
The tithing question was one of three that I was asked that day. The discussion took me back to how I began tithing in the first place.
I started tithing at age 16 or 17, which is the first time I actually heard the word ‘tithe.’ In those days, Bishop Benson Idahosa’s ministry brought Frederick K. C. Price’s ‘Ever-Increasing Faith’ program on the air in our little town, and Frederick Price was doing a series on tithing. I got the part about the tithe being ‘one-tenth’ of your income, but I didn’t fully grasp the process through which tithes should be paid. I calculated my tithe for the first time ever and it was exactly five naira. I mailed it to the address on the screen (Idahosa’s ministry), with a note saying I wanted to buy some tapes with it (I don’t remember if they were music tapes or teaching tapes). My understanding was that I could use my tithe to buy ‘Christian’ stuff. (I’m not sure how I came up with this idea.)
Some weeks later, I got a package from Idahosa’s ministry. I was so excited! It was pretty large. I thought it would contain the tapes I meant to purchase. I opened it up to find a large book instead. It was a book by Fred Price about tithing. There was a note, too, politely explaining that I couldn’t actually purchase things with the tithe, but that here was a book that would help me understand tithing better.
I read the book from cover to cover and referred to it many times over the years. I wonder where that book is right now. It was such a good resource and I think it mysteriously disappeared in my early years of marriage.
Now, that’s how I learned how to tithe. I learned because someone took the time to teach me. They could have taken my ‘measly’ five naira tithe and ignored me and my note. It was such a small amount of money, after all – certainly not worth the book and the postage back then. But they took the time, bless their hearts, and sowed a seed that has absolutely flourished over the years. The message that their actions impressed on my teenage heart was that giving was so important that they were prepared to spend their money to ensure that I learned how to do it. Again, it all goes back to proper teaching.
So do I give my tithe? The answer is a big ‘YES!’ I’ve been a serious tither ever since that day. Just not publicly.