Did you know that nearly 30% of charitable giving is realized during the final month of the year? There’s something about the weeks between Thanksgiving and the December holidays that heightens the spirit of generosity in our communities.
And yet, with 70% of giving happening between January and November, I think we could make the case that people simply enjoy giving.
So, let me ask you this: Why do you give?
What compels you to offer kindness to strangers? Why would you spend your hard-earned money on a gift for someone you may never meet? Why pack a backpack for a foster child? What’s in it for you when you surprise the next person in line at Starbucks® by buying their cup of coffee?
Compassion for others can be cultivated all year long, and altruism never goes out of style.Compassion for others can be cultivated all year long, and altruism never goes out of style. Click To Tweet
In the same way that nonprofits rely on recurring donations from their patrons, churches count on the regular charitable giving of their members and frequent attendees: a tithe.
What Is a Tithe?
In the Old Testament, the tithe was originally a small portion (10%) of one’s harvest—whether grain or fruit—and was used to support the priests. Its use grew over time to include care for the poor, but the amount was always 10%. Interestingly, tithing as a compulsory practice is not taught in the New Testament.
Ron Kelley, Director of the Prestonwood Foundation in Dallas, Texas, explains this development in his article Our Giving Is an Act of Worship:
When it comes to the New Testament, the actual word tithe is no longer mentioned, so does this mean the strong message of giving to God in the Old Testament is no more? Nothing could be further from the truth! In light of what Christ has done for us on the cross and the amazing grace we receive, our giving should be a reflection of what our heart treasures. ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matt. 6:21). Our giving should be viewed as a part of our worship to the Lord.”
While it’s true that many Christians give to their local church on a regular basis, some averaging more than 10% of their income, the vast majority of churchgoers donate significantly less.
This gap in tithing (actual vs. projected) has caused some church leaders to “think outside the box” and come up with new, innovative ways to motivate giving. While some have added new, high-tech options for giving (e.g., kiosk, iPad®, website, text-to-give, etc.), others have turned the tithe into a transaction with a guaranteed ROI (return on investment).
Last year, I attended a church where preacher sermon started with a disclaimer: “This is NOT a prosperity gospel.” It was repeated twice so those in attendance would be clear about what was NOT going to be presented.
Then, without further hesitation, the book upon which the sermon would be based was held up: The Blessed Life by Robert Morris. It’s description on Amazon reads as follows:
This book will transform your life for the better, bringing you guaranteed financial results. But it will do more than that. It will change every area of your life: marriage, family, health and relationships. For when God changes your heart from selfishness to generosity, every part of your life-journey is affected.”
Although the description contains a seed of truth (final sentence), I’m still trying to figure out how “guaranteed financial results” is not a prosperity gospel. Seeds of truth mixed with false teachings make for fuzzy faith and unrealistic expectations.Seeds of truth mixed with false teachings make for fuzzy faith and unrealistic expectations. Click To Tweet
As the service progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. When the speaker suggested that Jesus was “God’s tithe,” I kinda threw up in my mouth.
But Wait . . . There’s More!
When the speaker challenged us to “test the Lord” and tithe a full 10% of our income for the next 90 days, I tilted my head to the side wondering where exactly this was headed.
Why just 90 days?
The preacher boldly proclaimed that if we didn’t experience God’s blessings in our lives by [exact date]—90 days from the date the sermon was preached—we could ask for a full refund AND the elders would cut us a check “no questions asked.”
This was a first for me.
I couldn’t sit there any longer passively pretending to agree with what was being said.
I stood up and walked out.
Also a first for me.
I went home and googled “money-back guarantee on tithe,” and I was completely shocked to learn that MANY churches—some with very popular pastors—offer the same 90-day tithe challenge to their attendees.
What in the world?
Don’t get me wrong: I love a good money-back guarantee.
In fact, all of my favorite retailers—Costco, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, and Hobby Lobby—offer a guarantee on every product they sell. Their refund policies ensure me that if something is wrong with my purchase, I can rest assured that they will make it right.
Makes Sense for Retailers
Major retailers stand behind the products they sell which means the buyer is taking “zero risk” with their purchase. The money-back guarantee is a win-win for the customer and the retailer: They cultivate a relationship of trust while increasing both sales and customer loyalty.Money-back guarantees make sense from a retail and customer service standpoint, but do they make sense in church? Click To Tweet
Money-back guarantees make sense from a retail and customer service standpoint, but do they make sense in church?
Should a person’s tithe be given the same type of guarantee as a portable heater, a bag of chips, or a bottle of Tylenol®? “If you’re dissatisfied with the results, we’ll refund your money”?
Why would a church’s leadership feel compelled to underwrite or guarantee a person’s tithe? And is this practice theologically sound? Does it stand up to a Scripture test?
Without “proof-texting” and pulling verses out of context to prove your point, is there ANY evidence in the Scriptures that leaders should offer a money-back guarantee on someone’s tithe?
Are Tithe Refunds Scriptural?
Can you find any time a Levite, Pharisee, Sadducee, Prophet, or Apostle ever offered to refund someone’s offering or tithe if God didn’t come through for them with financial blessings? Within 90 days?
The answer is a clear and resounding NO.
If guaranteeing a tithe is so clearly unbiblical, why are so many churches doing it?
My research led me to see that the idea of offering a “90-day money-back guarantee on your tithe” is really nothing more than a pastoral dare. One pastor came up with the idea, experienced success with increasing giving at his church, and then dared other pastors to do the same. And they did.
The whole thing reminds me a lot of another dare that made national news in early 2018: Teens were daring each other to upload videos of themselves eating a Tide Pod. And they were doing it. Why? Instant fame? Proof they were tough? Cool?
Eventually, Proctor & Gamble, the manufacturers of Tide Pods® published a video instructing their customers to (you’ll never guess) use their laundry detergent pods in the washing machine to do laundry. Go figure.
Once I realized that the 90-day tithe challenge is nothing more than a pastoral dare, I renamed it. I call it the “Tithe-Pod Challenge.” Get it? It’s a tithe challenge issued from the “pod”-ium. And it’s not biblical.
Public Service Announcement:
Unlike Tide, the church has no parent company like Proctor & Gamble to take the reins and issue a proper warning against taking the dare. Therefore, it’s left up to us regular folks to pay attention and boldly sound the alarm. Here’s my warning:
Stop! Do not offer money-back guarantees on tithes. A tithe is a faith-based act of worship and obedience. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and He has not authorized anyone to offer a “money-back guarantee” for disappointing ROI.
Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that taking the tithe-pod challenge could cause serious spiritual health problems in your church.
One final thought: This article isn’t about the spiritual discipline of tithing, and it’s ‘s not about God’s faithfulness: It’s about church leaders offering a money-back guarantee on the tithe. And that, my friend, is just plain wrong.
What Do You Think?
What are your thoughts on offering a “90-day money-back guarantee” on tithes. Have you heard of this before? Let’s discuss it further in the comments below.