I sat with a friend recently as he opened up about his growing rogue spirit. They were leaving their church, he said, after years of patiently waiting for it to find a way back to God’s will. He expressed his frustrations over the politics, the gossip, the lack of any Christlike spirit and lack of any fruit of the Spirit in their congregation. They served for years helping with the youth and Sunday school and his wife served on the board until it drove off their latest pastor. They finally felt ready to move on, and weren’t sure a new church was in their future.
I encouraged him that this is exactly how many of us feel – and that we’re returning to the simple, returning to the beginning, away from institutions and back into living rooms. He’s part of a house church in addition to their congregation, so I encouraged him to embrace and pour himself into the house church as they respectfully pull away from the church business they’ve attended for so long. Community is what matters, faith is what matters – not whether you attend a 501c3 organization on weekends.
I could read the relief on his face – it felt as if I was giving him my blessing to walk away from the abuse and corruption and pursue something more pure and more biblical. And then came the question.
“What do we do with our tithe?”
Honestly, I almost laughed. The question was a clear sign of how institutionalized we become in churches. The heart of the question: “We don’t know how to invest financially in what God is doing in the world, unless it’s by donating to a church offering plate.” Add that to the list of ways church, as practiced in America, becomes a crutch for Christians instead of empowering them to partner with God in exciting new ways! Instead of giving our tithe to the Lord and what he’s called us to partner with him in, we give it to a church business and trust they’re doing good things with it. Because they do, right?
So we talked frankly about church budgets. When you donate to a church, most money gets spent internally. New sound boards, musical instruments, speaker systems. TV screens in the lobby, iPads for members to sign up for events on and fog machines for the worship center. (If you’re laughing, I’m serious – my church has all three. Stewardship at it’s best… right?) Repave the parking lot, add on to the building, put in a coffee bar. Fleets of vehicles (church van, church bus, what else can we add? oh yeah, private jets Church Jet?), property acquisition, massive building campaigns, and salaries besides.
When you take a close look at your church budget, how much is spent inwardly versus how much is spent on the community, the lost, evangelism, those God sent us to? The answer is usually consistent but often surprises people. The majority of funds are spent on people inside already – it’s rare to find churches living off 10% of their budget and giving 90% back, but churches absorbing 90% and only spending 10% on reaching the lost and helping people in need are a dime a dozen.
Churches do spend outwardly in three ways. Missions is spending on those far off who desperately need the Gospel. Local impact is about spreading the Gospel locally. And benevolence is helping those with other needs, particularly physical. Add up what your congregation puts into these three and compare that against how much is spent internally, from insurance to air conditioning, salaries to building campaigns, repaying debt to maintaining vehicles, programming to technology.
Churches do more church-empire building than Kingdom building, unfortunately.
Many churches consume kingdom resources at an exorbitant rate and put little back into the world to alleviate suffering, fight for justice or spread the Good News. The more institutionalized a church becomes, the more it serves to keep itself afloat and the less it serves to help those God charged us to care for.
The apostles in Acts fed widows and spread the Good News and funded missions and alleviated. You don’t see them constructing buildings, buying chariots, advertising, programming, getting the latest technology or padding their own bank accounts.
With the modern world judging Christianity by how much it “loves its neighbors” versus how much it loves itself, it’s no wonder the faith has lost it’s appeal and relevance for so many today.
Just consider the numbers. Churches have extremely high overhead costs, keeping the building, maintenance, advertising, communications, technology, property, staffing and on the list goes. A house church has none. 10 people in a church each donating $100 might see $900 drained into overhead costs while only $100 makes its way to the mission field, the local community, or benevolence efforts. 10 people in a house church each donating $100 can direct all $1,000 toward whatever good causes God calls them to address.
I explained to my pastor once why I support missionaries I know and trust instead of tithing to our wealthy congregation (the one with iPads and TV screens in the lobbies) and his angry response was, “Imagine what the church would be like if everyone did as you do.” My reply? “If everyone gave what God prompted to whatever God prompted them to give to, no need would go unmet – just like in Acts. Kingdom resources would no longer be consumed by churchy businesses, but would instead meet the needs God designed the Church to fill.”
So, “What do we do with our tithe?”
I challenged him to find a missionary, a charity, a cause, a concern that God has uniquely placed on their heart and pour their financial investment into God’s kingdom that way.
Why use the church as a middle man, if it’s just consuming what you give? 100% of your money could be going to that missionary you respect in Siberia instead of only 1% while the other 99% props up a very expensive “church” business and building in your hometown.
(Siberian ‘house church’ as a traveling tee-pee style abode)
One of the freedoms those who go rogue find as a blessing is that we no longer have to financially carry the institutions that we can’t in good conscious support anymore. Instead, we can go right to God with our money and partner with him in being his hands and feet. What could be more exciting than that? Find what God has made you passionate about, and pour your giving into that. Never lose your call to charity, even when you leave your church!
We plan to share monthly some of the missions we support, good causes we volunteer with, and ways we get into our community and help God’s work with the money he’s blessed us with. Feel free to comment below and share some of the things you do to invest in God’s kingdom!