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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Money, Money, Money

'Tis the season to be thinking about money, pledges, and stewardship campaigns (or, more baldly, financial campaigns). While we may be mostly focused on whether or not our parishioners are going to tithe, our question this week comes from a colleague who is wondering what to do with her own tithe.

My question is about money, specifically giving to one's parish. I want to tithe (and am budgeting to do so) but I am not sure whether my money should be going to the parish I am serving, or ... elsewhere. In which case, where? I am currently giving to our denomination's outreach fund, which would be my initial choice. I hesitate because a tithe of my salary would significantly affect our small budget, which means it might appear to artifically "inflate" our budget for the years I am here - and I am not paid by the parish. On the other hand, money is money, and I am pretty sure no one would claim to mind having quite a bit more money for the next few years. The community is small enough that whether I give or not may well be known to people. I think incomes (and donations) are low enough that my "tithe" would make a huge difference.

Do the matriarchs have any advice? Am I inventing a problem?

Muthah+ responds:

First of all, is this a parish mission or a diocesan mission?  Whatever the case, ask this question to your rector or your bishop, whoever is in charge.  It can be done by email.

Secondly, gift-giving—our tithe speaks to us—not to others.  It should be what the Spirit is drawing from our hearts rather than what it might say to the budget of the mission.  And when we who are clergy are ready to live into that premise, then the question is already answered.  Are you giving because you ought? Or are you giving because you are invested in the joy and life of Christ in that place?  Are you invested in that mission beyond it being your job? 

There will be times when you are fed up with their behavior, or the problems of the community or how they use “your” money.  But what happens when we give with abandon to the God who has loved us with abandon is that we see it in a different light.  We abandon our gifts to a God who allows them to be used in whatever way that the community of faith can use them.  Our tithe is a commitment and a way of life to those who have been graced by faith.

No pastor’s salary can upset the budget of a congregation or parish or mission.  Gifts are gifts.  In a family-style mission that is just coming together, it is the energy, not the funds that make it work.  Family-sized congregations will fund themselves if they are invested in it.  If they see that you are invested in them, they will be invested at the same level.  Hopefully, that is 100%.

Jennifer writes:

I think that giving where we serve is important, as is setting the example of being open and transparent.

My family tithes our income to a variety of organizations, including the congregation I serve, the non-profit for which my spouse works, and two or three other charitable organizations that are near to our hearts. I’m very open about this in casual conversations with leadership as a way for folks to know how one family prayerfully considers giving.

Don’t leave your congregation guessing or rumoring—let your leadership body know what your prayerful decision is, and allow them to plan accordingly.

Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, offers:
I am a great believer that when you give money to a church you should also gift the power to use it – no strings, no conditions, no fuss.

In the denomination I serve the membership of any minister is not held ‘centrally’ but in the local church – that is I am a member of the church I serve. As a church member I give as I expect other church members to give.

In my present situation where I serve four churches I had to decide which congregation should get my giving (or find a way of giving to all 4) - I decided to give to the poorest of the four churches. The thing that has surprised me is that this church seems to have managed to turn a corner financially in the last few years – not because my level of giving is so high, but because I think it has given the church a greater sense of self-belief –things began to look better and people were encouraged to respond. I hasten to add that I made no fuss about my giving – it’s just that total giving was seen to be up.

My advice would be give to the parish you serve and let them work out the rest!

And Mompriest adds:
I think it is important that as the clergy leader of this congregation you model giving of time, talent, and treasure. That said I think it’s fair for you to not want to inappropriately skew the pledge income with a full tithe given to the congregation. I suggest you consider giving an amount that is in the mid-range of the average pledge from the people of this church. So if the average pledge is $1500.00 a year you’d pledge something around that amount. The remaining amount of your pledge can go to some other outreach effort or back to the parish that supports you in this work-project-assignment. In the end, a portion of any money we give to a church, at least in the Episcopal Church, goes to the diocese, and a portion of the diocesan money goes to the Church Center in NYC and a portion of that money goes to outreach....I always consider the parish contribution to the diocese as outreach giving – it is after all for the mission of the wider church. So, in my mind you are giving to outreach regardless of how you split the tithe. Blessings on your ministry to and with these people.

Thoughtful responses from our matriarchs! Personally, I believe strongly in tithing (and when I say "tithing" I mean 10% of gross income, minimum) to the congregation where my membership is (and my membership is always in the congregation I am serving). Any gifts I might give anywhere else would be above and beyond that. My practice is ground primarily in my sense of spiritual discipline - that it's important for me to express my gratitude to God by investing my gifts in the same place I am primarily called to invest the rest of my gifts, my local congregation. It is secondarily an act of leadership, though very few people in our congregation know what anyone else gives. I personally think that church budgetary considerations (i.e., how the pastor's gift might impact or skew the budget) should not be a strong consideration.

What say the rest of you? Tell us your experience and your advice in the comments section.

And, as always, send any questions you'd like the matriarchs to discuss to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. I don't have any solid answers to the question, but I was discussing this recently with a group of colleagues, and we all found ourselves in a most peculiar situation: in our area and tradition, clergy seem to be among the highest givers in a congregation, especially a smaller one. In my own situation, my family were such disproportionally larger givers that without my family's offerings, they are currently unable to have full-time ministry, which I am sure came as a surprise to them.

    I certainly will consider this next time if I end up in a similar congregation with similar stewardship attitudes and budgetary issues. Perhaps giving to denominational mission efforts might be another way for me to give.

  2. Anonymous, that's interesting! But I'm also not surprised.

    To me, it makes sense that clergy would be among the highest givers, if we are to be leaders. Many in our congregations don't yet have an adequate understanding of stewardship, or of tithing as a spiritual discipline. But if clergy do have a good understanding of these things - and I would hope that most of us do - then we really should be leaders in this realm as in others.

    I hope that one day more people in my congregation will have a better sense of the importance of tithing. But until that time, I expect to continue to lead the way.

  3. I understand the concern about skewing the budget from a conversation I recently had with a colleague friend of mine. I had never thought of it before since my gift to the church has never run that risk! :)

    Anyway, this friend serves a very small church, one that is now beginning to consider closing. He is their biggest expense. He and his wife started by tithing both their incomes to this church, but it became clear quickly that he was giving the congregation a false sense of hope. It just wasn't going to work when their gift was truly going to be about 1/2 the monthly income.

    The middle ground they came up with was to tithe his income from the church to the church, and her income to another good cause. It sounded strange to me at first, but it does make sense, I think, in some situations to be careful about how much we give to our congregation. I get that the boost in giving could boost morale, but at the same time most of us are not permanent fixtures in our churches. If we were to leave and the finances came crashing down because of it, I think that's something to consider.

    I tithed when I was single, but it wasn't not something my husband was doing. We met in the middle the first year we pledged together and have been increasing by 0.5-1% each year. It's working for us as I hope we grow into a tithing family.

    When we decided to consciously increase our giving, and especially when we also made a pledge to the capital campaign here at the church, we decided to cut out all other giving to make that happen. We couldn't support our increased giving at the church with some of the other places we gave (like our former schools and other charities), so we prioritized the church. When our kids are out of daycare or there are other place where we can loosen our budget we will think about adding some of those back in only as we still continue to increase our pledge to the church.

  4. My tithe gets set aside into a separate account I don't spend until God prompts my heart where to give it - sometimes at my local congregation, sometimes to a special project.

    A good friend of mine has served two different small churches and in each case the tithe from his wife's income became a significant portion of the church's giving. He decided to designate it to special projects so the church's operating budget wouldn't come to rely on that giving because as Methodists we can move any year and that would devastate a church budget if they planned on that pledge and then he moved mid-year. I know he has done some amazing special mission projects, ministry programs, and even capital improvements that all left a lasting impact on each congregation. Not sure what he is doing in his third appointment...

  5. Good points sisters.

    I have followed one too many pastors who did not tithe, and well it did set a precedence. I have tithed, not just to set an example, but because it is a spiritual discipline for me and for my family. I do then give to other needs beyond that tithe.

    I too have served smaller churches where my giving was beyond the others and did make it possible for them to pay for and do some things they would not have been otherwise able to do. Do I regret doing that. No.

    That does raise a good discussion though.

  6. Like a couple of others, I believe that as clergy it is important for me to be a leader in giving. So I do tithe to the the church (I have been working my way towards a tithe for the last few years, and I talked about 'proportional giving' in our stewardship program this year.) I don't think I could in good faith ask my congregation to do something I don't do as well. The vestry was also asked to commit to working towards a tithe as leaders in the congregation.

    I expect that my pledge will be one of the larger ones this year, but not the largest. I know it is hard for ANY one pledge to be what makes or breaks the budget, but except for the most extreme situations, I would be uncomfortable not tithing to the church for that reason.

  7. Our family has struggled with this one too. My husband balks at the idea of giving to the general budget of the church--he doesn't like the idea me paying my own salary--and though we differ in opinion on that, we agreed to give generously to the congregation's designated ministry funds and to our denomination's special and seasonal offerings. We also give to a small handful of charities that we've selected together. I feel that this sets a good example of giving and still respects my spouse's feelings.
    Just as a side note, my membership does not reside with the local congregation and so we feel that denominational giving is a good use of our tithe, as most of the denominational offerings divide the gifts to go to local, middle-body, and denominational ministries.

  8. I also believe that tithing is part of leadership with integrity. I do not want to ask anyone else to do what I am unwilling to do. I have gotten more obvious with my giving in recent years, that is, I bring my offering into worship and make sure the plate comes to me instead of putting my check in the money bag sometime during the week.

    I have also talked about my giving decisions during stewardship campaigns, eg. I'm going up this much, I hope you will consider doing likewise. (Avoided the "I upped mine, Up yours!" joke...)

    The budget will probably take a hit when I leave, but I assume I will pay my tithe through whenever they are still paying me, and then their biggest expense will be gone for a while, so it should more or less even out.


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