Why should I give to my church? And how much should I give?
Through several years of young adult ministry and now church planting, I have noticed that many people (especially young adults) do not have a good, Biblical understanding of giving to their local church. As someone who came to Christ in college and didn’t grow up in church as a kid, this was something that took me a long time to understand as well. So I wanted to offer a somewhat thorough explanation from the Scriptures to answer why we should give to our churches and how much we should give. A basic summary is this:
If you belong to a gospel-preaching church, you should give faithfully as an act of worship to God, to honor and provide for your leaders and support the ministries of your church, especially caring for the poor. You should prayerfully decide an amount from whatever God has provided you with. 10% is a great place to start, but our goal should be to keep growing in radical generosity, as Jesus modeled for us.
GIVING IS MOST OF ALL AN ACT OF WORSHIP
At the heart of giving is the realization that everything we own belongs to God. God is a giver: “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Our giving is merely a response to God's giving, and it is meant to be a joyful and worshipful response. We give out of an overflow of love for the Lord. We give our earthly treasure because God is our true treasure (Matt. 6:21). We want to be good stewards of what he has entrusted to us, for the sake of his glory and for the purposes of his kingdom. So our giving is, more than anything, an act of worship. It is an offering of thanksgiving and praise, responding to the radical grace and generosity of God to us. We see God's generosity most of all in Jesus; God gave his only Son for us (John 3:16). Jesus gave up everything to love and save us, and bring us into the richness of life with God. Underneath this great purpose of giving, there are other practical reasons to give as well, according to God's purposes for gospel ministry, as we will see.
GIVE TO YOUR CHURCH TO HELP HONOR AND PROVIDE FOR YOUR LEADERS
If your church is preaching the gospel and teaching the word, then you should give to your church to honor and provide for your leaders. Elders have a “noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1) of shepherding people spiritually, which requires the ongoing, careful, and thoughtful skill of preaching and teaching the Bible. This is hard work, and worthy of honor and compensation.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages."” (1 Tim. 5:17-18)
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 and uses it as an analogy to explain that just as oxen should be able to eat the grain from the field in which they are working, preachers should be able to receive an income from the congregation to whom they are pastoring. He then quotes Jesus, from Luke 10:7, to say that those who labor in the gospel deserve a good wage just like those who work in other vocations. Congregations should give to their church so that their leaders, especially those who preach and teach full-time, can make a living and continue to pastor and preach. Paul gives another defense for this in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:13-14)
Paul says again that those who have committed their lives to proclaiming the gospel as their vocation should be able to make their living from this. This time he refers back to the practice of temple workers being provided for by the tithes of the people of Israel. Each of the 12 tribes of Israel had a portion of land given to them as an inheritance, except the Levites; they were called to live and work in the temple of God, ministering full-time, preparing sacrifices, offering prayers for Israel and the whole world, and caring for the poor.
So instead of an allotment of land where they could farm and earn a living, they received the tithes that people brought to the temple as offerings, and they lived off of those offerings (Num. 18:24). Paul is saying that just like the temple workers were provided for by the offerings of Israel, pastors should be provided for by the offerings of their congregations. Those who receive Biblical teaching and gospel preaching from their pastors ought to support their pastors by giving to their churches, enabling more and more ministry to continue and flourish in and through the church.
“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Gal. 6:6)
GIVE TO YOUR CHURCH TO HELP LOVE AND CARE FOR THE POOR
In addition to providing for pastors and the ministries of the church, the other major priority for giving is the ministry to the poor. When Paul was affirmed by the other apostles to continue in gospel ministry, he said, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). Caring for the poor is something that God takes very seriously, and he has always called his people to this work. You might ask, "Can't I just do that on my own?" And the answer is yes! You can and should. Part of your own personal budget should be setting aside money for helping the poor yourself. We also give together though, as a church, as the body of Christ serving the needy in our communities. In the early church, Christians brought their offerings to the apostles, the original leaders of the church, trusting them to help care for the poor:
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)
As more churches were planted, Paul also taught them to take up special offerings during their worship gatherings (which took place on Sunday, the first day of the week), and set the gifts aside to be given to those in need:
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2)
We continue this practice by taking up offerings in our Sunday worship gatherings, and setting aside money specifically for the poor. We do this in multiple ways at our church, such as a Benevolence Fund to help emergency needs in our community or sponsoring orphans through Compassion International. This should be a large and growing part of every church’s budget, considering the Biblical emphasis on care for the poor and suffering, especially widows and orphans (Jas. 1:27).
HOW MUCH DO I GIVE? AIM FOR RADICAL GENEROSITY
We have already seen the concept of the tithe, which the people of Israel brought to the Temple as an act of worshiping God, which provided for the Temple workers (the Levites). The first 10% of anyone's income already belonged to the Lord (Lev. 27:30). To not tithe would be to rob God (Mal. 3:8). The concept of the tithe even precedes the Temple though (Gen. 14:20, Gen. 28:22), carrying the idea that we give the firstfruits of our labor to the Lord (Gen. 4:4), because all of it already belongs to him anyway (Ps. 24:1). So many Christians continue this practice of tithing, or giving the first 10% of their salary as an offering to the church each week or month, however often they are paid.
In the New Testament though, the concept of tithing doesn’t appear much at all. Instead, a new principle takes over: radical generosity. Radical generosity is always what God desired, and we see evidence of it from time to time throughout the Old Testament (Ex. 35:5), but it became the norm in the early church as the response of Spirit-filled believers seeing the radical generosity of God in Christ:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
No one is more generous than Jesus, and no one was more joyful than Jesus. He gave up everything for us, and it was for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). In response, those who have been changed by his grace now do the same. We become radically generous people who joyfully give and give and give for the sake of God’s kingdom and the glory of Christ. So while giving 10% is a great place to start (the average in America is 2%), we are not bound by that, and should have radical generosity as our goal. Maybe that means 20% or 30%, or more! The amount we give ought to be something generous, which we decide in our heart with the guidance of the Lord, based on what we’ve been given (Ex. 35:5, Deut. 16:17), with a joyful attitude rooted in worship and love for the Lord.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. . . You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:7, 11)
We should continually assess our finances and see how we can become more and more generous, supporting our churches and pastors, and giving more opportunity for ministry to the poor. A good place to start is with a tithe, and then make a goal to grow in generosity as the Lord provides for you. This might mean making some sacrifices, but it is always worth it, and Jesus has already paved the way with his own sacrificially generous life and death for our sake. This practice of generous giving also helps protect us from idolizing wealth, keeping our focus on heavenly treasure rather than earthly treasure (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
To conclude, I want to draw us back to remembering that with all the practical reasons of supporting pastors and caring for the poor, our giving is more than anything an act of worship to our generous and benevolent God, offered in praise and thanksgiving for all that he has given us. Seeing God's generosity to us in Christ grows our generosity. Giving to our churches on Sundays helps us grow to be more generous people on all the other days, as we offer up our whole lives as worshipful offerings to God.