I have grown up in church for my entire life. In retrospect, church attendance/membership has shaped me so much into the person I am now. I got more leadership practice at church than any other place. The worship pastor at the time, invested in me and my abilities. I was leading musical groups as a high school student! The people in these groups were all legit adults! What teenager gets that kind of life experience at 16? I learned to navigate through friendships with people at church in a more deeper and significant way than even at school. I learned about being good and holy. I learned about mercy and grace. I joined in experiences and events that I would normally be excluded from at school because at church, generous congregation members helped scholarship poor kids like me. I may not have gone on the grand Washington D.C. trip in 8th grade but when our church youth choir went there on tour, I was able to go even though it cost $1000. I never could afford science camp, whale watching or the trip to Sacramento but I never missed church camp and I got to sing in the state capitol building on a different high school choir tour.
To those of you who don’t normally attend church or are not part of a church family, the idea of “tithing” or giving the church 10% of your salary is likely a confusing or even crazy concept but I learned this lesson very early in my childhood. You already know that I grew up poor. We were so poor, that we were forced to live the life of those who actually pay MORE for things than those families who are not poor. Since the flow of income didn’t work out right during a month, we would always have to pay late fees for bills or the added fees to get our utilities turned back on. The worst is probably the fact that my mom, on a regular basis, would have to hawk her wedding ring at a local pawn shop so that she would have enough money to pay the rent. Then, when she would get her paycheck, she would return to the pawn shop and buy her ring back. It may be part of the reason why I have no sentimental attachment to my own wedding ring.
In church, when the offering plate was passed around, I knew that people were putting money in it. We go to the kind of church where you put your money in an envelope and then place it in the plate upside down so no one can see how much you are giving. As a kid, this was TORTURE for me. I wanted to know what ‘the going rate’ was for giving. My curiosity was through the roof. Who was giving the most money? Who was giving the least? Where did my family fall in the spectrum? Probably closer to the least but maybe someone gave less than us….yeah – very holy and righteous thinking on my part. Of course, in my knowledge of church etiquette, I NEVER looked at the envelopes. My curiosity burned for years until one day, I actually saw my parent’s tithe check in my mom’s purse.
TWO- HUNDRED DOLLARS!?!?!? It might as well have been a million! The PLRWM could buy a lot of clothes with $200 bucks! Why in the world would my parents put two hundred dollars in the church offering plate every month? God knew we were struggling. He could see us eating dinner in the dark! He saw the holes in my shoes!
I summoned the courage to ask my mom why she gave God so much money. She explained to me that everything is God’s anyway, and that He wants us to trust him by giving back 10 percent of the money He gives us to show that we trust him to take care of us. She reminded me that we weren’t homeless, that I wasn’t hungry or naked and that our obedience would come back as a blessing. What a testimony of faithfulness and trust. I knew at that moment, that I needed to remember this conversation because someday, I would make money and I wanted to be as faithful as my parents. I hold this value very deeply in my soul….maybe a little too deeply because I can tend to get “superstitious” about tithing. It’s a fine line, I guess, to trust that God will provide and live in fear that my own hoarding will ultimately lead to financial ruin.
Our kids have asked us how much we give to the church (must be something all kids think about, not just curious cats like me) and we didn’t know how to handle it. It’s private, right? Can we really teach our children about tithing and withhold from them how God leads us? I am interested in what other parents have done to teach their children about tithing. Advice? Anyone? Perhaps you have a story when tithing made no sense but you did it anyway and saw God’s provision afterwards….