You know, one of the first things that I look at in a church is how they handle collecting their money. Not just what they do with their money, but how they handle encouraging people to give. There’s something in how they do it that speaks to me about the character of their church. I understand that church buildings, any organization really, exists in the real world with real world expenditures, and so has to have some way to cover their bills. However, I’ve seen some truly galling money grabs in my day, and I’m sure many of us can’t help but think of slimy televangelists or other scam artists in sheep’s clothing using the Bible to convince people to empty their wallets.

When I have the chance, I like to church hop and get a feel for how other churches do things, if only so I don’t get locked into one idea of how church should be done. Unfortunately, even some churches that I know and respect have employed questionable tactics. One made a practice of posting it’s top ten tithers/contributors of the week, stirring up a strange sort of competition among its members. Members actually vied to be seen on the list. Another church would always end the service by having people march up to the front of the church, dismissed by pews, in order to give. I didn’t have as much a problem with that as I did the pastor calling out anyone who left before the giving portion of the service. [Okay, so my wife and I had the system down, waiting until the pastor ended his sermon in prayer, before making our break for it. However, the time to give shouldn’t be a time to fear or seek escape.]

Because of all of that baggage, sometimes I wonder if we’ve gone too far toward the opposite extreme to the point where we barely mention money or the time for offering. Though, I admit, I’m fairly comfortable with. I figure the shiny plate sitting in the back is enough of a reminder.

When we encourage people to give, the other thing that I don’t want to see happen is people being shackled with some new chain of false guilt. I grew up in a church where you were made to feel like a bad Christian if you didn’t start each day with Bible study and prayer time. Don’t get me wrong, both are good ideas. However, just as I know that the guilting mentality springs from the need for us to be disciplined about such things, it’s the whole reducing what should be the natural development of a relationship between you and God into some legalistic rule–some act of duty–that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It overshadows how learning and praying should be a heart thing.

Giving is another such heart thing. We need to come to understand tithing as a process of spiritual formation. Something we do not only to support the work of the church, but also as a way of organizing even the financial parts of our lives around life with God. I see giving as a form of worship. Acknowledging that all that we have comes from God, so we set aside a portion. Sure, there are bills that have to get paid, but more importantly, we are called not only to receive, but also to give. One of the things we talk about is not having the values of this world; one such value being this consumer-mentality that our culture is driven by. Tithing reminds us to re-prioritize our spending habits. When we think about God and giving first, it helps breaks those chains, forming in us less the need to consume, and more the need to participate and bless others.

By giving, we tie ourselves as members of a community place by financially participating in that community. More importantly, we learn how to worship God in the ordinary acts of our lives.

Still, if you see me on television telling you how it’s God’s will that you give me money, someone put me out of my misery.

(I can’t wait for the discussion on this one)