Among the many buttons worn at July’s General Assembly, one begged for an explanation. It said simply, “10-50” in bold print.
When asked about the meaning of the numbers, John Nelsen, pastor of University Church, El Paso, Texas, explained, “10-50 means every Presbyterian tithes to their church, every church gives half to mission.”
Nelsen, who created these buttons, went on to say that this was his attempt to focus Presbyterians on an important issue of discipleship which has diminished over the years.
“If the button were to describe the reality of giving that Presbyterian surveys tell us, it would read: ‘1.8 (percent) to their church, maybe 10 percent to mission.’ ”
The fact that such numbers are acceptable and not challenged says something about our church today, he opined. “Biblically, the tithe was considered a starting point, not an ideal to one day achieve.”
Giving that first 10 percent provides the basic essential to carry out Jesus’ command to care for the “least,” he added. “In addition, the ‘common good’ and ‘being created for good works’ are important themes not only for Paul but for the church’s life.
“It’s not that Presbyterians are not able to tithe; they are. And if each church were to give half of their money away to an extremely hurting world, that would reorient our focus from ourselves to the very broken, impoverished world that God so loves.”
University Presbyterian Church is conducting a campaign this fall to raise its mission giving from its current 32 percent to 50 percent of its operating budget. “Our church does a lot for mission and outreach, but we have only begun to scratch the surface here on the border,” Nelsen said.
It remains to be seen if this idea will take root and become a movement. Nelsen insists that success will come if ruling elders, teaching elders and deacons determine to make it happen — in the way they form their church budgets, and in the way they themselves set the pace for personal stewardship.