One of the biggest objections I hear to giving 10 percent of our income to the church (that is, tithing) is that it’s impossible to live on the other 90 percent. In this time of overbearing student loans, predatory lending practices, increasing medical costs and severe income inequality, that’s easy to believe.
Nevertheless, giving to the church is important. Giving allows the church to minister to the community: On average, churches give $144,000 every year in time, shared space, donations, and other kinds of support, primarily to people who don’t attend their churches. Giving is simultaneously an act of worship to God, who is the ultimate source of our blessings.
This is, by far, worth every penny. And I believe it should be accessible to everyone, not just those who have disposable income. This means improving our money management skills – or “being a better steward” in Christian-ese. For Christians, the purpose of managing money better isn’t simply to have more money, though it’s easy to get sidetracked. I look to Luke 16:13 for my guiding principle in money management:
“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
For me, the real goal of money management is to free ourselves from service to wealth so that we can more fully serve God. The ultimate goal is not wealth, nor is it maxing out your tithe at 10 percent (because 10 percent is not a maximum)! The ultimate goal is better management (stewardship) of your resources so that your life honors God that much more. For some, this may look like owning your own business to employ community members in need of jobs. For others, it may look like donating more than 10 percent of your income to the church and other charities. And for some, it may mean working towards financial stability so that, instead of being helped by the church, you can stop worrying about money and spend your time caring for a neighbor, friend or family member. Whatever the end result, a great short- or medium-term goal is to donate 10 percent of your income to the church.
Here are 10 ways and 10 resources I’ve found helpful in working to accomplish this:
- Create an emergency fund. If you have $1,000 on hand to cover emergency expenses, you’ll be less likely to worry about whether a donation will prevent you from going to work when your car breaks down. (“Emergency Fund vs. Debt Snowball,” Get Rich Slowly).
- Pay down your debts. Pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first (probably credit card debt). If you find yourself giving into temptation instead of paying down debt, try to pay down the debt with the lowest balance first (a debt snowball) to give yourself a sense of accomplishment. (“In What Order Should I Pay Down My Debts?” The Simple Dollar).
- Track your spending. Use a service like mint.com to semi-automatically track your spending habits. Notice when you spend more (or less) than you think you do. (“Five Best Desktop Personal Finance Tools,” Lifehacker).
- Create a budget. Once you’re tracking your spending, create a budget for future months, and try to stick with it. Be honest with yourself: Don’t try to change too much too fast. And remember, just because you’ve got money left over in your budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it. (“Build Your First Budget in 5 Easy Steps,” Wise Bread).
- Use separate accounts for savings goals. Your emergency fund should be in a separate account so you don’t accidentally spend it, but consider opening up other accounts for irregular expenses and your own savings goals (like a car or a vacation). (“Use Separate Accounts for Simple Bucket Budgeting,” Lifehacker)
- Shop mindfully. The gospel most commonly preached in the U.S. is “salvation through spending.” We don’t need all the things we think we need, and most of us probably have too many things already. Don’t shop for things you don’t need, don’t buy things that aren’t on your shopping list, and don’t waste what you have. Reduce the size of your shopping budget. (“How to Program Your Mind to Stop Buying Crap You Don’t Need,” Lifehacker).
- Consider a fee-based financial planner. If things really aren’t working out, bring in a professional. Don’t use someone who works for commission. If you can’t afford a financial planner, consider asking your church for help. (“Selecting a Professional Financial Planner,” The Board of Pensions)
- Cook your own meals. Eating at restaurants is expensive: the cost of the meal is higher, and so is the cost of health care afterwards. There are tons of great recipes online. Check out the Iowa State Extension Office’s page (or call your state extension office!) or just do a Google search. (“How To Channel,” Iowa State Extension Office).
- Turn a hobby into a side gig. Most hobbies don’t pay, but many of them can. Even if all you do is recoup the cost of your hobby, you’ve gotten free entertainment for yourself. Also, like an emergency fund, having a money-making hobby may prepare you for a form of tentmaking ministry. (“Six Tips for Money Making Hobbies,” Get Rich Slowly).
- Learn to do something yourself that you would ordinarily pay for. Whether it’s changing your oil in your car, fixing your computer, making your own website or cutting your hair, learning a new skill can pay off in ways far beyond the cost of paying someone else to do the task for you. (“6 Things You Can Do Yourself Instead of Paying a Professional,” MoneyTalksNews).
There’s no miracle cure for your money; not even tithing will fix things instantly. In fact, if you hear people saying things like “Tithing is the key to financial blessings,” or “God wants to give us nice things,” I’ve found it’s time to start being skeptical. Nevertheless, we ought to value financial health and stewardship of all of our resources, so that instead of being distracted by them we can focus on the bigger picture, the things that remind us why we exist: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
ALEX BECKER serves as the pastor of Langcliffe Presbyterian Church just outside of Scranton in the wonderful town of Avoca, Pennsylvania, where you might catch him out for a run, or more likely a walk.