I know it is unusual, but I grew up in a family that talked about money. Well, not all money — we never discussed salaries. But my grandparents and my parents were always comfortable talking about giving money back to God through the church and church related agencies.
When I was little, I remember hearing my Grandpa Stolee talk about being a tither. Although at first, I thought he was telling me he was a tiger.
A tithe is to return 10 percent of income to God. By the time he died, Grandpa was giving 40 percent!
When we visited their home some of the kids’ books they had included a book called Tommy has a Quarter, written by my Mom’s cousin Jim Kerr and published by Augsburg Fortress. The book followed Tommy learning how to use his money including sharing a portion of it with the church.
I remember watching my mom write the cheque for the offering every Sunday and we were allowed to see the amount. I also remember my dad telling me about how he had been challenged about his stewardship in a temple talk and then deciding to tithe his salary to the church. Later in life Dad would complain that it was hard to keep ahead of the tithe because the government kept on giving him tax dollars back due to his charitable giving.
I’m glad I was raised by tithers. I know it has become much more difficult for people to talk about money both in and outside of the church. The statistics we have show that ELCIC members give about two percent of their income to the church.
That means that some give more, and some give less. We also know that the average amount of debt for Canadians continues to rise. I have heard that the number of stewardship committees, requests for people to pledge the amount they will give in offerings, and sermons about giving are all less than what they used to be.
You may be thinking, “She has a vested interest because her salary is paid by the church.” I think many clergy struggle with this but my real concern is for everyone’s spiritual health.
If we profess the importance of love for God in our lives but don’t “put our money where our mouth is” what does it say about what is most important in our lives?
I have found that by being a generous giver a weight has come off my shoulders. Although I still occasionally suffer a little jealousy and want to “keep up with the Joneses,” remaining a generous giver helps to keep my life in balance.
It wasn’t always that way. When I first started to earn my own money, I certainly didn’t tithe it. I didn’t always regularly give offering. And then, in a stewardship presentation at my church I was challenged to figure out what my annual offering to the church was. I was asked to figure it out as a percentage of my salary. And I was asked to work towards increasing it a little bit each year. While it took a few years to hit tithing on my net income and a few more to hit tithing on my gross income—I did.
At a time when I was much younger, without much money, I took out an insurance policy and designated it to a part of the church. Those monthly payments have been tax deductible for years. I have put our church in my will, making it an equal beneficiary to my other heirs. And I am always evaluating my giving and checking it against a percentage of my income.
God knows I’m not perfect. And I’m not bragging. I just want you to know the freedom that comes with generosity. The Lord does provide!
You may never be able to give 10 percent of your income, but like me, you can make a conscious effort to start small and see where God takes you. Blessings to you in your generosity.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada