If you spent years immersed in evangelical church culture like I did, you were likely exposed to “prosperity doctrine” to a certain degree; that is, an extreme emphasis placed on the “stewardship” of financial resources in an individual’s expression of faith. What did your church teach you?
If you attended my church, you would have been steeped in statements along the lines of, “Tithing is the most basic way a Christian can demonstrate their faith,” and even statements of tithing being a prerequisite to salvation. Before I go any further, let me be clear: using fear to coax a church body to fork over their resources is nothing short of spiritual abuse. If you’ve shared similar experiences to me, I hope my healing journey can be a catalyst for starting your own on the matter.
It’s a familiar experience for any church-goer … the offering baskets are being passed around, and if your brain works anything like mine, you begin to think, “Why aren’t you tithing? You’re so stingy! But, I hate feeling obligated to give!” Every Sunday, for a moment, I’d begin to slide down a black hole of guilt on the matter.
It was a lose-lose scenario for me. If I didn’t give, I was overwhelmed with guilt. If I gave, I felt sore about giving out of obligation or I felt guilty because I knew I could give more. Add the evangelical contribution to this mental storm with ideas like “blessing” is held in reserve by God for only the “good stewards,” and I was ready to raise the “double whammy” to God, the church, and all those guilt-inciting baskets being passed around. Thankfully, kind church folk were standing by to explain that the “condition of my heart” was to blame, “But, be sure to keep giving! You don’t want to lose out on ‘blessing’!”
How should we respond to this inner-turmoil, and how should we respond to abusive giving messages?
For years I’ve heard there’s nothing in the new testament regarding the topic of tithing. Well, actually, the word “tithe” appears just once. Jesus confronts the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, “… Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith.”
That’s right, folks. Right out of the horse’s mouth: there are more important things than tithing. In His only recorded mentioning of tithing Jesus offers a balanced view on the matter: it’s good to do, yes, but it’s not the end-all, life or death kind of matter that some would have you believe.
The foundation of my healing journey in giving has been the “tithing sabbatical” that I believe God led me to. Healing my heart by giving it a rest season and protecting it by blocking out guilt-triggering teaching on the matter nurtured the soil of my heart. This allowed a sprout of desire to begin to grow. My few moments of giving as of late have reignited a long-snuffed flame, which has included my returning to a hair salon to give a large tip to a stylist I feel I under-compensated.
My experience led me to give more to others in my life. It feels great, and didn’t God intend for giving to be a joyful experience?