When we ask people to commit their lives to Christ as disciples through membership in The United Methodist Church, we ask them to do so in five ways: prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. By “gifts,” we need to be very clear that we are talking about giving money to God and God’s ministries.
John Wesley’s three rules for the use of money are worth memorizing.
Make all you can. Wesley taught that one must earn a living honestly and without harming others. But gaining wealth is a good thing. One pastor noted in his sermon that the Good Samaritan was only able to be helpful because he had the money to do so. Money is not evil. Indeed, it can be a great force for good.
Save all you can. By this, Wesley did not mean establishing a bank account or a retirement fund, although such frugality is good. He meant reducing your expenditures to the bare minimum. Modern Americans are choked by too many things. Our closets are full, we rent storage units, and we struggle to keep our basements orderly. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Enough,” was a great reminder that most of us have enough and buying more will only create more storage problems for us.
Give all you can. Wesley did not discourage tithing, but it was not the focus of his teaching. He believed that tithing was too legalistic. The real problem with it was tithing may be too much for poor people and tithing may be too little for others. After making all we can and reducing our expenditures—saving—all we can, we should then give all we can.
One of the greatest inspirations of my life was a United Methodist lay person who served on a conference committee with me. After a successful career leading a non-profit organization, he was retired. One night after a meeting, we got into a conversation about money. He told me he was giving away 30 percent of his income. He hoped to increase the percentage in the years ahead.
Another inspiration was my Methodist-preacher grandfather, Arthur Schuldt. He left each of his grandchildren $1,000 with the request that we tithe on that amount. He was teaching us Christian stewardship.
The reason I preach in favor of tithing is that most United Methodists—both preachers and laity—give away far less than 10 percent of their income. We make lots of excuses about why we “need” more things. Thus, I believe tithing is a goal for most Christians. Once you reach that goal, it is time to set a new goal and move toward being as generous as possible. My wife, Mary Lou, and I are giving away 20 percent of our income.
I believe pastors should preach about money and do so regularly. Giving is a spiritual issue that is an important part of our Christian discipleship. When church leaders discourage their pastors from talking about giving, or when local-church practice prohibits pastors from knowing how much which members give, we are blocking an important part of our spiritual lives. Every church should have an annual stewardship campaign that focuses not on what the budget requires but on the joy each Christian should have in giving to the Lord.
Bishop Robert Schnase in his books on the five practices lists “extravagant generosity” as one of the marks of fruitful congregations and fruitful disciples. We should be encouraging each other and challenging each other to be more extravagantly generous this year than we were last year.