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ASK BOB: Should I Reduce My Tithe When Money is Tight?

by Bob Russell

Bob Russell1Written on January 17, 2016 by admin in Ask Bob

Once a month I conduct mentoring retreats for pastors we call “A Time of Refreshing.” Its intent is to provide a time of encouragement and renewal for ministers from churches of various sizes. Ministers who have been through the experience will occasionally email me seeking counsel on issues that surface in their ministry. Below is an email exchange with a pastor that I think is encouraging and instructional to ministers and church leaders.

EMAIL FROM A PASTOR:

“Bob, I returned from my time of refreshing with you in November to find out that the elders approved the 2015 budget and for the tenth year in a row there is no salary increase for staff. The elders and the budget committee, mostly the budget committee, tell me there is no money for a raise because they are paying my health insurance. The church has ended up in the red 6 of the last 9 years but the three years they were in the black they still didn’t offer an salary increase. I recently started a part time job with a local funeral home on my day off on Monday. I still have Saturdays I can take off. That job is going to pay me about $70 a week.

     Here is my question for you. After 37 years here the church pays me right at $60,000 a year in addition to my health insurance. That is the whole package. They don’t help with my retirement, mileage, disability insurance, social security or anything. Out of this I have $2,000 a year withheld pretax and put into my 403b. That is all I have going into retirement.

     I am preaching a stewardship series right now and I am seeing again what Christian financial planners say. Give 10% save 15% (it used to be 10%) and live off the rest. My wife and I give $150 a week to the church–that is 13% or 7,800 dollars. I am looking at increasing what I have withheld pretax from $2,000 to $4,000. In order to do that I have to drop back to giving 10% or $6,000 a year. That would be a reduction of $1,800 a year from what we give now. That means $35 less a week in the offering which is already running behind…which could affect my salary long term.

     What would you say to someone asking your advice on whether or not to reduce their giving from 13% to 10% and put the difference in savings? Would this be a lack of faith? Honestly, I think we are still making it because we have honored the Lord with our finances and He is taking care of us.

     I don’t want to make a move that will remove the blessing of God from my life. I plan to retire in 5 more years and the difference I would be putting in to the 403b would only amount to an extra $10,000 over five years. But it is $10,000 extra dollars. Am I being carnal? I am trying to serve God and not money but I am also concerned about providing for my family. I am looking forward to your wisdom. Thanks.”

MY RESPONSE:

Sorry to hear your elders haven’t given you a raise in ten years. That’s really sad. I’d like to talk to them! You are one of those guys whom I believe the Lord is going to honor in a special way when Judgment Day comes. You’ve served faithfully for 37 years and stayed through some tough times. You’ve been a blessing to a lot of people. Even though you are taken for granted by some of the leaders of your church, remember God sees all, and He will honor you one day when, “The last will be first and the first shall be last.” I believe that with all my heart.

I’m impressed that you’ve been able to give more than a tithe through the stressful times that you’ve experienced. That explains to me why you’ve been able to survive financially and you’re anticipating retirement in five years. There is a sense in which you actually are receiving less salary today than ten years ago, when you factor in inflation.

As you know, the Lord instructs us to, “Give as we have prospered,”, so since your financial blessings haven’t been as abundant in recent years, I’m confident you would be justified in cutting back from 13% to 10%. I’m confident the Lord would understand that.

However, since you have reservations about it, I would suggest you continue to give 13% for another year as a test to see if God will honor your faith. In fact, I’m requesting that our ministry send you a small financial gift some generous donors have made available for ministers in need. I hope it will help you get through this coming year. Just keep faithfully, joyfully preaching God’s Word and see where you stand at the end of this year.

Thanks for coming to the retreat. I very much enjoyed having you and appreciated your transparency about your struggle with depression. That really ministered to the other guys.

FOLLOW-UP EMAIL FROM PASTOR:

     “Hey Bob,  Happy New Year.  A year ago now you advised me to continue to tithe at my current level even though I had not had a raise in 10 years and test God to see what He might do. Well, here is what he has done.

     The funeral home gave me a .50 cent an hour raise after 6 months, that felt really good. I have earned $4,134.30 while working at the funeral home one day a week this year. At Christmas they gave me a $200 Christmas bonus. In addition to this I have earned $600 doing funerals for the funeral home that I would not have earned had I not been working there (they use me whenever a family doesn’t have a preacher). As I told you in the last email after 10 years without a raise the church gave me a raise for 2016. It is an increase of $4,390! I think God has provided for me and my family and has rewarded my faithfulness in tithing.

     Plus, as you can see from below all my troublesome people at the church have left and my life is a lot better. Oh yes, the church came in over $3,000 dollars in the black for the year despite having lost those three troublesome families in May.

     Thank you so much for your wise advice to continue to tithe and test God. Without your advice I probably would have done something really dumb!

     By the way, I took the one day a week job at the funeral home in complete desperation but looking back I now know I should have done it years ago. It has been good for me in more ways than financially. I would advise any preacher who felt like he needed to do so to get a part time job. If you could ever use my story to encourage anyone else please feel free to do so. If I can ever be of help with anyone please feel free to have them contact me. Once again, thank you so much.”

                        

           Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

www.bobrussell.org

 




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4