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Posts Tagged ‘tithing’

Soul Food

By Jeannie Dortch.

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At least once a year, one or more members from Richmond’s First Baptist Church family gives his or her testimony of tithing, a habit of giving 10% of one’s annual income, usually patterned after an example set in their homes as children. My desire to tithe, however, grew out of a rich association with members of FBC and an appreciation for the Bible’s teachings that I had never learned at home. This is my story:

My mother grew up on the only road that led to the town cemetery. It was common for her to watch the hearse drive past her door taking a corpse to the graveyard. As a result, she developed a fear of death that grew to extend to a distrust of the Bible because of its many references to death.

My father’s religion was golf. So, attending Sunday school and church was a winter activity for our family because our car was driven to the links on fair weather weekends. We never read or discussed the Bible at home, and prayers were only offered at our annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Suffice it to say that in our home, the idea of tithing was never taught and certainly not caught by example. I am thankful that my formative years were spent in the 1950s and 60s, a time when children were exposed to church because it was expected. Very few things vied for families’ attention on Sundays with businesses closed. I can remember enjoying the services, and even walking to church by myself as a teenager. I have always had a curiosity and yearning to learn more about the Bible.

My husband’s religious training started on FBC’s cradle roll, but he hadn’t attended in years when we married in 1968. FBC never lost track of him, however, so when our daughter was four years old, we received a home visit from Katie’s Sunday school teacher inviting her to visit Sunday school. She was thrilled. The Sunday morning I took her, I decided to visit an adult class while waiting for Katie’s class to finish, and, that was where I met Buddy Hamilton and his small class of Christians. They embraced me as one of their own, becoming Jesus with skin on for the next many years! Each week, I would tell Jeff what I had learned to his skepticism and retorts, but his questions propelled me back to Buddy’s class to gather more answers to take home to share. Eight years passed before Jeff decided to attend church, and two more before he visited Sunday school.

While slowly learning to give our hearts to Jesus, we gained mentors in the faith whose example we wanted to follow. There have been so many FBC saints who helped us learn to pray, to volunteer, to lead, to teach, to give back with our bodies, minds, and souls and also with our money. We are grateful for each and every one of them and have been richly blessed by their presence in our lives.

soul food
Recently, Jim Somerville commented that we all need a faith that we can live with and die with. For me, that directive indicates a need to tithe. Some people emphasize the tangible rewards gained from tithing, but I believe the beauty of tithing is found in the giving itself. Tithing is like one-stop-shopping with the comfort of knowing that so many worthy causes that the church supports are covered by my gift with no need for me to research or worry about the legitimacy of the cause. Each week after the offering plates are passed, one of the ministers reminds us of yet another wonderful event, ministry, mission trip, organization, or association to which my dollars have been applied. More satisfying than the finest meal, I like to think of tithing as soul food!

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By Karen Linkous. Photo by Keith Carroll.

Rick and Stephanie Whittington began tithing in January 2011. Now, Rick says, it has created a “lifestyle of generosity” for his family.

Rick and his wife, Stephanie, discussed their giving through First Baptist Church as part of their financial planning for 2011. They based their decision on Proverbs 3:9: “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops” (NIV).

the Whittington family

Whittington family

Since Rick is a small business owner and has an irregular income, the Whittingtons determine their tithe at the end of each month, based on his gross salary plus any business profit. Rick tithes on his gross salary because “first fruits means the first portion, before taxes and insurance are paid.” The Whittingtons were careful to give ten percent to FBC because the Bible says that the tithe should be given to the local church (Malachi 3:10). Rick shared, “I have faith in giving to my local church, and trust (our) leaders to spend it wisely.”

Most traditional financial planners would say the Whittingtons should save more for education and retirement. Rick said that since the family has been tithing, his worry about saving for retirement or his children’s college educations has not been as great because they trust their finances more fully to God. “If we’re faithful in our giving and providing for the needs of others now, I trust that God will provide for our future needs.”

His advice to fellow members who are considering their giving plans is to “set your budget around your giving, not give around your budget.” He also recommends praying consistently and intentionally about giving decisions.

Prior to moving to the tithing philosophy, Rick didn’t consider himself a generous person. The family gave a flat dollar amount in offering each month. Moving to the tithing plan made them feel “nervous, but excited.” And even if their business had losses for a month, they still planned to make a gift.

In order to set themselves up to be tithers, Rick and Stephanie worked hard to remove all debt, with the exception of their mortgage. They do a monthly budget on paper that has enabled them to live within their means while giving. The tithe is the first expenditure each month.

Rick introduced Financial Peace University to our congregation four years ago. FPU is a 13-session course that is taught by nationally-known financial counselor Dave Ramsey, and is described on www.daveramsey.com as a course on “how to beat debt, build wealth, find bargains, invest for the future and give like never before.” While they were getting out of debt, they cut back on certain activities, such as travel, and Rick did freelance work at night to pay down the debt quickly. “For us, having debt for material goods was our admission that God hadn’t provided enough.” By using a budget they have been able to keep household expenses stable for the last five years. “Once you put the Financial Peace principles into practice, your life and attitude toward saving, spending and giving change.”

offering envelopeIn addition to the joy they have found in tithing, the Whittingtons also provide gifts to people in need when they can. This has been an activity where God puts the desire to give directly into their hearts. In one case, they have been fortunate to help a family friend make ends meet during a difficult time. Stephanie and Rick sponsor a child through Compassion International; their own children have become involved through the child’s picture and letters. “We hope that through child sponsorship, our kids see that there are people that are less fortunate than we are, and that they can do something tangible to help.” In finding opportunities to help others, they are not focused on whether or not they give to an organized charity or get a tax deduction.

Rick adds, “I truly believe that all we have belongs to God.” As they have increased their giving they have seen that God is providing for them in many ways. In addition, God is revealing more needs and nudging them to be more generous. Rick shares that he is learning that he “can’t outgive God.”

He challenges all who are considering increased giving to make a commitment to tithe for three months: “Examine your budget, take a leap of faith, and see what happens.”

Share below your stories of assuming a lifestyle of generosity.


Karen LinkousKaren Linkous joined First Baptist in 2008 and is a member of the Seekers class with her husband, Bob. Karen is the team leader for the Budget Team and serves on the Stewardship Education Team. She is a senior manager at Capital One and enjoys gardening, decorating and reading.

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Technology has given us many convienences... including making your commitment to financial giving online.

Commitment Sunday is the time when the congregation turns in pledge cards indicating their financial giving plans for the year. In recent years, that has happened in February. The budget planning process usually takes place during the fall. Last year the budget planning process was stretched into the early weeks of 2011, to allow the Budget Team to look at year-end giving before finalizing their proposal.

As it turned out in 2011, the budget was adopted on the same day as Commitment Sunday – February 13. It raises the question about the relationship between pledging and budget planning. Associate Pastor for Communication, David Powers, sat down with Church Treasurer Kim Boys and Church Administrator Billy Burford to talk about it.

David: Every year around budget time, somebody is likely to say, “How much was pledged? And why isn’t there a connection between the pledging and the budget?”

Kim: Since I’ve been involved in the finance office, we have never pledged the budget. That’s going back to the late ’80s. In the days of the “Every Member Canvas” we would get 70 to 75% of the budget pledged. Our budget kept growing. Our giving kept increasing and the number of givers continued to increase, but the percentage of the budget pledged has continued to decrease. There has been a shift over the last decade or so. Prior to this shift, pledging’s main focus was primarily a financial planning tool for the church: the church being the center of reason for pledging. That has changed. Today pledging is more of a focus on the individual’s personal commitment rather than focusing on the church’s finances.

David: Even though the pledges have not equaled the budget, have the actual gifts kept pace with the budget?

Kim: Most of the last 20 years we’ve had enough receipts to cover our expenses. We’ve been basically break-even. In the late ’90s and early 2000s we had surpluses. Still we may not have made the budget. But the important thing is that the people gave enough to cover the expenses.

David: So more people give than pledge.

Billy: Yes. Last year over 1,000 people gave but did not pledge.

David: So, is that a problem?

Kim: That’s one of the reasons we stopped doing the Every Member Canvas… because the trend was going that way. We were still covering our expenses. We were still able to pay all our salaries, all our program expenses, all the office supplies, all the electric bills and everything, and there was a big disconnect between the pledging and what we were actually receiving. Many people will support, but for whatever reason, writing their commitment on a pledge card is not as important as it once may have been, especially with those sixty and younger.

Billy: So, pledging for us has really become an opportunity for people to make a commitment to the Lord, but not so much a commitment to the church. I applaud the individual who says, “I’ll give, but it’s between me and the Lord what I give. I don’t need you to know what I give.” It’s a personal commitment. It’s not a commitment to the church. If someone makes a commitment to the church, it is easy to find something in the institution they don’t like, and then they quit giving. But if they make a commitment to the Lord, they’re going to look beyond the things they don’t like, and they’re going to continue to give because it’s not to the church, it’s to the Lord. So that’s what I’m excited about. People are making commitments to the Lord and following through with that. Would I like to have 100% participation in making financial commitments? Sure, it would make budgeting a little simpler, wouldn’t it? Because we’d have a better idea of what to expect, but it’s an unrealistic expectation in this day and time.

Kim: And then you’ve got economic realities. You’ve got the recessions we went through, so even the people that maybe do pledge all of a sudden have found themselves where they cannot follow through. They don’t have a job. Or people on a fixed income, and all of a sudden their income and dividends just aren’t coming in anymore. While we do get some pledges from Boomers and down, the pledges are heavily slanted towards the more senior population of the church.

Billy: I’ve always had the belief that God provides that which He is blessing. So if we’re doing His work and His will, He provides the resources. So if the money doesn’t come in, then maybe we’re not doing what we need to be doing. Maybe we need to rethink what we’re doing.

David: So, why don’t we just do away with pledging altogether?

Kim: Well, we did a few years back. We just let it go by, and lo and behold, people came by and said, “Did I miss the pledge?”

Billy: I think that was our shortcoming because there are those who wanted that, and we didn’t give them the opportunity. And some people need that physical reminder or commitment—signing their name on the dotted line—during the year when things may not be going exactly like they had thought. “OK, I made a commitment, I signed it, so I’m going to follow through with it.”

Kim: And there’s no question that people give to what they believe in. I work with four or five nonprofits around town and it’s unbelievable to me how many people there are out there that will support what they believe in. There is not a shortage of money. There’s just a shortage of communicating their message. And I’m impressed with the way that has happened here. For example, look at the special offering on October 31st last year. It was the weakest year (financially) we’ve had for a long time. And then in a single Sunday our people gave a quarter of a million dollars.

David: So is “pledging” a meaningful budget planning tool?

Kim: Back in the ’60s, if we knew that 70-75% of the budget was pledged, we felt comfortable with the budget. But now we’re only receiving 50 or 55% and we’re still comfortable with our budget. So we’ve learned through the historical giving of the congregation that this doesn’t raise a big concern for us. We’re not going to look at the results of Commitment Sunday, the pledges that have been made, and then go out and start cutting programs because we’ve only received commitments for half the budget. We don’t say, “People aren’t going to give.” That’s not the case; they do give. We received close to $3.1 million in 2010; or just short of it. We only pledged $1.8 million. That was with only 30% of the family units turning in pledge cards. But historically we know more families and individuals do give. So as long those relationships hold up, First Baptist will continue to be able to execute on our mission statement and bring Heaven to Earth.

David: So, other than filling out a pledge card, what would motivate someone to think about how much to give?

Kim: I think budgeting is something that people need to be educated on, because it is a commitment to the Lord. Just like reading your Bible daily. You’ve got your time, talents and finances. You need to read everyday, become educated, put your skill sets to use, and you’ve got to give back what you’ve been given. And the way to do that is sit down and come up with a schedule… a budget. Behaviors are habits. We establish schedules to read the Bible, have prayer time and worship. Same thing should happen in the financial area by scheduling (budgeting) one’s personal finances. And I can say this, by and large, First Baptist people do have this discipline. In spite of economic environments, wars, political changes, natural disasters, and so forth, year after year after year, First Baptist people produce tremendous results. That happens because of the faithfulness of this congregation.

Billy: The New Testament talks about “generosity giving” rather than 10%. But the reason for it is that as you give, God gives back in return. And His blessings are always more than what you can give financially. And once people get a grasp of that, it can change their life. It certainly can give more opportunity for the Kingdom of Heaven to be revealed in Richmond, Virginia if they do.

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