Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The reality of tithing in missions

I don’t consider tithing (meaning to give 10% of your salary for the work of the Lord) as a law, but I do consider it as a good guideline. Why do I say this? For those of us reading this post, the mere fact that we have access to a computer and to the internet most probably means that we receive a way above average income. For most of us 10% should therefore probably be seen as the very least that we should give to the Lord. Without using Malachi 3:10 as a magic formula, we as family have often experienced that, in spite of giving away some of our money for the work of the Lord, that we still have more than enough to survive fairly comfortably on.
Since arriving in Swaziland in 1985, I have also tried to teach church members about the necessity of contributing towards the work of God. I have explained the principle of tithing (how to calculate 10% of your income). I have explained the principles from books like Leviticus and 2 Corinthians about giving. For the most of the years we could see a growth in the average income per member which gladdened me as I realised that people were slowly but surely learning something about sacrificially giving to the Lord.
What did make me angry at times, however, was when I was sitting at meetings with people from rich backgrounds and I would be told: It is very easy to solve the problem of finances in missions. If you can teach all of your members to tithe, then your problems will be solved! (Having had experience of Western churches where they usually follow the 20/80 principle, meaning that 20% of the people give 80% of the income and where I knew that 40% or more of their members gave absolutely nothing, I always felt that it was really unfair for someone who had no idea under what conditions most of our members live, to expect them to surpass their own members in faithfulness in giving!) Regardless of what these people said, and which sometimes were extremely hurtful, we still went on to speak about the importance of giving to the Lord.
About three or four years ago I had a group of visitors from South Africa with us in Swaziland. They had come to look at a possible way of partnering with our work. I had arranged for a meeting between this group and a number of our church members one Saturday morning. Unfortunately only a few of our members turned up, as most of them were attending funerals around their homesteads. All of those who came were female. Things went well with the discussions and the type of questions the visitors asked clearly showed that they were honestly seeking to understand the circumstances of our church members better.
At one point one of the visitors asked a question: Where do you get money from to give to the church? As I listened to this question, I realised with a shock that I had never really thought about that question. One of the women looked at the person who had asked the question and answered: Every Sunday we have to ask our husbands for money. Most of our husbands are not believers. It depends on how they feel that morning whether we will be able to give something to the church or not!
I felt like hitting my head on the table out of pure frustration with my own stupidity. After all my years of working with these people, I had never realised what they may be going through in their homes in order to support the church. I never realised what type of tension I may be placing on their marriages merely because I was telling them that they had to give more money to the church! Granted: Some of the female members in our church are earning small salaries. A few are even earning larger salaries. But for the majority their giving to the church depends on the mood of their (mostly unbelieving) husbands. I felt so ashamed!
We cannot stop teaching the Biblical principle of giving sacrificially towards the work of God. But that morning’s experience taught me to be much more sensitive when I teach about it and to be much more realistic in my approach. And it emphasised to me that the attitude in giving was much more important than the amount given, as in the story of the poor widow (Luke 21:2-4).


Friday, October 5, 2007 - Posted by | Church, Culture, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology, Women


  1. What a great post! There is always more to understand, isn’t there? In our organization, we rarely get enough money from the people we are ministering TO to even pay to keep us in office supplies, much less rent. Our funds will need to come from other sources who believe in our ministry to the disadvantaged. On top of this, even though we live in the U.S. and most people here are rich compared to most of the rest of the population of the world, those that DO give will be tithing first to their church and the 20/80 rule applies here too. Then if those same people still wish to give, then we see donations. When you add up all the money people spend on cable TV, cell phones and Starbucks coffee, that money alone could probably finance every organization and mission. LOL

    I have found that the most generous donors are those that have less not more. They are not wealthy by U.S. standards and many of the more wealthy hold their funds jealously. Ah well…t’is the way of the world. I’m thankful for the fact that what the L-rd calls, He also provides.

    Your stories (particularly of the women) in Swaziland are heartbreaking but also faith building. What strength of heart and soul these women have!

    Comment by Maya | Friday, October 5, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Maya, Thanks for your encouraging comment. People all over seem to be the same. As I remarked in a previous post, their is an illusion that Americans are very generous, but when the facts are checked, then it is found that this is not really the truth. What you wrote, confirms this. God really needs to convince people to give. I am sure that it is not to the glory of God that virtually every ministry I know of struggle to continue with their work due to a lack of funds, while, as you rightly say, we are giving out huge amounts on luxuries.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, October 6, 2007 | Reply

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