When to Stop Tithing

You’ve saved diligently and always spent less than you earn. You’ve lived your life on a budget and have a healthy emergency fund.

Then the economic troubles we are all facing start to catch up to you and your family. One person in the two-income situation loses a job. You slowly start to dig into your emergency fund.

Yet you have committed to giving 10% of your income every month, and you support two missionary families currently deployed overseas at $50 per month. These items are keeping you on the brink of financial crisis — some months you can pay all of your bills, others you have to dip into the emergency fund.

You can’t keep this up forever.

Should You Stop Tithing?

This is a controversial topic. (One in which I am not exactly an expert by any means.)
Tithing is a personal decision that you (or you and your spouse) must make on your own. Personally we tithe 10% of everything we earn. So if our earnings were to go down through a spouse being laid off, then our tithing would go down as well.

But what if the loss of income is so great that even the reduction in tithing isn’t able to offset all of the financial stress being placed on your family? Is it okay to stop then?

I would argue that unless you are in the most dire of situations, no. Your tithe is an offering to God of what you have reaped financially. If you are bringing in income then 10% should come off the top immediately and be given to Him. Remember the widow and two coins from Luke 21.

Things get cloudy if you have cut all possible expenses and you’re still in financial trouble. You aren’t hanging on to internet, cable, or cell phone bills. You’ve dropped all of those and are still under water financially.

In this case I would look for guidance from one of our pastors. Obviously praying should guide your decision as well.

Is It Okay to Drop Missionary Support Temporarily?

From what I understand missionaries, unfortunately, have to deal with a decent amount of turnover in their supporters. Tough times at home mean really tough times out in the field for missionaries. I get the feeling that missions may be one of the first things to go simply because you don’t see your missionaries every Sunday at church. There is less guilt involved because you don’t have to look them in the eye as you cut back on your contributions.

I would do everything possible to keep our missionary obligations paid even at the expense of our church tithe. That may seem backwards, but we go to a large, financially healthy church. Our contributions are a small number as a percentage compared to our contributions to missionaries we support.

If we had cut everything to the bone to reduce our expenses and were still in financial trouble I’m not sure what we would do. There would be a lot of praying and talking with our pastors before making a decision. We would e-mail our missionaries as well since calling internationally really isn’t an option.

Again, I’m not a biblical scholar. I’m a human being that makes mistakes. What would you do in this situation?



Author

By , on Jun 22, 2009
Kevin Mulligan Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for RothIRA.com, Discover Bank, and many others.

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{42 Comments}

  1. Becky:

    I feel if you are in a financial situation where you are living above your means, that is not the problem of the church or your missionaries. If you have made a commitment to them, you need to keep that as a priority. I understand falling on true hard times, but the way people live above their means really bugs me when they still have all the luxuries that people in most countries wouldn’t even consider if they could not afford it. I know people personally that have asked for money (someone who was in one of our Bible studies) for groceries because they didn’t have money to feed their family and we gave them that money. Little did we know that they used part of that money to buy cigarettes and various other items which I would not consider a necessity. Obviously, we gave it in good faith, but knowing what I know now, I would not be willing to give them money for “groceries” again. I would go and buy them groceries (they have three children), but not just give them cash for it. This isn’t the first or only time we have given someone money in good faith and seen it spent very foolishly. I just feel if someone can afford a new car, cable TV, cigarettes, liquor, going to the beauty shop, etc. when they are supposedly “hard up,” then they are not being responsible. We are all responsible for how we spend the money God has given us. We have never had cable TV, I have never had a manicure or had my hair colored by a professional (I spend $2.97 at Walmart to buy and color my own hair, which I realize is not a necessity, but something I choose to spend my money on), we have never owned a new vehicle, we have never done a lot of things a lot of other people do, but at the same time, we don’t ask for handouts, or favors from others. We do what we can to give to others and also give our tithe on a regular basis. I know many missionaries who live on little or nothing and really appreciate every penny they receive. I know there are situations where one cannot give their tithe, but remember the widow’s mite. She gave of what she had. God will always bless a giving heart. May God bless each one who gives of what they have.

  2. Julie:

    Interesting discussion. For us, tithing is simple obedience. It’s a minimum amount to give back to God. We’ve been working Dave Ramsey’s plan for the last 1 1/2 years. While we did step 2, debt snowball, we only tithed. Now that we’ve paid off all but our home we tithe and have a certain amount each month for offering (which we give towards 2 missionary couple friends of ours).

  3. brooklynchick:

    I’m not a Christian, but I believe in giving (almost) no matter what. I guess the exception would be if it would hurt my own family – keep me from feeding my kids, pay my rent, etc. But short of that (which luckily for me thanks to extended family *hopefully* won’t happen), I always give to those less fortunate. Right now, while I work on debt, its 2%. I’m aiming for 10 one day!

    I’m impressed and sending good will to all of you who give even when it hurts. This post and the replies are good news in a tough world.

    Love,
    Brooklynchick

  4. I have been in situations where our income dropped drastically. We still continued to tithe. A relative gave us a coffee can full of coins. We tithed that income. A few short weeks later, everything was fine again. There are going to be ups and downs in life. This should not change your religious convictions. If you are a strong believer in tithing, do not stop.
    I have an opinion about contributing to Missionaries. If you are basing your commitment on future earnings, you may be promising something you cannot deliver. I wouldn’t commit to such a thing. We never know what is going to happen in the coming year. Better to just donate the cash you actually have and continue to do so as you are able.

  5. Crown Financial Ministries has a list of 2,350 verses about money in the Bible. They also point out that Jesus talked about money more than any other topic. So, most churches talk about money less than Jesus, not more. That said, some churches do go overboard, which is unfortunate.

    As for my family, we are faithful tithers, and when the company I worked for shut down several years ago, we tithed on my unemployment checks. I believe that a crisis is when our true character is revealed, and even though our giving was down in dollars, we continued to tithe, which honored God.

    • Doug:

      I’m currently tithing on my unemployment check as my job of eleven years went to Mexico. And I’m about to have my house foreclosed on.

      You said you did that, too.

      So what happened? What was the result of tithing on that unemployment check?

  6. I would not (and have not) give up tithing. We tithe because we want to be obedient to the Lord – after all, everything belongs to Him anyway, so we’re honoring Him by being faithful in giving our tithe back to him. I feel that if we stop tithing when things get tight, we’re not fully trusting in Him to see us through the rough patches. Also, as a church treasurer, I feel that the occasional sermons about tithing are necessary to remind the Christians in attendance to be obedient to the Lord in this area. Many are quick to say, “Why doesn’t the church help so-and-so out?” but when hardly anyone is tithing, where are those funds supposed to come from? The “church” is every person sitting in those pews on Sunday. Again, I don’t believe that tithing has anything to do with money; it’s about obedience.

    • Hyderangea:

      That’s the problem with churches now a days. The focus is on tithes and offerings when we should be focusing on saving souls for the kingdom of god. I’ve been faithful in my tithes and offerings and I believe that every christians knows as well to give their tithe and offering but it doesn’t give us the right to judge anyone if they are not giving. It’s between them and god!!!

  7. Lynn:

    I appreciate Judith’s opinion as a pastor. At least its realistic – it seems as most people that are struggling and don’t stop tithing don’t live in reality. Also, the fact that she would advise the person to cut back on giving to the church and continue the missions giving says a lot. I always hate when churches only consider money given to the church as a tithe. We give a lot of money to many different christian organizations and missionaries. But the church I go to wouldn’t even consider that as a proper tithe.

  8. Anonymous:

    I’m an atheist, but I understand the concept of tithing even if I don’t believe in it. If you believe that it is a commitment you’ve made to your god, then surely that comes before earthly commitments. However, I would caution that you should also be responsible about where you send it to make sure that those entrusted with it are truly using it to do god’s work as you see it. Same goes whether you send it to a church or charity.

    As for me, I do try to help others even if it sets me back a little from being debt free. I don’t have a set amount I give and I generally keep my money closer to home, but if I know someone in trouble I’ll do my best to help them. I’m lucky to still be living well while making progress on the debt, and I know that many are not so well off even if their account balances look better than mine. We must all do our part to help others and money in the end is just money. To take it and/or our other resources such as time and go out and help someone is VERY powerful. And if you are feeling down about your financial situation, there is no better cure for the Woe-is-me’s.

  9. Judith:

    Hi!
    Here is this pastor’s opinion: I would agree with your priorities ….. giving in proportion (and cheerfully!) of what God has given us is what we do in gratitude for having received from God’s hand, whether we are rich or poor. And given your committment to missionaries, when pressed to my limits I would give to them (a vital part of their support) and cut back on the giving to the church, where many others are involved in supporting the ministry. Both are giving to God’s mission.

    There have been times when I’ve advised families temporaritly to cut WAY back in their giving (though never to stop!) usually due to circumstances of job loss. But always with a commitment (and action) toward increasing giving. Sometimes people cut back to 2 per cent or 5 percent , then increase step by step back to a tithe.

    For those not tithing, I advise to start somewhere ( 2%? 5%?) and increase on regular basis until a tithe is reached or surpassed. This situation often goes hand in hand with need to learn to manange money responsibly ….

    I don’t see giving time as a substitute for financial giving …. but there are times when we have more time than money, and increased time can be a real gift to the work of mission. God knows our hearts and He recieves with joy what we give freely and in gratitude.

  10. Angie:

    I feel that support of the missionaries IS giving to God’s work. In financial difficulty, I would probably consider the missionary giving as part of my tithe.

    As I see it, everything we have came from God. We are only giving back a small portion of what he has blessed us with. If we are faithful in our giving, he WILL provide our NEEDS (not necessarily our wants). It reminds me of a cute story I heard about french fries.

    A parent took his child to McDonald’s. Dad didn’t have french fries so he reached for one of his child’s. The child said “no! these are mine!” 1. Even though Dad had provided the fries in the first place; 2. Even though Dad could take away ALL the fries; 3.Even though Dad could buy MORE fries than the child could ever eat – and ice cream too!

  11. Ann:

    My husband is very frugal to the point of cheap. He always laughs to his LDS coworkers and friends that if they dropped the tithing requirement, he might consider converting.

    It is a joke, and to some a poor one but it always gets a hearty laugh. Seems like even the folks that firmly believe in tithing as also aware that it turns some people off to the religious institution.

    As a former Roman Catholic I can honestly say we never tithed. And, I do not know anyone in either of my former churches that did either. The church that begged for money had a low donation-to-parishioner ratio and the church that said “give if you can” had a high donation-to-parishioner ratio and was in the black even while supporting a school.

    I worked for a Presbyterian church for years there tithing was very much the norm. Some of the sums being donated weekly were really amazing.

    While I am no longer affiliated with any church or religion, I do donate to many organizations that are religious based or have a religious affiliated. In an economic downturn the need seems greater so I stepped-up my donations. I will say if my donations resulted in economic hardship for my family they would stop.

  12. Lynn:

    I don’t necessarily understand Brady’s comment that says the church should help you while you continue to tithe. As a christian this confuses me. Why put yourself and your family in financial jeopardy just so that they church can help you out? Maybe I am just jaded because the church I belong to has spoken about tithing on inappropriate Sundays such as Easter and Mother’s Day when there are a lot of people at church. It has always been a “we need money to pay our exorbitant salaries” plea and it just turns me off. *and yes, we are looking into new churches but it seems as if its an issue everywhere!) Even still, to pay your 10% and struggle and expect help from the church doesn’t make sense.

  13. Storm:

    If you ever ask anyone else for any financial help, including even a loan, then you should have already stopped all frivolous spending. If you can afford to toss money away on tithing, then you ought not ask anyone else for help.

    Just as if you were giving the money to Disney for a dvd, or buying junk food, tithing is a sign of affluence, whether or not you are willing to recognize it.

    Either stop all wasteful spending, especially tithing, or don’t complain, else you appear to be a mere hypocrite..

    Rather than supporting those who do not contribute, why not choose to give of your time when times are hard? We all usually have more time in such situations, and our time helping those who actually need or will appreciate help is infinitely more valuable then helping to pay for the new gold plated collection plates, the new SUV for the priest, the shiny new addition to the church, or worse yet the political efforts to limit the peaceful lives other others.

  14. Denise:

    We do tithe on what we earn, so if the income stopped, we would stop tithing. However, as long as something, anything, is comming in we will tithe at 10%. I feel that tithing gives me blessings beyond any money the Lord may send my way. (and he’ll do that too) For one, tithing gives me a chance to reflect on the many billions on the world on the edge of starvation, so much worse of than we are. I am so blessed, I can afford to give some of it away! On the other hand, if we were hungry I would be going to my religious leader (my bishop).

    In addition we also have a custom of fasting two meals each month and donating the money that would have been spent on those two meals to the church. When I was in college the monthly amount was less than 10 dollars, because that is all that I would have spent on two meals. Now it is nearly 40 dollars, which would be two moderatly expensive meals for our little family of 3.

  15. Just to be clear: I’m not speaking from personal experience here. We can definitely “afford” our tithe. But more of a “Hmmm, what would we do if…” type thought.

    I guess I should feel extra blessed that our church, to my knowledge, has never had a we really need money “sermon”. In fact quite the opposite, they are careful to go through the steps of why you should tithe, and almost put up a type of disclaimer every time there is a sermon revolving around money to make sure it is clear they are not asking for extra money this month.

  16. I agree that serving is important, in addition to tithe; Jesus addresses this point specifically:

    http://www.biblegateway.com/pa.....version=47;

    Practice the latter (justice, mercy, faithfulness) without neglecting the former (tithe).

    I would also say that while it is true that it can be embarrassing to ask for help, that is no excuse. Pride is also a sin. And being new to a church should not disqualify someone either.

  17. Molly:

    I agree – I find it harder to stop giving to an individual cause (the missionaries) than a bigger one (the church). I lived with Mormons in college, and the local missionaries came over regularly for dinner. Yes, they could have survived with 50 fewer dollars a month, but it would have been very difficult for them, as they were already very close to subsistence level. But I feel like the bigger church can absorb that change more easily. And I completely agree that tithing doesn’t have to be just monetary donations – time and energy are also valid. God loves you anyway. :-)

  18. CJ McD:

    If you’re having difficulty paying your bills you need to re-assess your tithe contribution and reduce it to an amount that fits your budget.

    We have been financially strapped for the last couple of years due to a variety of circumstances (which were out of our control), so had to scale back on monetary donations.

    What we’ve been able to do is replace monetary contributions with those of our time, volunteering.

    Volunteering your time and skills to worthy causes or chuch activites has a very important value, often more important than any monetary contibution. What you can’t give in dollars, you give of your heart and your hands.

  19. Diana:

    Judgementalism/comments re: internet as a “discretionary” expense – One thing that I wish I could scream to the world is to STOP judging people who keep internet access after losing a job. In virtually 100% of professional positions, a person just about has to have internet access to get a job. One could argue “go to your library” but fail to realize that often times one has to wait hours to get on (depending on the library). Furthermore, many employers frown upon things like “gmail” and other internet-based free email accounts (looked at almost as poorly as having an aol email address).

  20. I have given up financial tithes from time to time when absolutely necessary. In those situations, however, I’ve gone to more service, ie, cleaning the church bathroom, arriving early to set up, coffee/tea service, etc.

    I have friends who do not waiver in their tithes at all–and if that means a financial deficit then they expect God to honor their financial sacrifice–and God always comes through. If it’s some cash in a card dropped in their car or a surprise refund check from overpaid insurance premiums, one way or another the money always comes through.

    IMHO as long as you pray about these things before making a final decision that you can be comfortable with you’re on the right track.

  21. If you are in that type of dire situation financially, a church should be helping you out (while you continue to tithe). Looking at Acts 2:42-47, we see examples of people selling houses to help out brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing possessions with each other.

    If you are not at a church that will take care of its members when in trouble, you might be at the wrong place. On the flip side, if when your brothers and sisters are struggling and you do nothing to help, are you living what you claim to believe?

  22. We are not church members, but rather we donate items and cash to charities close to our hearts. I contribute to a rural domestic violence shelter, Operation Feed, Goodwill, the Kidney Foundation, La Leche League and the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio. Can you put a price on the 22 gallons of breast milk I was able to donate? It was a blessing from God to be able to do so, but what is the monetary value of it? You cannot buy it in a store or sell it on the sidewalk.

    Personally, I would encourage people to give of their time and / or posessions when finances are tight and they feel strongly about tithing. Got a car you don’t need but couldn’t get much money for? Donate it. Piles of unworn clothing? Donate them. Have carpentry or plumbing skills? Help someone else.

    Not all tithes have to be in the form of dollars, do they?

  23. Liz:

    I haven’t gotten to the official 10% tithe amount yet, but I’m working towards it. If our financial circumstances changed, I would cut back rather than ask the church for assistance so that I could maintain my current standard of giving. But I’d be cutting back in other areas too – no new clothes, no eating out, budget grocery shopping, budget eating (less meat), no entertainment. Tithing certainly wouldn’t be the first thing I’d go to in making up a shortfall – it would have to be considered within the scope of the entire budget, however.

    I do think that, given the choice, I’d continue to support the missionaries through the end of the year, or until I could find someone else to take over that committment. So I’d cut back on the church giving first, before dropping the missionaries.

    We do a lot of other charitable giving outside the church as well, both monetary and non-monetary. I don’t count these necessarily as part of my tithing, but still see it as giving to help others. I would certainly cut back on this at least equally as much as I cut back on tithing.

    I love the idea of replacing the lost monetary contributions by helping out more at the church.

    But the important thing would be to go back to the previous standard of giving as soon as possible. So, if you pay off your last non-mortgage debt at a cost of $300/month, then that $300/month can go back towards your tithing.

  24. @Diane: I wholeheartedly disagree. I can understand that internet access is important in a job search. Trust me — my full-time job is recruiting. But I don’t believe employers look down on various e-mail addresses. If the best qualified candidate has an AOL/Hotmail/Yahoo/GMail address, but they’re qualified… I’m hiring them.

    @Amanda: Excellent point. He does always come through. That’s why I’m throwing the question out there — to see what people say.

    @Jessica: Good point on other types of tithes. I hadn’t considered that when I wrote the article.

    @Brady: I agree with you in point, but I think there are a lot of circumstances where this could be missed… family is too ashamed to ask for help, they are new to the church or area, or the entire church is hurting and isn’t sure how to make ends meet.

    Great discussion thus far — keep it up!

  25. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post, Lynnae! I’m hoping we can get a good discussion going today.

    Readers: what do you think? When should you stop your tithing or missionary contributions?

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