Acton Institute Powerblog

Tithing and the Economic Potential of the Church

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Self-proclaimed “tithe hacker” Mike Holmes has a helpful piece at RELEVANT Magazine on how tithing could “change the world.” (Jordan Ballor offers some additional insights here.)

Holmes begins by observing that “tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation” and that “Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita,” proceeding to ponder what might be accomplished if the church were to increase its giving to the typical 10 percent.

His projections are as follows:

  • $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
  • $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.
  • $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
  • $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
  • $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.

Such broad hypothesizing can be helpful in offering a small glimpse into what we might call the economic potential of the church. But, in addition to noting the more obvious questions about whether $25 billion (or any amount) can actually “relieve global hunger” (etc.), I would simply emphasize that such estimates are small glimpses indeed. The divine impact of the tithe stretches well beyond the material, even as it pertains to the material.

Holmes rightly concludes that “giving is a heart issue, not a money issue.” But when the heart is transformed, so is the economic horizon. The impacts of increased giving on human needs and economic orders will not be likely to correspond according to our more accountant-driven assumptions and expectations. If one withdraws $25 billion from Generic Investment Pool Y and drops it into “solving world hunger,” that’s one thing. But if that $25 billion originates as a natural byproduct of obedient sacrifice among God’s people, that’s quite different.

There’s something about honoring the Lord with our wealth that leads to unforeseeable multiplication and abundance. Once we embrace the mystery of that, realizing that sacrifice unto the Lord opens doors to new levels of stewardship that transcend our preconceived material constraints, the bullet list gets a lot more interesting.

For before and beyond the basic allocation of this dollar to that need, the routine act of tithing has a unique way of putting our hearts in order and, in turn, uniting God’s people. As Ballor put it, “Giving can really mean the world to the recipient, and it is a significant spiritual exercise and discipline for the giver as well.” Generosity is a powerful thing. How much more when it is propelled primarily by the church?

Where lives are changed and relationships are redeemed, where the work of the church is empowered and God’s people are transformed and set free by the power of generosity, social and economic orders will correspond accordingly.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

Comments