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This month, we have been talking about stewardship in church. I think it's time I tell my story and how my understanding and practice of giving started, how it's changed, and what it looks like now.
When I was growing up, my parents were probation officers—just two middle class workers who lived paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t have big amounts of money and we didn’t go on big, fancy family vacations—most of our vacations were actually “staycations” and, funny enough, that included trips to Huntsville to the prison museum or to the duck pond or to the Sam Houston Statue. This lack of money presented a challenge at times to my family because all my mom’s family lived out of state. In order to see my grandma, it required a plane ride and tickets were not cheap! We did not take a lot of trips out there! I was aware of my family’s financial situation at a young age and knew that in order to go to school, I was going to have to work hard and try to get as many scholarships as possible.
My parents did not have a lot of money to give to the church. I’m pretty sure their contribution each week they attended was around $20. But let me tell y’all…if there was an event at the church, you best believe my mom was the FIRST person to sign us up. A fundraiser for camp? We’d be the first ones there and the last ones home. A church workday? We’d be up and unhappy about it and at the church by 8AM on a Saturday and we wouldn’t leave until the work was done. I remember my parents saying, “We may not have a bunch of money to give, but we can at least give our time to God.” And that was my first understanding of stewardship. Maybe there wasn’t always enough money to spare, but there would always be a way we could give back to God.
As I grew from a child into a teenager, money still remained a struggle, but compared to so many of our classmates, we were “rich.” But even though we didn’t have a lot, my parents found ways to be generous to others, to give back, and to make sure we knew to be generous too. So by the time I got to college, and found out most of my first two years of college, which would be spent at Blinn, would be covered by scholarships, I of course began to stress about where I’d transfer, how much that would cost, and all the typical things someone worried about money would worry about! I got my call to ministry while at Blinn and felt God calling me to attend Baylor (a place known for being cheap! Ha!). I was grateful that I had half of it covered in scholarship and grants, that I could take out loans for a quarter of it, and that I had an uncle who wanted to invest in me and cover the other quarter of my two years at Baylor so I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out private education loans. At the same time, I applied for the Texas Annual Conference pastoral internship, was accepted into the program, and was assigned to serve a church in Fulshear, Texas for the summer.
Entering into a pastoral intern role at the church that summer, I began to really struggle with what I should do when it comes to tithing. I knew that I was getting money from my internship and that I should tithe. But y’all, that money needed to be saved for school. I felt anxious about giving up even a couple hundred of it to the church! Although I planned to work, and actually had two jobs that first year at Baylor, I was still nervous about money. What if I would need that money I tithed later in the school year and didn’t have enough money to cover basic expenses? Mom and dad were paying for a car, insurance, and my cell phone—I didn’t want to have to ask for more!
This was causing me so much anxiety that I decided to have a conversation with my mentor pastor, Alicia. I asked her what she did about tithing and what I should do, because I was nervous about tithing when I could use that money for school. I remember her nodding her head, taking in the question, and thinking for a moment before saying, “Tithing is a personal thing between you and God—you are going to have to figure that out on your own. But, what I will tell you is what I do when it comes to tithing. I always give my 10%. I’ve been at larger churches where I ask them to withhold it from my check so I never even see it. I believe that is not my money, but God’s. And there have been times when tithing has been hard because I’ve had to help my family, but I’ve always, somehow, someway, even in those difficult times in life been able to come up with the money to tithe—whether it be because of extra weddings or funerals or a generous gift. I believe if you earnestly want to tithe, God will help you find a way to tithe.”
What she told me did not cause any less anxiety in me. If anything, it made it worse. She didn’t want to tell me I had to tithe…but she had this theme of trusting in God. And, when it comes to money, it’s hard for me to trust anyone…so this was a big deal. Was I willing to trust God, write my tithe check out at the end of the summer, and hope I wouldn’t miss that money? Or would I just say, “No, this is my money and it’s a way for me to go to school where I can work hard, graduate, go to seminary and then serve in the church?” Let me just say, I spent a bunch of time in prayer and in agony over it. But by the end of the summer, I ultimately decided to take a deep breath and a leap of faith and write out the tithe check to the church.
From that moment, I made the decision that I would always tithe. Even when it hurt. And let me tell you…there were times in my pastoral internship my last year of seminary when it hurt a lot to give a tithe out of the small amount of money we made. I remember that during the second half of that internship, I seriously considered asking for the tithe to stop coming out—I could really use that extra hundred bucks or so each month! But I didn’t. I pressed on and I kept giving.
I know that tithing may not always be easy for me—I know that one day I may get married, have children, have family I need to help take care of, I may get sick and be unable to work, and any extra money may go to a number of other causes. I know that life happens. And when it does, I will find other ways to serve and give back, just like my parents taught me when we were growing up! But for now, I’m committing to tithing 10% of my income after taxes. It’s at the very top of my budget and the first thing I pay at the beginning of each month. It’s a commitment I choose to make.
Please don’t hear me say I want you to go from giving nothing to 10% out of the blue—again, life happens and I know that’s not possible for many of you. But what I do want to ask of you is to take a look at your budget and consider how much money you may be able to contribute on a regular basis to the church. How many times a week do you and your family eat out? What if you eat out one less meal per week or per month and take that money and give it as your tithe to the church. It may be just 40 or 50 dollars a month, but when you put that across a whole year, that’s you giving 480-600 dollars a year! That’s about a quarter of our budget for Vacation Bible School! It’s amazing how much those small choices and small decisions can add up and work together for something so much bigger than ourselves! If you can't help out financially, take a look at your time--how much time can you give up each week or each month to help serve God?
There are many ways to give and the ways in which we give evolve and change over time. But no matter where we are in our lives, we should always find a way to give back a portion to God in some way, shape, or form, whether it be by giving financially or by giving time. We all have so much to be grateful for and God's only asking for a small portion of it back. It's not to punish us, but to remind us where the gifts in our lives come from and so that our gifts can go and help others. The ability to give is a gift and I hope you join with me in sharing that gift with others!