8 June 2021 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Recently my wife and I began attending a small Adventist congregation near us. Officially it has been downgraded from a church to a company: all members have their membership at a larger church in the region, or in the conference church. (Companies can’t officially hold members.) Our pastor of record is the pastor of the larger congregation—but he has stopped serving this one.
I might mention that all our attendees are either retired or not employed, so funds are limited. We’ve actually fallen behind on paying our utility bills. It is a nice country church on a nice piece of property, but it needs some work.
Yet this small company still sends tithe to the conference, and I’m wondering why. What pastoral benefit is there to support the conference when no pastoral support is offered?
So, recently I decided that it isn’t a salvation issue to mark my tithe for the local church budget. I have no say in how my tithe is used, and our congregation needs money. What do you think, Aunty?
Signed, Money for nothing
According to Adventist doctrine and policy the tithe is not payment for services rendered to you, but “disinterested benevolence”: that is, you support the church because you love God’s work, without asking how it benefits you personally. It’s an excellent stewardship principle.
Yet Aunty understands your frustration: she’s also seen conferences neglect small congregations that don’t have money or influence. The conference hiring system was designed precisely to provide at least some services to small, struggling groups. Your officially-designated pastor is neglecting his responsibility, and Aunty hopes you might courteously point that out.
But this naturally leads to your other concern: who should get your tithe? The church teaches that tithe is an especially sacred part of your giving, but insists that it only “counts” spiritually if it goes to the conference office.
There are two problems with this.
First, the Bible only says you should send your tithes to “the storehouse”—but what makes the conference the only storehouse? If the storehouse is a place where resources are kept securely, used wisely for God’s work, and for the benefit of all the believers in the group, that could also describe your local congregation when it has a project that needs doing.
The other problem is that it assumes that denominational administrators are the only ones who know how to spend these donations wisely. Though our current storehouse managers often make good spending decisions, they aren’t infallible. In this case, Aunty thinks it’s highly embarrassing to have your local church’s utility bills in arrears, while the church organization gets more money to send administrators to unnecessary meetings.
Though Aunty reminds you that the conference-hiring-personnel model has worked pretty well for our denomination for quite a long time, she thinks you’re doing the right thing in giving your tithes to your local church budget right now, since it appears to need funds more than the conference does.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.