FIRST-PERSON: Once upon a time
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Once upon a time there was a young, energetic entrepreneur who came to Christ. His pastor began to disciple him, teaching him to study the Word, pray and become a good steward of his time, talent, treasure and testimony.
The pastor indicated that the tithe would be a good place of beginning but not one's final goal. He indicated that God's blessing was not to be consumed but conveyed. The young man grew in His faith and prospered in his business. He followed the guidelines laid down by his pastor and had great joy in his giving.
As his business flourished, he began to be challenged with the many distractions his entrepreneurial success sometimes presented, but nonetheless he determined to be faithful to Christ in all areas of his life.
One day he was presented with an opportunity to expand his business that was nearly "too good to be true." As he worked through all his balance statements, he came to the difficult conclusion that he could not continue to give the tithe and offerings and, at the same time, take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. He would have to cut back on his giving while he expanded his business.
He was certain that he would succeed at this new venture and thus he convinced himself that after a short time he would actually be able to give many times more to Kingdom work once his business had expanded. He told himself that he was only "borrowing from the Lord" and that he would refund it many times over when his business expanded.
But he didn't want to quit giving to his church, and so he decided he would cut back to 7 percent. He told himself it would only be a short time before he could give beyond the tithe on a much larger amount of money. He would actually be investing the Lord's money.
He sought the counsel of his pastor, who explained why God had required the "first fruits" from Israel. His pastor counseled him to continue to expand his business without neglecting his stewardship commitments. He warned him that success can become an idol. The young man was disappointed with his pastor's lack of vision and his inability to understand the ultimate goal to give more.
While he respected his pastor, he was, nonetheless determined that he was doing what was best for the Kingdom. After all, the Lord had certainly gifted him in business and had thus given him the ability to "do so much more." He determined that he was the exception and thus would never fall into the lure of success.
Years went by and his hard work and creativity were rewarded. His business grew beyond his own expectations, but with each new opportunity the young man found it impossible to restore the tithes and offerings he had been "borrowing for a short time." In fact, each expansion was more expensive than the one before and he was forced to cut back the percentage of his giving each time.
At first he was troubled with this reality but he finally consoled himself by the argument that he was actually giving "more money" now than when he was tithing on his smaller income. It was true that he was now giving less than 4 percent but he was satisfied that he was giving more than virtually anyone in his church.
His plans to pay back the tithe that he had "borrowed from the Lord" seemed both naïve and unreasonable now. He would never be able to continue to grow his business if he made such a large gift. He was a bit disturbed that he couldn't afford to tithe anymore, but such a large amount of money was hard to part with. He had worked hard to achieve such success and with success came sacrifice. Right?
The man in this story is a compilation of several men I have counseled with during my pastoral ministry. He reminds me of many church leaders who argue that the growth of their church has made it impossible for them to allocate a larger percentage of their budget to mission ministries beyond their own borders. According to some reports, the average church in North America spends 95 percent of the funds they receive on themselves. I guess it is hard to recover from such success.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC's national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.