“You take youth into business meetings?”

Have you ever met someone who actually enjoyed getting dental work done? The kind of person who wants a long, slow root canal? Me neither. Sometimes I’ve sat through church business meetings where I wished I was in the dentist chair instead. But, like having a cavity filled or getting your teeth cleaned with that scrapy-thing, it’s necessary. Tonight we had our students in a business meeting rather than keeping them away in a separate Bible study. I wanted them to be a part of the church decision-making process, and as I came away from the meeting tonight I was able to think of 4 reasons why it’s important for teenagers to be in business meetings, even the long ones.

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They’re church members – Unless we create a second-class understanding of church membership, teenagers who have joined the church are entitled to the same voting privileges, service opportunities, and speaking platform as a seasoned member of 50 years. They have a stake in the process, and because of that deserve every opportunity to be a part of it. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s part of being in a family. Reading reports is never a way of captivating people, but part of the importance of things like treasurers reports and membership reports is that it shows teenagers how important the details are – operating the church above reproach and recognizing the addition (or subtraction) of people from our membership shows them that the church is both organization and organism.

They’re the future – Believe it or not, the middle schooler who now is focused on getting the high score on Flappy Bird will one day be a leader in the local church. Many times teens are given only one aspect of church life, isolated among their own peer group, and withdrawn from the life of the greater body. They’re given a 7 year camp experience on Wednesday nights and Sundays, and when they graduate are unable to deal with the reality of church life. By allowing them a seat at the table in the beginning, while they’re still learning what their church roles might be, it allows a time of formation and sharpening so that they’re ready to step into active roles as adults.

They’re an example – I want our church to recognize that their students are not being babysat, coddled, or entertained. I want the church to see that we’re about producing mature, self-feeding disciples. And I want them to see that our students are living out 1 Timothy 4:12, setting the example for the church in their faith, conduct, and love. The last thing I want to see our student ministry become is a holding tank. We view ourselves as a ministry of the church, not apart from it. And that means brushing shoulders with young adults, single moms, retirees, and every other rank and file.

They’re part of the Gospel story – The Gospel isn’t as sanitized as we want it to be, nor is it like the exhilarating high of the camp experience. It’s messy. It involves people who we don’t agree with or like. It involves dealing with things that might sound trivial or boring. And it involves us having to put aside personal preferences for the greater good of the Body of Christ. These are all lessons vital for teenagers to learn. The Gospel story is one that has been told and retold for 21 centuries on 6 continents in millions of local churches – that Jesus Christ has come into the world to die for sinners and offer Himself as the hope for mankind. And that experience has looked very much the same for all 21 centuries: live, die, get married, have kids, work a job, serve the church, pray, worship Jesus, tell others about him – a very ordinary life. And in that ordinary is a thing of beauty. Church business meetings function that same way, they’re very ordinary and not always exciting, but they serve as a time for the church to come together to reflect on their contribution to the Gospel story.

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Why I changed my mind on tithing

I changed my mind yesterday about something, something I had long held to, taught, and encouraged others in. Fear not, I’m not jumping off the wagon on a lot of things. There are some things I’m firmly entrenched in that you’d be hard pressed to change me on: the exclusivity of Christ, marriage permanence, complementarian gender roles, loyalty to my wife and son, my allegiance to the University of Louisville, Baptist convictions, and my disdain for sour cream, ranch dressing, and tomatoes. Beyond that, I can be fairly flexible, and have changed my mind on a number of things! Here’s a little context:

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When I first became a Christian I noticed that the offering plate would pass by and people would, or in many cases would not, put money in. I asked my friend who’d led me to Christ what all that meant, and he explained that the offering was how the church stayed functional, how we supported missionaries, and provided for many ministries within the church and community. Sounds good, how much does it cost? He explained the Bible talking about a tithe, or the need to give to God 10% of your income. So I began the process of regularly (though not every time, I was good at justifying disobedience still!) giving from my slightly-above-minimum-wage jobs.

Later on, as I became more a committed student of the Word, I noticed something missing from the Pauline letters to the new churches: any teaching on a tithe. I had read and heard that because of this, the logic followed that the New Testament church is no longer under the binding of the tithe, but under a new ethic of giving. A professor I had described it as “cheerful, sacrificial, and regular giving.” Paul even seemed to encourage this in 2 Corinthians 9:7 where he says “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Not that grace was to become license for a Scrooge mindset, but that grace should free the Christian to joyful giving that was both generous and free. 

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So that became what I taught others, but I still used the idea of the tithe as a helpful barometer for giving for a couple reasons. 1) It’s easy math (just shave the last figure), 2) It is a biblical principle, 3) The New Testament ethic of giving ought to be at least as generous as the Old Testament, 4) Christians should be marked by their generous and sacrificial giving. Ultimately, the amount given was between the believer’s conscience and the Holy Spirit, but that God was satisfied with the Christian as long as they were following the ethic of cheerful, sacrificial, and regular giving. 

Fast forward to this past weekend. Our pastor preached on tithing, looking at Malachi 3 as the basis for his sermon. He even specifically mentioned those who would hold to a view that the New Testament precludes tithing for the Church. I must admit, I clenched up ready to come up with some points to make to push back. He and I have the kind of relationship where we’re free to disagree with one another, and have good conversations about those kinds of things. I love it. I miss sometimes the give-and-take that comes from those kinds of discussions.

Particularly to answer the objection, Matt pointed out two examples from the Old Testament that predate the Law. One of the central points to my objection to the tithe had been that it was a standard of the Law (cf. Lev 27:30, Num 18:26, Deut 14:22, etc.), and that because Christians were free from the binding of the Law to a new law, the law of conscience & grace, the cultic prescriptions for the tithe (among other things, like atonement sacrifices and other thing), were no longer necessary. He pointed out Genesis 14 where Abram gives Melchizedek a tithe of his wealth as a free offering out of gratitude for the work of God, and Genesis 28 where Jacob gives a tenth to the Lord because of God’s work in his life. Both of these instances predate the giving of the Law and describe the practice of tithing as an act of worship for believers.

Also, Jesus’ teaching on money never contradicted the tithe, but instead the attitude behind it. He chastised the Pharisees for tithing their spices but neglecting the central issues of grace, faith, and compassion (cf. Matt 23:23 & Luke 11:42). The issue for Jesus was not in the careful keeping of the accounting, but the arrogance involved in the giving. For Jesus, the practice of tithing was expected, and He was faithful to bring to the Temple what was necessary (Gal 4:4) as prescribed by the Law. If it was something He sought to undo, we should expect something in the canon about that. Instead, we see Jesus’ ethic of giving still reflecting the tithe, but looking also to the heart of the giver. 

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To be honest, in the pew it caused quite a bit of dissonance. I’m not one to be easily swayed, but in that moment I recognized one of my pillars coming down in a crash of inconsistency. I have long held that church leaders (pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc.) should be expected to be regular givers, and if not they ought to be disqualified from leadership because of their faithlessness to God’s leadership. I had used the tithe as a benchmark for that. I had taught it as a “sound principle” but I was unwilling to be completely consistent and say that tithing was normative for all Christians. And it was at that moment I realized I was going to have to undergo a paradigm shift.

This morning, here is a quick run-down of my new thoughts on the issue of tithing as it applies to New Testament Christians:

  1. Tithing is the beginning point for Christians to give towards ministry. This is not a “good enough” position, instead it ought to become the priority for Christians to increase their giving as God provides and molds the heart to greater Christlikeness.
  2. A Christian’s giving reflects their priorities in life. One who seeks to be faithful to be generous towards ministry re-aligns their budget in order to free up money to be given.
  3. As God leads, Christians should seek ways to be more generous with their money beyond their regular giving. These avenues for giving should be trustworthy groups who have a track record of responsible stewardship, and are actively committed to the Gospel.
  4. Tithing is a regular spiritual discipline, not something to be done when you reach a career or other benchmark. Teaching teenagers to tithe off their babysitting or burger-flipping money now leads to adults who are faithful to give.
  5. The condition of the heart is just as important as the amount, giving provides a regular check-up for the Christian to diagnose their heart. When the plate is passed, it provides an opportunity to discern where the heart is: focused on God or focused on the check.
  6. Cheerful giving is not an excuse to be cheap. If anything, Christians should have more of a desire to give their money away because the missions/ministries they support are seeking to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:20, Psalm 67)

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HT: Matt Ellis