Moving to a new city last August meant I was once again on a search for a church to attend. Doing so as a young adult meant looking for a church that has pub theology, opportunity for leadership, and interesting sermons that relate to current events. So when I found one that had all these criteria, plus excellent music and opportunities to serve the community, I became an official member.
And, as happens at every good Lutheran church, on the Sunday when I was presented to the congregation after affirming my baptism, I was handed offering envelopes and an invitation to the annual meeting, along with hugs and a welcoming card.
As a child, the annual meeting meant eating hoagies prepared by the youth group and watching a movie with friends, waiting for my pastor father to wrap up a long, boring meeting about money, projects, and how to evangelize. But now that I’m an adult, I am able to read the lines on the budget and analyze how well the church is supporting itself. So I figured I had to go and listen to the church president talk about multiple manners of giving, and pledge to up my offering and my involvement.
There’s only one problem: As a young adult, making next-to-nothing as a salary and up to my ears in student debt, my annual “10 percent” contribution is pitiful — especially when compared to the multiple zeros behind each number on the budget spreadsheet.
I hear the voice of my parents encouraging my tithing in one ear. But in the other, a different voice is asking questions about this aspect of discipleship.
Should I even give any offering when my tithe — 10 percent of my income — is the same as the allowance I received as a child? Who would notice if I give or don’t give? I volunteer to lector in church and assist with projects — isn’t my time commitment during a rather busy schedule enough participation in the life of the church? Couldn’t other adults increase their giving to cover my little share in the plate?
After my most recent annual meeting, one I attended without my parents and with hardly anyone at my new congregation to keep me accountable, I was able to reflect on why, despite my lack of funds, I feel called to put 10 percent of my earnings in the offering plate.
Here are three reasons I still give:
1. It is a good practice that was instilled in me as a child.
I have grown accustomed to subtracting 10 percent any time I earn money (Note to parents: your voices are in our heads, so keep teaching good practices!). And the hope is that as my salary increases, it will be a practice upheld because of the routine of doing so.
2. If the usher walks past me, offers the plate, and I shake my head “no” — it feels really, really awkward.
My social anxiety heightens at the thought of such a social exchange — a good motivator to have cash to throw in at least most of the time!
3. Jesus already taught us how to tithe.
As I reflected on the practice of tithing more deeply, I realized that the parable in Mark 12 of Jesus recognizing the widow who offers two copper coins is one that influences my concept of discipleship — including monetary giving. It is cliché, because it is the lesson that is frequently read during budget meetings and stewardship drives. But the woman’s faith and commitment truly have been a reminder that it is not about how much I give, or even really whether I give anything. Jesus recognizes her sacrifice and discipleship, as evidenced through her monetary offering, and asks us to follow her lead.
Being a member of a church comes with many expectations. But so does being a Christian. A theological belief in salvation through grace alone roots my faith, but so does the action of giving of my time, talents, and earthly possessions to those who have less. I am both loved by God as an individual, and called to be in a community.
By putting a few dollars into the offering plate with the offering of all those sitting in the pews next to me, we are re-committing to a life in radical Christian community. And when we walk to the communion table and receive the sacraments, it is as a united congregation of disciples who are striving together to live into the grace we have been given.