Right now, I suspect the remaining Mars Hill Church pastors are living in tension. One tension is how to ask people to give money when there are obvious problems and lack of transparency. I wouldn’t want to be in that position. One such pastor is Brian Stoddard, a non-staff pastor at Mars Hill Sammamish. I have obtained a message he posted September 16th on Mars Hill’s social media website, The City where Stoddard asks and answers the question: Should I Continue to Tithe?
From Pastor Brian Stoddard:
Should I Continue to Tithe?
This is a question I and other Pastors have been asked frequently as of late. I appreciate this question greatly. It is very encouraging to hear a sincere heart, a heart that wants to do the right thing but is wrestling for answers in a confusing time.
I know this is a question of fiduciary responsibility but this is really a matter of worship. Yes scripture addresses and promotes responsibility, being wary of debt (Proverbs 22:7), being content (Hebrews 13:5), saving (Proverbs 21:20), and more. This is great wisdom from a loving Father but while these verses have many applications for personal responsibility they have no application for tithing. We tend to move quickly into making Scripture a personal application but forget that it was personally applied by a loving God, we need to always view these “rules” from God as ways to maintain a relationship with Him and not make it about us and how we can live more successfully. He wants to be our first love and knows how quickly money can take His place so these are ways to avoid that trap.
I get it, trust has been broken. Communication has been poor. You are not sure your money has been used wisely. But this is where you need to ask yourself why you give in the first place. Take a moment, or two, or as long as you need and examine your heart motives for giving in the past and see how they line up with any objection to giving now. Do not hear me incorrectly here, I am not saying there is not a problem but giving is about our relationship with God, where the money ends up is secondary. Look for example at how Jesus deals with the rich young ruler in Luke 18, he knows that money had become this man’s first love and goes right for the heart as He always does by telling him to have a fire sale and give it all to the poor. The idea is the man to remove his idol, giving to the poor is merely logistics.
Giving is an expression of worship which is why we are told that it must be done willingly and without compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7). It is a reminder to keep God first and to fear and love Him above all else (Deuteronomy 14:23).The reason for my writing is not that the church needs money right now, although we are told to support those who proclaim the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14), my desire is that you worship well and do not react wrongly to what is happening in our church. God desires your steadfast love more than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6) but our giving is one of the physical manifestations of our heart.
Consider that what God proposed to be a good sacrifice originally was a burnt offering. As a foreshadowing of Jesus He asked for an unblemished animal and for it to be sacrificed willingly. What a waste! Take a perfectly good animal and set it on fire! This is an act of worship. When we are tempted to control the end use of our giving we are worshiping God conditionally.
I love when my little kids (and big kids) give me gifts. The first time I met our foster son I got a kick in the shin but it did not take long for him to see that I loved him and was giving him new life. He wanted to respond, giving me a present was something tangible he could do. Usually it’s something found around the house that is personalized and then given back to me, a paper airplane, a popsicle stick with a drawing, or one of the many robot drawings. This is why we give, this is why we CAN give – because He first loved us and gave His only son as propitiation for our sins. We have become children of God by faith in Jesus-Christ, who was given by God out of love for us. Now, the Bible invites us to OFFER SOMETHING and GIVE out of love for Him.
Much like my kids giving me back things they find around the house, all we have belongs to God…
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. 1 Chronicles 29:10 – 14
Finally, we need to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over our church. Perhaps that truth has been overstated to the point of numbness but reconcile that to any attempt to force change with your giving. God is going to bring His desire about in His time and we ought to be wary of forcing His hand. This reminds me of 1 Samuel 24, David was told he was to be the next king and he finds himself in a very convenient situation to make that happen right away by taking Saul’s life but he refused to presume Gods will or His timing but waited patiently.
A great book about Gods generosity and our response through giving is Jamie Munson’s book “Money”
Please know that my intention here is to not cause you to give under compulsion but to help you examine your heart in a difficult time, my passion is for God and for you to know Him more.
Stoddard does a pretty good job of trying to do the impossible. He agrees that the church has broken trust but he attempts to make a case that the people should give anyway. Since they are really giving to God, they apparently should not exercise discretion. In my opinion, he is telling people not to give under compulsion but applies a bit of pressure to them anyway.
On that discussion thread, another leader commented that many people are giving money to other ministries while not tithing to the church:
Brian, most of the people that have told me they are withholding their donations from Mars Hill are continuing to give, but to other ministries and special funds (GoFundMe for laid-off pastors, missionaries, etc).
Stoddard’s reply stresses that leaders should encourage giving:
From Pastor Brian Stoddard:
I have had several people ask me this as well, its a great question but I thought if I wrote any more, eyes would glaze over.
There are many practical things to think about which we also see in the Bible.
I think people often consider any discussion about giving from the Old Testament to be legalistic or outdated but they had the same issues as those in later times and us as well. The Church does not go on without being supported financially. The tithe was itself intended for specific purposes, there was a tithe for festivals, for the poor, etc. but God called for a tenth which would be given to the Levites to support them as they served the tabernacle and the congregation (Numbers:18:21). Beyond that there was a freewill offering for people to be generous above and beyond the tithe.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul tells us that those who proclaim the Gospel should be taken care of by those who hear that proclamation…
11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Co
Yes there are issues which need to be dealt with but our church is proclaiming the Gospel and training people to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers and mature Christians alike. We have all benefited from our Church and likewise we should want to support it.
One thing I hear from many people is that they feel like MH Sammamish is their family and their home. I feel that way as well, I have been fed and grown spiritually through the care of those more mature than myself (spiritual fathers) and I am in community and accountable to my brothers and sisters. I want to be generous to others but support my family first. In the same way, it would be incredibly odd if I were to start supporting another woman and not my wife or kids.
Its painful that many of the pastors who I love and benefited from were laid off and I want them to be supported. I want them to be blessed by those who they blessed. I think we can do both to some degree. I think if we are honest, some of us can afford to be very generous to both, some not as much. I am not suggesting that this is the case but we need to make sure we are not using anything as an excuse to avoid supporting our church – we all need to examine our own hearts here.
Its great to be a part of some great conversations in CG’s – please remember that as spiritual leaders we can allow honest conversations about our church but we can not leave people where they are at. Like our Father, we need to pursue their hearts and prod them on to maturity.
Until the leadership of Mars Hill Church follows the advice of the 2012 version of Sutton Turner, I don’t think verbal gymnastics will turn the tide. Turner said in 2012:
It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.
Instead of reframing the Bible, the pastors of Mars Hill could remind the executive elders about this wisdom. There is much hidden at Mars Hill Church; many people are giving to causes they understand and trust. People don’t need excuses (to use Stoddard’s term in his second post above) not to give to Mars Hill. Church leadership has given them ample reasons to exercise reasonable stewardship. Perhaps current pastors need to write City messages to the EEs and not the congregation.