I willingly admit that teaching at a small rural high school and preaching at a small rural church, I don't have much time to follow the ways and whims of mega-church ministry these days. But when a friend asked me what I thought about David Dummitt's recent tithe challenge to his Willow Creek Community Church congregation, I took the time to discover what he was talking about.
It seems that Dummitt, the new senior minister at Willow Creek (the church co-founded by previous minister Bill Hybels who resigned following a sexual misconduct and abuse of power scandal), had invited a fellow mega-church minister to speak to his congregation recently. Robert Morris, who leads a nearly 40,000 member church in Southlake, Texas, introduced the "tithe challenge" to the crowd:
"When I started giving the first 10% to God it changed everything," Morris said. "And here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to just challenge you. I've done this with our church. I've told our church on multiple occasions, I've said to them, if you'll try it for one year, if you are not fully satisfied, at the end of that year, I'll give you your money back. With 22 years in the church, no one's ever asked for their money back."
Morris then challenged Dummitt to make the same offer to Willow Creek.
"I'll just go ahead and say yes," Dummitt replied. "Just like the Lord said, test me in this. I think I'll go ahead and be bold and say if you do this for the year and you are not fully satisfied, we'll give the money back. I like that challenge."
I'll never know the pressures accompanying the spotlight of leading a 40,000-member mega-church, but after reading that disheartening exchange from two men who do, I've never been so thankful for where God has planted me.
To be clear, in no way do I disagree with the underlying premise that there is immense blessing to be found in sacrificing ourselves – time, energy, thought, and yes, material possessions – to the Kingdom of God. But I am thoroughly disheartened not only by the warped, money-centered theology expressed here, but also how the high-profile nature of this situation will misrepresent the Bible's true teaching to an already-skeptical world.
As believers, we should all be confessing that the "blessing" of giving comes in knowing that with or without what the world calls wealth, the God of the universe is faithful to always provide for our needs.
Tithing to the church or giving offering to the Kingdom is not modeled anywhere in Scripture as some kind of Christ-approved get-rich-quick scheme. You won't find Jesus in the gospels offering the heavenly equivalent of a chain email scam – "If you send me $10 in the next 10 minutes, sometime within the next week you'll find a $1,000 check in your mailbox!"
Yet even reading it in the most generous terms, that's how this Morris/Dummitt "challenge" comes across. God loves a cheerful giver, not one who is giving to get. He shows favor to His children demonstrating generosity, not those thinking they can work the system with some divine quid pro quo.
Real Christian teaching brings an awareness that everything I have, even the very breath in my lungs, belongs to God. Therefore, I'm not giving God anything that isn't already His. I'm not sacrificing 10% of my income to attain God's favor in a tithe. I'm faithfully releasing 10% of the material blessings God has given me for the sole purpose of directly building His kingdom. I'm not giving 10% of what's mine, He's letting me keep 90% of what's His.
Moreover, is there anyone who believes that this is a legitimate, earnest, or sincere offer? How would one go about requesting a refund from the church? Can you imagine the pressure and guilt that would be levied on someone who dared request a refund? They'd be chastised directly or indirectly for not finding God's blessings, for suggesting that God wasn't faithful, or for loving money over the church.
Further, it's not as though Willow Creek will be putting those monies into a lockbox somewhere safe. The money would be spent "in faith," which would then be used to compound the guilt. And does anyone believe the individual would not be outed for daring to demand a refund, or that the church would undoubtedly play the martyr and use the refund request as a way to fundraise even more from others?
This isn't the way any of this is supposed to work. Why talk about this in church? Preach the gospel, disciple the body, teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded, including the privilege of "honoring God with our firstfruits," and then let God handle the consequences. He will provide for His people and His Church. Let's leave the suspect money-back guarantees to the world.
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