Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king”…
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”—2 Samuel 24:22-24
In our church, or in almost any church in America today, if you use the word “worship,” the first thing most people think of will be “singing.” When we talk about worship, we mean the part of the service where we sing songs to God about how much we love Him, and how great He is. For some people, this is a highly spiritual, or at least emotional, experience. They say things like “worship was great today,” or “I really felt the present of God during worship this morning.”
There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it’s important for us to understand that in the past God’s people understood worship very differently. In Old Testament days, or even in the time of Christ, if you used the word “worship,” the first thing most people would think of would be “sacrifice.” Worship didn’t mean singing, it meant offering something to God, whether it was money or an animal or the firstfruits of your crops. When you go up to the altar and lay before God the best that you have because He is worthy of it, that’s worship.
This might seem sort of dry and unemotional to those of us who are used to the powerful feeling of pouring out our hearts to God in a room full people who love Him like we do. But part of that is because we evaluate worship by how it makes us feel. Our forefathers in the faith understood that worship isn’t really about us and how it makes us feel, it’s about how it makes God feel. It’s about telling Him we love Him and meaning it. When you show someone you love them by making a sacrifice for them, they know you mean it. When you give up something you treasure for their sake, you are telling them that you treasure them even more.
Since I was a teenager, when I was a young Christian and didn’t yet know I would be a pastor someday, I have practiced tithing, giving ten percent of my income to God. I was taught that this is an important expression of faith for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. I was also taught that God would faithfully provide for me if I was obedient to Him in this way. “God can do more for you with 90% of your income than you can do with 100%,” people said. So I trusted and obeyed. When Carey and I got married, we continued this practice, giving roughly 10% of our income to our church, and then often adding other things like sponsoring a child or supporting a missionary on top of that. Through all that time, God has faithfully supplied every need for our family.
Money is a funny thing when you are a pastor. First of all, there’s the weirdness of giving to the church when you receive your paycheck from the church. That can be a great excuse not to give if you’re looking for one. We often aren’t paid as much as people with similar training and education in other professions, and Satan whispers that maybe we should be an exception to the rule we are teaching to others, because of our unique circumstances. It’s all lies, of course. I am a Christian first and a pastor second. When God calls His people to be faithful, generous, and sacrificial, that applies to all of us. So we give. But sometimes it’s hard to know how I would handle things if I weren’t in this position. When we led our previous church through two different capital campaigns to finance our building project, we committed to two different 3-year seasons where we gave an additional 5% on top of our regular giving. In all honestly, I don’t know if I would have done that if I weren’t the pastor, but I did it because that’s what leaders do. And of course, God took care of us through all of it.
Money is also weird for pastors because of other people’s assumptions and misunderstandings. I have run into people who seem to think that my income goes up or down depending on how good the offering is that week, like I might get a bonus if I can convince people to give more. No, it doesn’t work like that. I have also had people hand me a $100 bill after a funeral or wedding and say “Here, this is for you, or the church, or whatever,” because they have a Catholic background and think that maybe I don’t have my own finances at all, like a priest. No, the church’s finances and my finances are very separate. I have a paycheck and a mortgage and buy groceries just like you. I serve a church with a constituency of 1000+ people, and I have people ask me if this is all I do, or if I have another job. Yeah, it’s pretty much full-time.
It’s strange to have my salary voted on by a hundred people who all have their opinions about how a pastor should be compensated. It’s strange to stand up and teach people the importance of giving when they think I’m on the receiving end of it. But the truth is, I tell people to give not because I am a pastor, but because I am a Christian who is committed to the authority of Scripture, and because I know from experience that this is God’s will and God’s way, and He blesses it. I also know from experience that the people who object to teaching about giving are people who have not fully surrendered their lives and hearts to Jesus. If your life truly belongs to Him, then you don’t hold anything back, not even your money. In fact, if you’re a true worshiper, you take pleasure in giving Him something that costs you, because that’s how we show love.
Right now in our church, we’re experiencing a drop in our giving that is putting us in a tight spot financially. I’ll share some more details on Sunday, but the bottom line is that we need people to give. I don’t have access to any information about who gives or how much they give (another common misunderstanding: I don’t know what you give and I don’t want to). But let me tell you what I suspect: I suspect that we don’t need the regular givers to give more (although of course that would help), but that we need the non-givers to start giving.
We are a church that is getting younger. A generation of faithful givers is passing away and moving away, and being replaced by people who have either never been taught about this important aspect of worship, or who have resisted surrendering to God in this area of their lives. This has the double effect of hindering the ministry of the church and hindering their own journey of discipleship. In order for God’s church—and God’s people—to grow, a new generation has to learn to trust Him with their finances. A new generation has to learn that worship has more to do with obedience and sacrifice than emotion.
Have you surrendered your finances to God? Have you prayed about what He would have you give? If you regularly benefit from the ministry of the church, are you regularly supporting it? And most of all, do you understand that your giving isn’t just a duty (although I would say it is), but that it’s worship? Have you discovered the joy of expressing love to God through sacrifice? If not, how do you know you won’t discover that you love it? How do you know God won’t provide, and even bless, if you trust Him in this area? And how will you be sure money hasn’t become an idol for you unless you’re willing to give it away?