Stewards of God’s Treasury—Called to Be Accountable!
As a church administrator, I am asked many questions. One of my least favorites is, “How has my tithe been used?” The dilemma I face is whether I should first correct the question, and in doing so, perhaps be seen as trying to avoid answering the question.
“ ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord’ ” (Lev. 27:30).
Is it correct to refer to “my tithe” and imply an ongoing ownership interest in tithe? The Bible says that tithe is holy. Leviticus 27:30 says, “ ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Should we be so bold as to claim an ongoing ownership right over what is God’s holy property and call it “my tithe”?
It is important that church members and administrators alike remember that tithe is holy. Malachi 3:101 is probably the most quoted portion of Scripture in the Seventh-day Adventist Church with regards to tithe. We emphasize faithfulness by church members to return tithe. It is then assumed that church administrators will remember that tithe is holy and won’t need any ongoing reminder of that.
Indeed, church administrators must not forget that tithe is holy and that they have a stewardship responsibility that goes beyond the offering plate. It is not just another source of income to balance the budget or with which to do whatever the organization sees fit. Tithe must be administered as a sacred fund and used only for approved purposes. It is not intended as something that will bring members or leaders personal benefit either directly or indirectly. Experience shows that members will occasionally seek a special personal benefit from the church with the justification that they pay tithe. They threaten that if they don’t get what they are asking for, then they will withhold their tithe. Tithe is not a bargaining chip because it’s not ours to bargain with. Tithe is also not meant to be used to make life more comfortable for church administrators, either personally or by directing tithe resources in a way that makes problems just “go away,” resulting in administrating becoming easier or more popular.
“Tithe should primarily be used to support individuals paid by the Church and directly engaged in pastoral and evangelistic soul-winning activities.”—General Conference policy (V14 05).
I have found a personal stewardship wake-up call based on what was said of leadership in Ezekiel’s time. Ezekiel 34:32 and 33:63 are sobering. They say that as an administrator I could be held accountable for the things I have not done or that I should have attended to. Ezekiel 34:104 says that God is against leaders who look after themselves with church resources and neglect the gospel commission to make disciples.
What, therefore, should be the focus when administering tithe when there are seemingly unlimited and competing needs in a budget? General Conference policy (V14 05) says, “Tithe should primarily be used to support individuals paid by the Church and directly engaged in pastoral and evangelistic soul-winning activities.” Policy allows each world division to set the minimum percentage of gross tithe to be used locally for frontline ministry and evangelism, taking into account the varying circumstances in the division. In the South Pacific Division, a careful study led to the formation of a policy that says that by 2016, at least 55 percent of gross tithe must be used in frontline ministry and evangelism. At 55 percent, this still leaves 45 percent for administration, resourcing, and the sharing of tithe outside of the local area. Some organizations are already above 55 percent for this use, and for others, it is a challenge to their comfort zones.
Tithe must be spent on ministry, and it is not meant to be accumulated for investment purposes. If tithe is not spent in one financial year, it must be tracked in subsequent years until it is spent on approved expenses. Unspent tithe in one financial year is not transformed into “nontithe” in subsequent financial years. In my experience, tithe is normally used in the same week or within three months of its receipt, and tracking it long-term is usually not a major exercise.
The stewardship responsibility of administering tithe does not vest just in the treasurer but also in every member of the governing board.
As stewards administering tithe, we must be accountable and able to show that tithe is used only for expenses that have been approved by the church and outlined in General Conference policy. The stewardship responsibility of administering tithe does not vest just in the treasurer but also in every member of the governing board. To assist with this, financial reports are prepared to show what tithe funds have been received and how they have been used. In the South Pacific Division, these reports are included as part of the official financial statements and budgets by organizations that receive tithe. Preparing and using these reports is a reminder that tithe is holy and not just general income to be used for any purpose—no matter how good that purpose may be. Conferences should also regularly report to their membership the tithe income received and how it has been spent.
It is a privilege to be entrusted with the responsibility of being a steward administering tithe. Accountability and reporting should be welcomed as it is both an opportunity to affirm faithfulness and to share the wonderful system that is in place to use tithe for ministry, both locally and by the global church community. When members can see that church administrators are leading by example and being faithful stewards, it will build confidence and faithfulness among the membership in the organization.
- Mal. 3:10: “ ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’ "
- Ezek. 34:3: “You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.”
- Ezek. 33:6: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.”
- Ezek. 34:10: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.”
This article was written by Rodney Brady, treasurer/chief financial officer of the South Pacific Division, and was published in the April-June issue of the Dynamic Steward magazine.