Can Volunteering Replace Tithing? Pastors & Church Members Disagree

Barna: "More than 80 percent of pastors disagree strongly or somewhat that 'it is okay for a member who volunteers extensively not to give financially' ... only 20% of church members agree. CPost

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Bert Perry's picture

...being composed mostly of slaves, would have had to accept some donations of time and labor in lieu of funds, no?  And count me among those who cringe at the free-will donations of 2 Cor. 9:6-7 as "tithes".  Sorry, that's not the New Testament position. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This model spells death for the full-time pastorate. However, I am more and more convinced one typical way we "do church"  (i.e. single pastor model, full-time, alone, four services per week, unrealistic expectations from church = often miserable family life = slavery) needs to die anyway. Many pastors are expected to do a Sunday School/Morning/Evening and Wednesday service. My current church is the first church I've been at where this isn't the norm. It is very difficult for a single pastor to manage all this. I know pastors suffer terribly to get this done, and their poor wives often suffer even more.

I am very, very receptive to a dual-pastor model where responsibilities are shared according to gifts and abilities, where one or both pastors are bi-vocational. I think a dual-pastor model is the biblical approach and I think the "single pastor alone against the world" model will become increasingly difficult to pull off, economically.  

So, the tithing issue isn't terribly important to me, because I think money can be re-allocated to more appropriate areas. I don't think it is going to be financially viable for the single, full-time pastor model in the years ahead. Healthcare, retirement, a living wage - churches are getting smaller and older. This doesn't bode well for the single pastor model, economically - doctrine aside.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

Keep in mind, brother, your experience was outside the mainstream. First, I know of no other church that has four different services in a week, each requiring new material. Second, you were apparently set up to fail, and I feel bad for you about that. But, every church I know of, even if it has a single pastor, has plenty of people helping him and supporting him.

Bert Perry's picture

....agreed that Tyler's experience is abnormal, but at the same time even if you don't have four services a week and all, you're going to have to change some things if people volunteer effort instead of money.  For that matter, with my wife staying at home with the kids, we are in effect exchanging the tithes we would have made on her income for the volunteering of up to four children we likely would not have had if she'd stayed working.  No?

(my guess is that we'd have had 2, not 6, kids if we'd had to pay for daycare and all....economics and such)

But that noted, my church gets volunteers to mow, do snow removal, build storage, and more....I'm not entirely persuaded that a shift to time instead of money would be a bad thing.  

BTW, Mark, good to see you back commenting here, and hope that your search for pastoral employment is going well.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

To clarify - I commented on the single-pastor model because the pastor's full-time salary is often the largest chunk of the budget - apart from building expenses/mortgage. Thus, it would be the factor most impacted by volunteering in lieu of tithing.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Keep in mind, brother, your experience was outside the mainstream. First, I know of no other church that has four different services in a week, each requiring new material.

This is not that abnormal.  It is becoming less and less mainstream and certainly doesn't exist with much frequency outside of fundmentalism, but within fundamentalist circles this may be more common than we would like to admit.  There are many times (churches I have been in or visited), where the maturity is not present in the congregation and the pastor does teach the adult SS, Sunday AM service, Sunday PM service, and some type of lesson prior to a prayer time on Wednesdays.  I agree that the congregation should not hold the pastor to that type of load, but it does happen and in many instances, it is expected from the congregation.

 

 

JD Miller's picture

From what I have seen it is not that unusual for a pastor to do 4 services per week.  Currently I am a bi-vocational church planter.  We only have one service on Sunday and an informal Bible study on Monday.  I also do private Bible studies, but they do not require any prep time like the messages do.  Even though I am bi-vocational, I still have more free time now than I did when I was a full time pastor and taught SS, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday, and then a once a month Sunday afternoon nursing home service.  It was not just the time to preach all those messages, but prep time as well.  Then I had a seminary professor tell us that we should be spending 20 hours on preparation for each message.  Of course I was not spending that much time.  Had there been a solid retired pastor in the church who gave time to preach a message a week instead of putting money in the plate would have been a huge blessing and considering the amount of time it would have saved me, it would have had a value of way over 10%.

One of the biggest drawbacks I see with the 4 message per week schedule is that it forces a pastor to spend a lot of time in his office rather than getting out with people. 

One benefit that I am reaping from that past ministry schedule is that I have files full of messages from books I have preached through that I am currently using.  This definitely cuts down on my time for message preparation and allows me to do more outreach now.

Nord Zootman's picture

Tyler's experience is not unique. I still do Sunday School, morning worship, evening bible study, and for many years did Wednesday evening as well. We dropped the Wednesday service when for awhile my wife and I took over the youth. We no longer do the youth, but I have been criticized for not continuing Wednesday night (I must not believe in prayer). I also have a nursing home service every other Tuesday and one Sunday a month. For many years I spoke to a senior citizen group one Friday a month. We also do each Sundays' bulletin, etc. God is faithful and has been gracious to us, but after 31 years of that this old man is tired!

G. N. Barkman's picture

Churches usually expect more of their pastors than is reasonable.  They base their expectations upon what they have personally experienced from previous pastors.  Congregations need to be taught from the Bible what the responsibilities of pastors are, and pastors need to be willing to sweetly resist un-Biblical expectations.

I say this from personal experience.  In my early years, I was extremely busy six or more days (and nights) a week with important tasks that were not essential to Biblical pastors responsibilities.  Sermon quality suffered, but I was busy meeting as many other expectations as possible.  (And still falling short.  Meeting every expectation is humanly impossible.)  At some point you have to say, "Folks, I can't visit everyone, mow the grass, produce the bulletins, attend every fellowship function, and deliver solid sermons.  If someone else doesn't take over the tasks that do not require pastoral participation, they will have to die.  We will have to learn to live without a bulletin.  We will have to come to church with scrappy, unmowed grass."

Try it.  In most cases, church members will step up to the plate, and the church will improve greatly.

G. N. Barkman

Barry L.'s picture

Do you really feel pressure from most of your parishioners to have Sunday evening and Wednesday services, especially when most don't attend those services anyway?  Or maybe is it pressure from your fundamentalist peers?

With regards to the topic. Most parishioners will take the easy way and just stroke a check and do nothing else. I would think that you would welcome folks to give a tenth of their time, instead because the giving will follow when they are more exposed to the need.

 

T Howard's picture

In a former church, Sunday night service attendance was paltry. The pastor would routinely castigate the Sunday AM congregation for low Sunday evening attendance, and attendance would increase for a couple months and then fall off again. This occurred over and over again. It got to the point where the pastor started posting comments on facebook about how God's people need to be in God's house on Sunday PM and tagging congregation members.

At this point, my family no longer attended the church so I posted a response to his facebook post and suggested that the church substitute the Sunday PM service for small groups that met throughout the week. He was irate. How dare I question his pastoral authority before the eyes of his congregation! One of his pastor friends joined in and said churches that cancel Sunday PM services for small groups are deprioritizing God's Word and giving in to the Laodicean lukewarm spirit of the age. The pastor ended up deleting my posts, sending me a nasty gram private message, and unfriending me.

Good times...

TylerR's picture

Editor

Small groups!? Tsk, tsk. You're clearly a convergent . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

One thought on the pastor delivering four messages per week--pretty much all teaching not done by the kids' Sunday School teachers, no?--is that it deprives the pastor fo the chance to mentor people who could become elders.  I would argue that it works strongly against active discipleship.  

I agree that T. Howard is a convergent (ha!), and think as well that he got one of the best compliments he could have when he was unfriended.  Again, small groups are a great way of developing new leadership, and if one stands against that, he's hamstringing himself.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

I like group Bible studies - been doing it for years - individually & in homes. I find it ironic, however, that Christians are willing to go to a small group study (which can easily turn into a "what it means to me" session) but won't come to Sunday School, the basic small group study. I am aware that some Sunday School groups are not that good, but I'm talking about good teaching, good interaction, good study and people still won't come. It has nothing to do with time of day because people are willing to get up early for garage sales, sports, etc. So the current emphasis on small groups sounds hollow to me when these same people who claim to be Christian won't come to small group Sunday School.

This thread was originally about money. As far as I am aware, the electric company, water company, insurance company, and other vendors who service our churches will not accept volunteer labor or apple pies as payment. Someone, somewhere has to give money to a church in order to pay bills associated with the property. Even if you eliminate paid pastoral staff, as long as you have property, you will need money to pay bills. I have never "pushed" money, only that people do what the Bible says. We have also made efforts to have integrity in the church's finances. People give freely and generously. Since our church is debt-free, people don't feel any pressure.

It is very easy for people to slide into rationalizations and excuses when we talk about giving money to a church. People say they can't afford to give any money but will donate their time. OK, we'll accept that - for awhile. But they can't give even $1 a week and slowly give more? They can't give any money to the Lord, but always find money for pizza. Our sin nature is attracted to what is wrong and avoids what is right. Substituting volunteer labor in place of actual financial contributions, although perhaps practical for some for awhile, can easily become permanent, even when a person reaches a point where he can contribute financially.

I have been speaking 4 times a week for over 20 years. I like it. It's been good for me. It's been good for our church. We are the only church in town that still has a weekly church-wide prayer meeting. Other churches either don't meet at all or have youth activities/small groups. Does praying occur at these youth activities and small groups? Yes. But it's not a substitute for the entire church meeting to pray. We have a very short Bible study on Wednesday nights, but the main focus is Praying. We've seen our attendance on Wed night increase as people understand what we are doing. Some do not come on Wed night because of work, others do not come because they want a church to babysit their children (i.e., youth ministry). Some people are uncomfortable praying in front of others. OK, let's help them become comfortable instead of cancelling prayer meeting. I suspect many churches which have cancelled Sunday night services and Wed night prayer meeting have done so simply because they can't get people to come, so we change the format to hide the truth. I wonder how many people who go to small groups on Sunday night or Wed night are also the ones who don't come to Sunday School. If you want a small group study for Christians, then make your Sunday School the best it can be. Improve your ministries as much as possible. Small group evangelistic studies are certainly an option, but not as a replacement for Sunday School. I suspect that much of what churches are doing today is simply an attempt to deal with the increasing secular attitude of Christians. Eventually, we will find that even small group studies which have become a substitute for Sunday night & Wed night will eventually themselves suffer declining attendance. Then what? Just have a Sunday morning meeting? Bribe people to come with food, games, and, for some, maybe a little wine? How ironic & sad that, in a country that guarantees the freedom to meet as often as we want, whenever we want, many Christians are choosing not to meet at all.

 

 

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

G. N. Barkman's picture

Can volunteering replace praying?  Can volunteering replace godly parenting?  Our giving is an act of obedience.  It is an act of worship.  It is a token of gratitude.  We can no more replace Biblical giving with something else than we can replace lives of holiness with something else.  We can, by God's grace, do everything the Bible commands, including giving.  Some more, some less, but everyone can and should give something.

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

Now we're up to a whopping three convergents! It's TylerR, me and now T. Howard! 

Seriously, I'd love to be able to write a fat check to the church every month, but we have some pretty severe medical issues that eat up all of our discretionary income, so we try to be super involved in it's place.  Someone noted that writing a big check is the easy way out, and I completely agree with that.

As for the whole Wed. night - Sun. School - Sun. AM - Sun PM service thing...we have to do what works best for the congregation.  In the area of the country where I live, many, many of our families have long (1+ hour one way) commutes to work and home again, so the traditional model doesn't work for us.  We do have a Wed. Night Prayer Meeting that the Pastor and Elders heavily emphasize, but other than that it's SS and Sunday AM services only.  Some families run small groups, but locations and times vary.  It seems to work well for us.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

WallyMorris's picture

Situations exist in rural locations or where many in a church travel long distances where adjusting the "traditional" format works well (such as Jay mentioned). What I am referring to are churches in cities where distance is not a problem but people won't come to anything except Sunday morning worship (AM service). We are seeing increasing secular attitudes among Bible-believing Christians and these attitudes are affecting church attendance. So we cancel Sunday night, weekly church-wide prayer meeting and substitute "activities" designed to "reach" people. I question the wisdom of this practice. The huge emphasis on children and youth (which we do need to reach, of course) has developed generations of Christians who are self-centered and entertainment oriented. Sure, we have lots of children and teens, but they don't know how to pray with other Christians outside their age group and don't know how to listen to a message/sermon without being entertained along the way. Small groups are today's "fad". Eventually people will lose interest in small groups. Then what? We've cancelled everything else - Nothing left except Christianity lite. We tell ourselves that we are adjusting to changing times. That's just a cover for how 2 Timothy 3:1ff is working its way through our culture. The original topic of this discussion was money & volunteer service. What are the first 2 qualities Paul mentions? Lovers of themselves and lovers of money. How interesting!

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

T Howard's picture

WallyMorris wrote:
Small groups are today's "fad". Eventually people will lose interest in small groups. Then what? We've cancelled everything else - Nothing left except Christianity lite. 

Wally,

Small groups are just a method or tool that we use in ministry. Just like Sunday school. Just like Sunday PM service. Just like Wednesday PM service. If it stops accomplishing its intended purpose we give it a proper burial and move on.

Honestly, I don't know why churches continue using methods that have died out (whether because of lack of interest, changing culture, etc.) except because of pride or fear of change. I know churches that still spend tens of thousands of dollars on a bus ministry, yet can't afford to hire more staff to meet the needs of the congregation. They've made the bus ministry their crown jewel and believe churches who don't have one don't care about the lost. Same thing with VBS, Awana, etc. Why do we get so attached to certain methods or tools that may have worked in the 50s but have really lost their effectiveness?

Why don't we seek to find new and creative ways to make more and better disciples?

WallyMorris's picture

Sure, let's do that. Let's find creative ways of evangelism and discipleship. I'm all for that. And I agree about cancelling what isn't "working". Buta deeper question is "WHY isn't something working?" And what do we mean by "working"? If  church has an excellent Sunday School ministry, good teachers, good material, good classes - and people STILL won't come, then the problem isn't Sunday School or the specific method. The problem is people. Let's be honest. Many people won't come to Sunday School because they want to sleep in a little later on Sunday morning. That's the blunt truth. OK, so we have Sunday School after morning church. They leave after church and skip Sunday School because they "have things to do".

Prayer Meeting: Why won't Christians come to small group prayer meetings at church where prayer requests are shared, then break up into small groups? If people like small groups so much, then why not this small group? I suspect they simply aren't enthusiastic about praying with other people and use a variety of excuses to justify not coming. Those churches which do not have a church-wide prayer meeting: I wonder exactly HOW they do pray as a church. Yes, we send requests through email, texts, and church websites. But that's not the same as people meeting together in person to pray together. We assume people in churches are praying without an organized prayer meeting, but how do you know? I think the many substitutes that churches have developed for Sunday School, Sunday night, and prayer meeting are simply attempts to excuse/hide declining attendance. We create something "new", hoping that people will come. But if the problem is people themselves, then new "ministries" won't solve that problem.

Have these ministries "lost their effectiveness" or is the problem wrong attitudes and behavior among Christians? In other words, just plain sin and selfish/worldly attitudes where people just want to stay home. We often assume that the problem is the particular ministry itself, which may sometimes be true. But I think more often the problem is with disobedience, rebellion, & selfishness. And so we cover up the real problems by creating a different ministry opportunity, which may work for awhile, until the same people get bored with that. Then what do you do? We keep cancelling ministries and creating new ones to adjust to "changing times and interests". Eventually the point will come when the AM service itself will be victim of those changing times and interests.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

There are probably a few other reasons out there that people don't like to come to services beyond Sunday morning, but one big reason is that they're quite simply tired of sitting down and being talked to.  They want to participate.  Moreover, this is a good thing, as the role of the pastor is, per Matthew 28, to make disciples, and Paul fleshes this out to indicate that the early pastor Timothy is to train men who can take his job.

If they're never getting a chance to test what they've learned by teaching themselves (say by leading a Bible study), it's simply not what Eli did with Samuel, not what Solomon wrote of in Proverbs, not what Elijah did with Elisha, not what Christ did with the apostles, and not what the apostles, especially Paul, did with the early elders of the church.   Discipleship is really an apprenticeship program where the goal is to produce masters, not just apprentices or journeymen. Plus, even apprentices and journeymen work at the trade while learning, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Bert raises a good point about being "talked to" I have sat in far too many Sunday School classes where the only person who said anything was the teacher. Sometimes just another preaching service. But in our church, that's not how Sunday School is structured. I teach the adult class, very interactive, good handouts, I ask questions to promote thinking and open ended responses. We have excellent discussions, often people think of something I have not. People who don't come to Sunday School know we do this, and still don't come, despite my explaining what we do. That's why I state that the problem is not the particular ministry itself but often resides within individual people. If we keep changing/eliminating ministries in order to accommodate what is often the personal sin/selfishness/laziness of people, we will eventually have basically nothing left.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, that's a good start, and I'd simply say that given that Paul made sure Timothy first exercised the position of an elder/pastor, and then handed off that responsibility to others, the question I've got is who in your church do you trust to lead that study for you from time to time?  Again, if you're apprenticing many in your congregation, bringing many to journeyman status and a few to mastery, there ought to be someone you trust to do so.

Sure, they'll make mistakes.  Sure, you're being paid to do it and they aren't.  But by and large, a lot of people would love the chance.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Several people in our church could teach the class in my absence, but that's not the issue here. I'm more concerned about churches cancelling/changing ministries simply because people won't come and not thinking about WHY they won't come. It involves more than just that particular ministry has become "outdated". I think a LOT of it relates to increasing secular and selfish attitudes among Christians, something Paul warned about in 2 Tim 3:1ff..

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Ron Bean's picture

I'm now retired after nearly 35 years in ministry and I've been on both sides. For more than 20 years I was one of those SS/AM/PM and Wednesday night guys. I call it rectangle church where every meeting is an audience listening to a speaker. I used guilt to get people to come. i.e. "People who love the church come Sunday morning, people who love the Bible come Sunday night, but people who love Jesus come Wednesday.") I even preached more than one "Thomas Missed the Meeting" sermon. I opposed small groups of any sort because I knew they'd either become the dreaded "what does this verse mean to you meetings" or places where people would plot against my leadership. or gripe about church matters.

For about the last 10 years I've been in churches that had small groups. I've NEVER been in a "what does this verse mean to you meeting". Bible study, whether a book or topical has been profitable and the times of prayer have been sweet.  They are also a great training ground for developing future church leaders.In addition they've given my wife and me opportunities to build relationships with other people in the church where we have time to really get involved in each others lives. The 4 meetings a week model combined with work schedules made relationship building very difficult. Let's face it, when every meeting involves you sitting in a seat looking straight ahead for an hour (aside from from the infamous and awkward "shake hands with your neighbor" ritual) interaction with other members is restricted to a few minutes before, after, and between services.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

...understood, but the adoption of different methods--like adding Sunday School in the 19th Century and Sunday evening/Wednesday services in the 20th--is not inherently secular.  The Bible doesn't even command when the church ought to meet--it records "first day" services in places like Acts 20, but does not flat out say when the church ought to meet.

And really, if we truly believe the priesthood of all believers, we ought to tend towards the decentralized structure of the early church, which could expect key leaders to be killed at any given time.  Hence priority #1 for a pastor was to train his replacements, and not surprisingly, the church boomed.  Going to a church-buildling-centric model of ministry really parallels the innovations of Constantine and state churches, not Baptistic theology.

And a great way for a church-centric model of ministry to get back to the early church model is to use small groups, which parallel the tiny house churches of the persecution era, if I'm reading history correctly.  

Quite frankly, I've got a strong reason to favor this; if I had waited on church-centric ministries to reach out to me, instead of being approached by those running Bible studies in dorms, I would likely still be outside of Christ.   Along the same lines, China now has something like 100 million Christians in great part because of this model. 

(give those men the keys, brother--this stuff works!)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

I think a LOT of it relates to increasing secular and selfish attitudes among Christians, something Paul warned about in 2 Tim 3:1ff..

So, Wally, how do you work to change those attitudes? Do you guilt people into coming to Sunday PM and Wednesday PM services? Because, that is what most Pastors do when attendance drops. "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together... If you love Jesus, you'll come to church anytime the doors are open, AMEN!"

Bert Perry's picture

....the way we'd go is to house churches, love feasts, foot washing, and holy kisses.  We'd eliminate Sunday School and prayer services built around a sermon and pray all night....ya know, apart from needing to greet other men with a kiss, that ain't sounding too bad. (#notqualifiedtobeamissionaryinRussia)

If that makes me a "convergent" or some kind of hippie, fair enough.  (like Ron, I'm crushed not to be accused of being a convergent, but I realize that it takes an accusation from Tyler or something like that to qualify)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You're clearly a convergent, leading many astray by your gravitation towards the devil's den that is conservative evangelicalism.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Well?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm afraid to say anything about Ron. He and I seem to have lived parallel lives. If I call him a "convergent," it may disrupt the space/time continuum, and create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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