June 2001
Money, God and Vestries

Thoughtful Stewardship - Beyond the Tithe

“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” is a familiar phrase to most of us, spoken as our church offerings are brought before the Lord. It’s such a simple, yet profound, phrase that lifts our eyes from our wallets to the horizon of life itself, to behold the full aspect of our present being — time, talent, treasure.

Two incidents in my life drove this phrase home to me. The first happened 20 years ago, when I was a younger married man with two children. My wife and I had raised our level of giving to six percent of our pretax income. Feeling pretty smug about this, I went to a Christian breakfast group in the area to hear a prominent local Christian businessman address us on the concept of giving. He noted that ALL we have comes from the Lord, and that we owe it ALL back to Him. He shared with us that he had moved beyond the concept of the 10 percent tithe to giving away over 40 percent of his pre-tax income, a level that had been audited more than once by the Internal Revenue Service.

As a footnote, he added that he felt he could give more. What a challenge this was to all of us there, and from a member of the local Episcopal Church as well!

The second incident happened three years ago. Because of the recent economic strength and growth in financial assets, which have accrued to the benefit of a number of people, the chairman of the board of Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary (on whose board I serve) challenged the board to consider a one-time tithe on their assets (i.e., give away 10 percent of assets) to help the seminary with its capital campaign. This challenging thought has led me to be more generous in capital giving over the last three years.

How does one reach a point of deciding or being open to the concept of what “ALL things come of thee...” means in terms of our life? First, over time, we must truly embrace the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice for us — we were bought for a terrible, horrific price that truly demands our ALL in response. As we have come to know Jesus, to love him, and to truly want to serve him, the Holy Spirit teaches us how to give our ALL back in response. This process of knowing, loving, and giving is a life-long exercise and one of continuing challenges that leads to growth.

In addition to and through study and prayer, we learn in community, as is evidenced by the two incidents outlined above. This leads me to observe our need to have a healthy community at our church. A study was performed by Vision New England (a.k.a. The Evangelistic Association of New England) where I serve as chairman of the board. The results were captured in a book entitled The Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Church by the Rev. Stephen A. Macchia. These characteristics of a church community are as follows:

1. God’s Empowering Presence
2. God-Exalting Worship
3. Spiritual Disciplines
4. Learning and Growing in Community
5. A Commitment to Loving/Caring Relationships
6. Servant-Leadership Development
7. An Outward Focus
8. Wise Administration and Accountability
9. Networking with the Regional Church
10. Stewardship and Generosity

These characteristics are listed in the rank order resulting from surveys described in Reverend Macchia’s book. In sum, your church and your relationship with God, including spiritual disciplines, need to be in order (1-3) so that you can function as a healthy person and church community (4-6) and to go out into the world in a wise and accountable fashion (7-10) with generosity.

How are you and your church doing as pertains to these characteristics? These attributes certainly encompass the ALL of what comes from God and the giving of ALL back to Him.

Caleb Loring, III, is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, a trustee of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is Principal of Essex Street Associates in Boston. He is also a board member of the Episcopal Church Foundation. This article was printed in the Planned Giving newsletter of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and s also excerpted from the book, The Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Church.

This article is part of the June 2001 Vestry Papers issue on Money, God and Vestries