There’s one word church people dread even more than sin—tithe. Did your butt just clench? Honestly, me too. The concept of the tithe is simple enough: willingly giving 10% of your income back to God through the church. And while, throughout scripture, God says He will bless people who trust Him through tithing, it’s not the easiest thing to kick-start in your life.
For me, the problem with tithing is that we hardly bother to talk about exactly how we’re supposed to reach that elusive destination. In my story, it wasn’t simple at all. If you want to practice this biblical standard of generosity (and there’s plenty of good reasons to do so), but it feels dang near impossible, this is the place for you. My family has wrestled with and stumbled our way into tithing. Below you’ll find battle-tested advice to move you into a more generous lifestyle by practicing the tithe.
Before we go on, a nod to the elephant in the room. I understand tithe is a trigger word. Anyone else’s opinion of what you should do with your money is a seedbed for suspicion. I’ve sat in that seat on Sunday morning too, thinking, “I hear you, preacher man, but you don’t know what’s going on at home. I can’t just write a check. In fact, I’m gonna check my bank app right now to make sure I’m not already overdr.…Oh, shhh… .”
Tithing in the Bible goes way back
Giving finances and resources back to God is one of Christianity’s foundational practices, as old as the most ancient passages of scripture. The patriarchs of the faith, like Abraham and Isaac, did it (Genesis 14 & 28, respectively). God commanded it through the Law given to Moses (Leviticus 27:30-34). And the prophets, when calling God’s wayward people back to Him, often used it as a gauge to measure the people’s devotion (Malachi 3:8-12). Jesus used the generosity of a poor woman as a teaching moment (Mark 12:41-44) and blasted the Pharisees for disconnecting their giving from personal accountability and justice (Luke 11:42). After Jesus, the early church He left behind was known for its generosity (Acts 2:44-45).
While the Bible outlines three types of giving, the tithe (a word which means 10%) is the ground floor. The other two types (offerings and alms) are icing on the cake. God’s ancient people lived agrarian lifestyles, so tithing in the Bible was often shown in the form of crops. In our modern world, it’s nearly always in the form of paper currency. But the intent is the same: recognizing that all blessings come from God, honoring Him by returning a small portion back, and growing our faith by giving away the thing we feel most attached to.
I wanted to be generous, but I didn’t know how to tithe
I knew all this and wanted my young family to be marked by generosity. But with babies coming in pairs and paper-thin margins, it seemed as elusive as a free and reliable babysitter. The most embarrassing part of my story? I was working for a church and not tithing. Talk about giving-guilt.
A cascade of unforeseen events had hit us like a freight train: the electrical systems in our home completely fried on our 2nd night in it. Two weeks later, my wife prematurely gave birth to twins. Then the transmission in our family car dropped out. Homeless, car-less, and with two babies in the NICU, you could say that charitable giving hit the back burner. It took us nearly two years to recover. In fact, in many ways, it felt like God both wooed and pushed us. He grew our faith by challenging our generosity in regular increments.
If you aren’t tithing right now, then you’re in the majority. Studies find that most Christians give away about 2.5% of their income. Stop clenching your butt! This isn’t an accusation. Rather, it’s a chance for freedom.
Before we move forward, we gotta dump some weight that’s only going to slow us down. Leave your giving-guilt in this paragraph. Seriously. See the period at the end of the last sentence? Dump your guilt there. It’s not helping.
Every time I felt giving-guilt, it actually stopped me from progressing. What if, instead of being angry with you, God is wooing you into greater amounts of faith and dependency upon Him—and using your giving as the method? Tithing is an adventure. If you need an on-ramp to that adventure, and I sure did, here are five actions to take to move you toward (and even beyond) the tithe.
5 Steps In Learning How To Tithe:
1. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO Before you Venmo a church some money, you need to establish your “why.” Ask yourself some tough questions, and don’t settle for half-true answers. Things like:
- What is motivating me to want to tithe?
- What do I hope to get out of giving?
- Who is this really for?
There are multiple answers that work. As I said earlier, giving was a way for God to grow my family’s trust and dependency on Him. As a husband and father, this is a battle I’m constantly fighting. I want to provide for my family, and I work very hard to do that. But at the end of the day, the ultimate provider isn’t this father but our Father in Heaven. Giving is a tangible reminder of this truth.
Examples of tithing in the Bible have clearly shown that giving comes with blessings from God. Proverbs 3:9-10 says the generous will always have enough. Deuteronomy 15:10 says something similar, and Malachi 3:10-11 says God will pour so many blessings on givers that nations will take notice. Getting blessed by God isn’t a bad motivation for giving. I want blessings.
When it comes down to it, motivations for tithing that draw you closer to God are great. Reasoning based on someone else’s perceptions of you are not. Giving to align yourself more with the example set by Christ—great motivation. Tithing because a pastor guilted you into it? Not so great.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. Too many of us blindly follow patterns set for us by others without ever stopping to ask “why.” So do that. Examine what the Bible teaches in the passages listed above. Talk to God about it. Seek the wisdom of others. Know (the why) before you go (to the digital offering plate).
2. STEP BY STEP (DAY BY DAY) In the throes of our two-year journey toward the tithe, I felt most frustrated that I couldn’t just rip the bandaid off and go in with all 10% of my income. But with all the things mentioned above (and then formula, and then diapers, and then baby clothes), it felt impossible. It made me just want to give up. When we finally got serious, we took a more calculated approach—set a percentage and a time frame and then adjust up from there.
Are you giving nothing right now? Maybe next month you give 1%. The next month, bump it up to 2%. In less than a year’s time, you’ll be at the full tithe.
The percentages and the timing are between you and God. But I completely believe He’s pleased when His children take any step of faith toward Him—so don’t let imperfection stop your progress. Get moving, and you’ll build the muscles needed for a lifetime of generous giving.
*Side note: Even after achieving the tithe, my family and I still practice this principle. Because God has continued to grow our trust in Him and provided blessings as we’ve met Him in this space, we try to keep pushing our generosity forward. It’s taken us beyond the tithe and something we plan to keep practicing even as we trade pull-ups and toddler clothes for soccer cleats and ballet shoes.
3. AUTOMATE THAT SUCKER When my job allowed me the option to automatically deduct a charitable gift from my paycheck, I jumped at the opportunity. Why? Because I don’t want to have to think about it. I don’t want to have to decide to be generous. I need that option, or I’ll spend time hovering over the “submit” button on the 1st and 15th of every month.
There’s an incredible line in the movie Harriet that I’ll never forget. Talking about hearing God speak to her, Harriet says she “acts before I can wonder if I heard it at all.” That’s what automation does for me. I heard God, and I want to be obedient before I talk myself out of it.
Generosity is both a choice and a discipline, and whatever allows me to take overthinking out of the equation is a win for me. Check and see if your employer or bank offers the same. This is one time the easy button works in your favor.
4. SHARE YOUR STORY (AND GOALS) In our culture, talking about finances is nearly always considered off-limits. And we wonder why so many Americans struggle with debt, overspending, and not saving enough. Mold grows in the dark, but trees, the towering kings of the forest, need sunlight. Bring your financial situation and goals into the light by sharing them with a trusted friend—especially if it’s a person who will check in on your progress from time to time.
As our family moved to the tithe, my wife and I had to keep clear lines of communication open. To be honest, we had a lot of disagreements about it. We were on partial government assistance when we started working toward the tithe—that’s how tight (and stressful) the budget conversations had gotten. But we made the choice to work together, to trust each other, to move slowly, and most of all, to keep talking. It was an opportunity, even in our disagreements, to honor each other.
I also sought wisdom from trusted friends and had individuals who would check in on my progress. That accountability kept us moving at times when it would have been easier to stall out.
If you’re married, you’ve got a teammate in this endeavor—commit to working together. And whether you share a bed with someone else or not, find other supportive teammates outside the home. Tom Brady’s an incredible quarterback, but he’s never won a Super Bowl on his own.
5. PREPARE FOR THE FIRE This isn’t fun to write, but it’s absolutely necessary—and something we don’t talk about enough when it comes to practicing the tithe. Because giving finances is attached to growing faith and dependency on God, you should expect difficult situations to arise as you increase your generosity—especially the types of situations you’d normally lean on your income to solve. It’s the fire that hardens the steel of a blade, and it’s the fire of stressful situations that will harden your faith.
By the grace of God and the generosity of others, we made it through our homeless, car-less, babies-in-the-NICU phase. We began to dip our toe back into the giving water when another unexpected setback hit: a lifelong medical diagnosis for our young daughter. Know what costs a lot of money? Life-saving medication and medical devices. The temptation was absolutely to lose the ground we’d been making when it came to the tithe. But the events of the past few years had hardened us. We reminded ourselves that God had always provided for us, and we trusted He’d continue to do the same.
Know what? He absolutely has. I won’t bore you with the details, but He’s made a way for our daughter to receive free medical care and medication. He gave us a van to replace our broken one, and then an SUV in even better condition. He led me to a job that better supported our family and to a house underpriced for the area. How and why? Because we asked, and because He was growing the faith we needed to trust Him.
To be clear, God doesn’t owe my family because we give money back to Him. This isn’t a transactional relationship. We don’t have financial leverage over the Being who made the cosmos—that’s a silly thought. Giving, likewise, isn’t an insurance policy to make all our problems go away (the pipe that burst in our basement last week testifies to that). Rather, giving is a response to God’s goodness that we’ve already experienced—and a reminder that He is our hope and future, not the size of my savings account.
Prepare yourself for the fire, and it won’t take you by surprise. Instead, you’ll (if you can believe it) even welcome the flames that push your faith into action.
Tithing Is An Adventure
I won’t try to take it easy on you—tithing is hard. It’s a test of your will, your stamina, and your spiritual maturity. It pushes your dependency off of yourself and on to God. It brings to light the multiple ways all of us use our resources in less than ideal ways. It exposes just how much trust we place in the Benjamins. And yet, it’s also one of the quickest routes to permanent spiritual transformation I’ve ever encountered. A deeper connection to God, and a life with more awe-inspiring God stories, just might be on the other side of your bank app. No guilt here, just encouragement. If you’re thinking about tithing, grab this list and get started today. A journey toward a more generous life is one worth taking.
If you’re part of Crossroads Church, the nationwide community of believers I happen to belong to, there’s a bonus option just for you. Read more below.
BONUS: TAKE THE TEST Belong to Crossroads? Take the 90 Day Tithe Test. In summation, the leadership at Crossroads wants you to experience the spiritual growth and blessings that come from tithing—for you, not for us. So they worked to take the risk out of it. Tithe your income for 90 days, and if at the end of the three months, you feel like God hasn’t moved in your life, they’ll give all your money back. Honestly, it’s a sweet idea and one I wish I could have walked through. Read more here.