My wife and I have traveled back and forth across the country the past year. It has given us the opportunity to visit a number of churches.
We have felt the movement of the Holy Spirit in every service we have attended. That is, until recently, when he heard a message we found quite disturbing.
It actually wasn’t the main topic of the pastor’s sermon. Rather, it was a sidebar at the end of his message.
It concerned the church’s finances.
He told the congregation that weekly collections had not met budget all year long. And he admonished church members that many of them were disobeying God by failing to faithfully tithe 10 percent of their weekly earnings.
Well, my wife and I believe it is our Christian duty to tithe. And we are mindful of the Scripture advising that “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Our problem is when pastors emphasize certain of God’s commandments – like tithing – while purposely ignoring other commandments for fear of offending the sensibilities of certain members of the congregation..
Indeed, I am certain the church we visited included couples who were living together outside of marriage. But the pastor didn’t guilt them.
I am sure there were homosexuals in the pews that Sunday. But he didn’t call them out.
And I suspect there may have been a few substance abusers in the church. But he didn’t rebuke them.
Yet, the pastor took the congregation’s non-tithers to task.
“I know most of you,” he said, surveying the sanctuary. “I know how much you make. And I know you’re not tithing.”
The pastor’s remarks fomented a palpable uneasiness among the congregation.
I believe it was because the church is located in an economically-distressed metropolitan area with one of the nation’s worst jobless rates, worst rates of home foreclosures and worst percentages of households without health insurance.
What made matters worse, as far as my wife and I were concerned, was that, despite the economic hardship afflicting many members of his congregation, the pastor declared that the church was moving forward with plans to relocate to a bright and shiny new building.
And he reminded the congregation that it needed to join him in raising $200,000 in so many months to put down earnest money with their bankers.
That was, of course, in addition to the tithes and offerings the pastor expected the congregation to put in the collection plate each week to meet the church’s ongoing operating expenses.
I understand that churches need financial support. But I believe the absolutely wrong way for a pastor to generate that support is to use his pulpit to make a hard sell; to shame his congregation into giving until it hurts.
They just might put more in the collection plate. But they will not do so cheerfully.