If there is one area of church life that the African church lags behind in, it is that of faithfully and generously supporting the Lord’s work through tithing, freewill offerings, and charging for the provision of services. This is largely because the church in Africa is only one generation away from the pioneering days when international missionaries and church planters were supported from Western countries. The financial sustenance of the church and its ministries was not dependent on the financial giving of its members. Their missionary pastor survived—indeed thrived—pretty well without them raising money for him.
It’s become deep-seated in the African psyche that church giving doesn’t really matter.
Regardless of what else previous generations of African Christians were taught about financial stewardship, it became deep-seated in the African psyche that church giving did not really matter. Reversing this way of thinking has proved to be very difficult.
We Need to Reform, Maybe Even Repent
If the church in Africa is to mature and take its place in the missionary movement that will usher in the Lord’s return, we must reverse this trend. Our church members must learn to be faithful, generous, and deliberate about financial matters in the context of the church. It is important that church leaders teach young Christians about financial giving so that they develop the habit of giving early in their Christian lives.
The young and the poor in the church should be helped to see that their “small offering” matters to the Lord as much as the abundance that those with “deep pockets” are able to give. In fact, often it is the small giving of the many members of the church that sustains the work of the Lord more than the large giving of the few big givers.
It’s important to remind church members that the tithe is the Lord’s—as God reminds Israel. It isn’t ours.
For those of us who believe in tithing, it is also important to remind the church members that the tithe is the Lord’s—as God himself kept reminding the children of Israel. It is not theirs. They should learn to faithfully pass it on for the Lord’s work as part of their worship. Because it was a form of tax, you can well understand why the Lord asks that conscience-piercing question, “Why do you rob me?” (Malachi 3:8-9), and proceeds to promise a great reward for faithful tithing (Malachi 3:10-12).
We’re Raising Money for Ministry, Not the Maldives
So we ought to teach young believers to develop the habit of regular, faithful, and generous giving to the Lord’s work. But we must avoid talking about money all the time. This is a source of irritation in many churches today. Pastors are always cajoling their members to give financially to the church. Sermons are tailored to end with an appeal for money. This has reached such epic proportions that many people have stopped going to church simply to avoid it. Churches have become like money-making machines.
The kind of promises that God made to the Israelites in Malachi 3 are repeated so often today that what was meant to be a general promise to the people of God is made to sound as if it was a promise to each individual who tithes. Church members are told to “sow seeds” into the fertile ground of the ministry of a “man of God” and they will get a bumper harvest in return. God is treated like a banker who promises huge interest on any money that his people give to the church.
Many churches have become like money-making machines.
As a result, some people have given a lot of money to the church or to the ministry of a preacher expecting “miracle money” in return. They have ended up driving their families into poverty because no such financial returns have come their way. It is the preacher and his church who have made themselves rich at the expense of the unwary Christian. This is certainly not the way the church should raise its money.
Give from the Heart as Well as Your Hands
The financial giving of believers must be the result of their healthy walk with God. It must be the overflow of their spiritual lives. In my book I share an upsetting story about my uncle, whose church was only interested in his money. So they put together a system to make him feel guilty about meeting his financial obligations. Yet, they did next to nothing to help him spiritually. That is wrong. Church leaders should prioritise the spiritual growth of their members, and their faithfulness and generosity will grow out of that.
Faithfulness and generosity will grow out of spiritual maturity.
Church leaders must also account for the money that they collect. The view that a pastor is not accountable to his fellow church leaders and the rest of the church is foreign to the New Testament. When the apostle Paul was collecting money for famine relief, he put in place checks and balances to ensure transparency, accountability, and integrity in the process. Thus Paul writes, “When I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me” (1 Corinthians 16:3-4).
We Must Hold Ourselves and Our Leaders Accountable
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he mentions this matter again. With reference to a man designated to travel with him to Jerusalem, Paul writes, “Not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honourable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (2 Corinthians 8:19–21).
I love that last phrase, “We aim at what is honourable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” We should have basic accounting systems in the church that make it impossible for us to misappropriate the funds without being immediately found out. This raises the confidence of God’s people that their money is going to the end for which they gave it.
We should have basic accounting systems in the church that make it impossible to misappropriate funds.
A tendency that is becoming popular today, where church members give their weekly offering and it is taken by the pastor to his home, where he decides how the money should be used, is wrong. The reason often given for such a practice is the biblical text that says those who had “lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34–35). The main difference here was that the funds were brought to the apostles collectively. This provided for both the transparency and the checks and balances.
The phenomenon that has become common today is that of the money being given to one man. He takes it home and gives it out or keeps it for himself as he sees fit. That is wrong.
We’re Building a People, Not Portfolios
Let me end on a more positive note by drawing our attention to the order of the money raising methods for the church. The emphasis should be on faithfulness in tithing, then generosity in freewill offerings, and lastly initiatives in giving out services at a fee. Generosity makes sense only when the minimum has already been given in the form of tithing. And, trying to raise extra funds through the offering of various services should be the “icing on the cake.” It should never be the primary method of raising money for the church. If you turn the priority around, you can easily end up inadvertently turning the church into a den of robbers instead of a house of prayer (Luke 19:45–46).
In raising money let’s ensure that we keep the spirituality of church members as our first priority.
So, in raising money for the church, let us ensure that we keep the spirituality of the church and its members as our first priority.
Adapted from God’s Design for the Church: A Guide for African Pastors and Ministry Leaders by Conrad Mbewe, Copyright © 2020, pp. 146-149 Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.