Okay, I know I’m not going to be popular for this, because this is going to come off as as a bit preachy and Sunday School lesson-y, but oh well, I think it’s a much needed topic that we need to discuss.
Most church people, black and white are familiar with the familiar passage of Malachi 3:8-12 passage that says:
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”And that’s fine.
I don’t have a problem with people who memorize Bible passages. I just have a problem when people misread and fail to take context into consideration. If one decides to turn back one page to Malachi 2:1 it plainly reads “And now, you priests, this warning is for you.” A continual reading from 2:17 to 3:1 would show to anyone that the intended audience of the priests doesn’t change.
So, for me, I have problems with how this scripture is used in the pulpit.
Many of us have been at smaller churches where deacons and trustees actually count the money on the altar if they’re trying to reach a goal. Or even at larger churches, even the megachurches where they have $100 lines, $50 lines and $20 lines. This is problematic for me because it begins to mix the ideas of tithes versus that of offerings. It’s been my observation that in many of the neo-Pentecostal churches, big and small, that preachers and liturgists ask for a “seed offering” which I think borders heavy on being irresponsible as clergy.
Now, not only do parishioners and general church goers have this idea that they’ll be “cursed with a curse” running around in their heads, they have this guilt attached to them that if they don’t give some money that they’re not believing in God in this ministry. Honestly, I used to attend a COGIC church on Sunday evenings in Atlanta and every Sunday night I’d see one of the trustees/deacons get up and quote Malachi 3:8 and expound that if we didn’t tithe, our house was cursed, our car was cursed and that we were indeed cursed.
My car couldn’t have been cursed, because it cranked up when I got in after church.
I think this practice of guilting people to pay leads to unfair and stereotypical images of preachers. For every Creflo Dollar image we see of him running through money on his altar, there is some small church that needs every dollar than can get just to pay their musicians. That for every “Prophet” Todd Hall who gets up in church and tells the people to give a dollar for every pound of weight they want to drop, there’s a smaller church that just had their phone cut off for lack of payment.
On a basic notion, persons need to view their church as a membership organization. Much like fraternal organizations and sororities, or other professional organizations (think NABJ or NABA) that we pay membership fees towards without question, but we have reservations when we have that moment in church when the collection plate comes around. Fact of the matter is that smaller churches have smaller budgets and larger churches have larger budgets: I need for you to drop more than $1 in the collection plate on Sunday morning. If you want to reap the full benefits of all of the ministries, and services your megachurch provides, I need for you to drop something in the collection plate the first time around.
For those who still need a biblical precept about giving, I reference you to 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 that Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to not give under compulsion, to give cheerfully and more importantly to have a gift in mind and give it. This goes directly against the weapon that many clergy use when it comes to the Malachi passage. I think this New Testament idea of offerings in the ecclesiastical setting is much more practical. However, truth be told, pastors that intentionally get this wrong get it wrong so they can keep their salaries in check.
Let’s be honest, some of these megachurch pastors aren’t even trying to live modestly. It’s one thing to be raking in this obscene amount of money and still have a three or four bedroom house and drive a midsized Lexus or Mercedes, but it’s another thing to fly around in your jets and purchase million dollar mansions—and you have parishioners who are taking public transportation to get to your church on Sunday morning. But to be fair, those clergy are few in number. I think folk both a part of church culture and outside of it tend to see the images of clergy who are on TBN or the Word Network and use a broad brush to paint all clergy in that same light. For these people, the pastors that don’t have all of the flash are the exceptions and not the rule.
Personally, I think it’s the other way around.
With national figures across the board of churches in the United States has the average church congregation around 150-200 members, that’s certainly not a large church. And we all know that numbers on the roll are not the numbers you see in the pews and chairs on Sunday morning.
Now coming out of a megachurch setting, my mother did say that she does not give money when they pass the plate around again to give a love offering to the guest preacher. For me, I don’t either. I know that at these megachurches it depends on how the deal is set up. At my church, given the way we did it, it was a set fee that was given to the guest preacher and anything in the love offering was extra. Probably, some of our guest preachers with the bigger names were probably walking away with close to $10,000. (Makes you rethink your occupation right?)
But, at some churches, the deal is that the guest preacher raises their own offering.
Here’s how that works: I went to hear Jamal-Harrison Bryant preach at a church in Atlanta, and he closed on the passage where God told Gideon in Judges 7 to only go to war with 300 people. So, when he was done, he was asking for 10 people to sew a seed of $300. So, we watched ten folk walk up there. Then he asked for 30 folk to give $100. And he went down to $30 from there. Whatever the case was, we watched Jamal collect close to $10,000 himself that night.
Another issue is pastors’ and their salaries. At smaller churches it’s much more cut and dried and the pastors know it. At larger churches, some pastors have circumvented that and the IRS, by operating off of the “love offerings.” God knows how much some of these pastors are really getting. Don’t get me wrong, pastors and their families need to put food on the table as well, and provide a roof over the head of their families, but, on some levels I think clergy MUST be more responsible.
As with all things generally, if you sit idly by and do nothing about a perceived problem, I personally believe you have tacitly become complicit enough in the said problem. To persons that don’t give money because they flatly say “it’s all going to the preacher’s pocket” I have to ask them how often do they go to annual or quarterly church meetings? Are they members of the trustee board or finance committees? And above all, are they reaping the benefits of the services that the church provides? For me it’s not just about giving money as a sign of believing the ministry of the church, but practically speaking that as a member of an organizational community (of faith) you need to contribute. No more than one expects to withdraw money from a bank account that you deposited nothing in, we shouldn’t expect to do the same with churches.
At the end of the day, we see what we want to see. We make things fit into our own box anyway. If you see the black preacher as pimp and charlatan, I’m sure this blog didn’t help you. Similarly if you see the black preacher as worthy of all the largesse possible, then maybe this blog didn’t help you either. I just hope that one day we’ll begin to learn better from out mistakes in the past as we march into the future.
Question: What do you think about "love offerings"? Does the preacher deserve something above and beyond his salary?