I remember an incident shortly after my call to ministry. It came after many weeks of prayer for God to show me the point of passion that would fuel my ministry. During this time in my life, I had a weakness. This weakness was an inability to express compassion, which I knew was the result of a lack of compassion in my heart. It was not as if I did not care about people – I certainly did, but there was something missing in my heart – a passion for people. I knew that if I were called to ministry, God would have to somehow fix this weakness. I knew that I could not endure all that is required to fulfill a call to ministry without a deep, all-consuming passion for people. Somehow he would have to impassion me. Of course, Jesus’ love for me should be enough – but how would His love transform into love expressed by me? What would cause me to hunger after the lost – what message would I bring that would create this passion and make it contagious? I wrestled with the issue through prayer, introspection, and counsel. I remember clearly the day God gave me my answer.

My wife and I were driving through one of Jackson’s busiest intersections en-route to some errand. I was mulling over a sermon I had just delivered in Martin, Tennessee. It was about “joy”. I wondered if the message was received. As I day dreamed a bit on the subject I began to look at the faces of the people in the vehicles around me – so many faces. Some carried obvious worry. Some carried obvious anger. Some carried obvious sorrow, Some carried obvious pain. Very few carried obvious joy.

It was then, that afternoon, that I began to truly weep for people. Hiding behind the mask of long-held allergies to spring pollens, I wept – mostly inside. I remember whispering to God, asking him to explain what was happening. He reminded me of the incredible Christian heritage that we enjoy as southerners. He reminded me that most of these people accepted that God was real. He reminded me that most of the faces I saw represented long lineages of Christian allegiance and service. He reminded me that most of them went to churches on Sundays – after all that is what good Christian people do.

But, then he gave me an insight that I did not expect. He reminded me of a little phrase from 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power”. Yet, this reminder was not in the judgmental tone that Paul spoke it in. It was not in the apocalyptic tone that marked Paul’s words. It was as if God was walking to and fro between the cars on that busy street- trying to get their attention. “I am more than this”, He would say. “I am more than picking out Sunday clothes. I am more than saying, ‘yes, mam’, or ‘no, mam’. I am more than singing all the harmonies in Amazing Grace. I am more than telling the preacher he did a good job. I am more than putting a good offering in the plate. I am more than saying my name in the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. I am more than posting my commandments in a court house. I am more than a prayer before dinner or a baseball game. I am more – so much more.”

“I want to know you. I want to talk with you. I want to share in your hurts and struggles. I want to be a real presence in your lives – not just a garment that you wear on Sunday mornings. You say you know me, but we never talk. You say you know me, but you never hear me. You say you know me, but you never recognize me. I remember when you were small, and used to wear that lacy dress on Easter Sunday. I also remember you, and that bow-tie your grandfather bought you to wear the day you were baptized. Do you remember me? Do you recognize me?” From car to car He would go, and no one recognized him, no one noticed he was there.

It was through this experience that I truly began to have a heart-felt and genuine compassion for people. Here in the south, we have much to be proud of. Our southern culture tends to celebrate God. We are quick to anger when the commandments are ordered off a courthouse wall. But, sometimes we are not so quick when God says, “Come, walk with me for awhile.” We are so busy being good people and doing what good people do that we have forgotten that none of us – none of us- are good apart from God. Without a true, personal, experiential relationship with God, we are just doing the motions of life, not thriving in it as He desires for us.

There is a lot of discussion going around church planting circles about why and how we should approach the issue of “offerings” in our churches – especially where visitors are concerned. It is good for us to ask questions like, “why do we give?”, “when in the service should offering occur?”, and “should we require newcomers to give?”. These are valid questions. How we answer them has direct bearing on how our church is perceived, and ultimately how Christ is reflected. At Thrive, we too have wrestled with these questions – and others.

At Thrive, we do not “require” anyone to give, so no one ought to feel obligated to give – neither the newcomer nor the long-time attender. However, we do believe there are biblical reasons why we should feel compelled to give, so we do ask that people give. However, our emphasis is not on giving “much” but rather giving “well”.

There are two reasons to give to God’s church.

First, God calls us to support the church so that it can do its work. Unfortunately, in this world it does take money to do ministry. From paying the rent to funding outreach programs, money is required to be effective.

“Tithing” is a practice that started in the Old Testament. Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, and 2 Chronicles 31:5 are just a few of the Old Testament passages that describe the “tithe”, which is described as a “portion” (10%) of your blessings, that belong to God. The “tithe” was used primarily to support the church workers as they carried out the duties of the church, as God commanded them, as a full-time job. In the New Testament, we also see this church-worker support system described (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). However, there is no specific percentage prescribed, as there is in the Old Testament.

There has never been a debate over whether or not people should give to the church – we all should absolutely give to her. However, there has been much debate over how much. At Thrive, we believe that the essence of the purpose behind the “tithe” is not how much one is to give, but rather the heart and motive with which one gives.

The second reason we give is because “giving” to God is an act of worship. It is interesting to note, that from the beginning, “giving” has always been part of the “worship” activities of God’s church. In fact, we first learn of “giving” to God in the story of Cain and Abel, which preceded the rules handed down from God through Moses. While we could never adequately express our thanks to Him through money, “giving” has always been a way that God gives us to show our love and thanks to Him in a substantive way.

So, we should give, but how much? Well, that is up to you. God does not ask us to give “much”, but rather to give “well”. James 1:5 suggests that we should seek such answers from God, and we agree! In fact, we believe that the underlying motive behind the Old Testament and New Testament approaches to tithe is fundamentally about the motive behind our giving rather than the details surrounding our giving. We believe that the essence of giving is described in the story described in Luke 7:36-50 where a very thankful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them clean with her hair. This spirit of giving is reinforced by Mark 12:41-44 where we are told of the widow giving her last two coins.

When we give, we must not give out of a sense of obligation. Instead, we give out of a sense of worshipful thanks to God for His provision, mercy, and grace in our lives. What we give should be a reflection of this worshipful thanks. Truly, it is not required that we give “much”, but rather that we give “well”. When the offering plate is passed to you, I pray that you have considered how “well” you are giving.

Newcomer, some churches will tell you that they do not want you to give. Since giving is an act of worship, I dare not prevent you from experiencing worship through giving. Therefore, I will not make such a suggestion. However, since we should never give out of a sense of obligation, I ask that you worshipfully consult the Holy Spirit as you make the decisions of “if” and “how much”.