Why Christians Don’t Give

Copyright 2006 Rod Rogers

I have a book of cartoons called Church Is Stranger Than Fiction with a picture of four men sitting around a conference table in a church board meeting. In the caption, the man at the head of the table says, “It looks like we’re going to have to recall our last twenty-five converts—there seems to be a defect in their giving”.1

Sadly, there is a defect in the giving of the vast majority of Christians. According to Barna Research Online, “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church—that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry—has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002.”2

Why don’t Christians give more generously? The Bible and research indicate that the primary reason is that they lack pastoral leadership. As the key spiritual leader in the church, the pastor has the most influence on a church’s giving practices. According to church stewardship expert Eugene Grimm,

“The pastor is the chief steward of the congregation. Congregations that are above the national average in their giving have one of several things in common. One of the most important of these is strong pastoral leadership. In congregations with effective stewardship, the pastors give leadership to the stewardship ministry…. The pastor is the key to effective stewardship and ministry. If stewardship becomes a way of life in the congregation, the pastor will lead the way.”3

Many Christians don’t give because their pastor has failed to lead them in two key ways. First, their pastor hasn’t taught them the biblical principles of stewardship. Many pastors freely admit their distaste for talking about money and many, as a result of their discomfort, avoid the subject altogether in their preaching. Speaking of the response of pastors in a ministerial association to his challenge to preach about stewardship, Joseph McAuliffe wrote, “Nevertheless, most of the pastors still felt a general reticence to speak openly and in the name of the Lord on economic matters”.4

This common reticence on the part of pastors reflects a failure to fully grasp their God-given responsibilities regarding teaching the whole counsel of God, which includes many texts on financial stewardship.

The Bible makes it clear that spiritual leaders need to teach their people biblical principles of stewardship. For example, in Deuteronomy 8:11-18 Moses fulfilled this responsibility by warning the people of Israel that when they prosper in the promised land they must not think that they had made themselves rich, but to remember that God had given them power to make wealth. Jesus allotted sixteen verses in his Sermon on the Mount to teaching about money (Matthew 6:19-34). The apostle Paul devoted the entire eighth and ninth chapters of Second Corinthians to stewardship teaching and, in First Timothy 6:3-19, he told Pastor Timothy what to teach his people concerning the right attitude toward riches.

In his exhaustive book, A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, Dr. Gene Getz writes:

“Spiritual leaders are responsible to teach believers in the church what God says about material possessions ([based on] the apostle’s [Paul’s] example and personal experience).” [author’s emphasis] “Believers must be taught in concrete terms what God says about material possessions. This is not only true of the principles themselves, but Christians must be given specific examples of how to apply these principles. That’s why Jesus was so specific in His own teachings. As we continue in our study, we will see that the authors of the New Testament letters also became specific. James included at least eight major “teachings” about material possessions in his letter. The apostle Paul included at least sixteen major teachings on giving in two chapters alone (2 Corinthians 8-9). These principles must be taught in order for them to be applied.”5

In light of the biblical examples of spiritual leaders teaching their people about stewardship, it should be clear that the failure of pastors to teach these principles hinders God’s people from giving as they should.

Second, many Christians don’t give because their pastor has failed to challenge them to give according to the biblical principles of stewardship. Along with teaching their people the biblical principles of giving, pastors must also challenge people to give in order to lead them into obedient stewardship. Research has shown that most people will not give as they should unless they are asked to give:

“Churches with high levels of giving realize that most people do not increase their giving unless someone asks them to do so on an annual basis…. The bad news is that they will not grow in their giving unless they are asked.”6

A careful study of Scripture reveals that one of the key responsibilities of a spiritual leader is to challenge his people to give. It also demonstrates that when he does so, God’s people respond obediently. Examples abound in the Old Testament:

* When Moses challenged the people to give for the construction of the tabernacle, they brought so much more than was needed that he had to command them to stop giving (Exod. 35:4-9, 20-24; 36:4-7)!

* In leading the people to give to the building of the temple, King David told how much he had personally donated to the task and then pointedly asked his people, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the LORD” (1 Chron. 29:5). As a result, David’s people gave willingly (1 Chron. 29:6-9).

* When King Joash commanded the people to bring the temple levy as fixed by Moses, all the leaders and people responded by giving joyfully and obediently (1 Chron. 24:8-10).

* When King Hezekiah commanded the people to bring the tithes as commanded in the Law, the people responded by giving so abundantly that the tithes piled up in heaps (1 Chron. 31:3-10).

* In Nehemiah 13:10-12 we read that Nehemiah commanded the people to bring the tithes to the temple storehouses for the Levites and singers with the result that all Judah obeyed.

* When the prophet Haggai rebuked the people for neglecting the temple to build their own houses and commanded them to rebuild the temple, the leaders and all the people obeyed (Hag. 1:1-15).

The weight of these powerful Old Testament examples supports Eugene Grimm’s conclusion, “people like to give and usually will respond favorably when asked. Contrary to the popular myth, most members are not offended when money is requested.” Therefore, “Christian leaders should not hesitate to ask for help when there is a need, both for others and for themselves”.7

The primary reason Christians don’t give is because their pastors have failed to lead them properly by teaching and challenging them to give according to the word of God. If Christians are to give according to God’s will, pastors must lead them by teaching and challenging them to be obedient stewards.

1. Chambers, Mary, Church Is Stranger Than Fiction, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990, no page number.

2. Barna Research Online, Tithing Down 62% in the Past Year, http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp? PressReleaseID=139&Reference=F, May 19, 2003.

3.Grimm, Eugene, Generous People, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992, p. 40.

4. McAuliffe, Joseph, “What to Teach about Money”, Ministries Today, March/April 1988, p. 61.

5. Getz, Gene, A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1990, p. 115, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1990.

6. Grimm, Eugene, Generous People, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992, p. 125.

7. Ibid, p. 125.