As we are all aware there are incredible economic pressures both around the world and here in Western Canada. It is a test of our Christian walk and character when we are consistent in our walk with God when we are under pressure; especially under financial pressure whether it be personal or the church as a whole. Giving from churches to the denomination has remained at a 1.7-1.9 million dollar level while church budgets themselves have risen approximately 72 % in the period from 1993-2008. To put it more starkly, church giving has increased only .2% during the same period. In 2009, against this backdrop, giving has begun to turn around; a culture and responsible sharing of our ministry together is beginning to occur…over 60 churches gave more this year, over 50 gave the same.
I am going to profile churches in faithfulness and courage when it comes to giving in difficult circumstances. Our first profile is of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Our story begins when Rev. Al McPhedran and I were having coffee this summer when he said to me: “You know our church realized several years ago that we were only giving 2% of our income to mission….” I’ll let Al take it from there…..
Put God to the Test!
Times were rather desperate in our Fort Saskatchewan congregation. The most experienced leadership and the best givers had left over a difference in the purpose and vision for our church. I often had to wait over a Sunday or two for my paycheque. The treasurer (an excellent accountant who kept our church afloat – I don’t know how!) would come to me and say, “If you tell me how much tithe you are putting in the offering plate on Sunday, I will increase your cheque by that amount. But make sure that you put your tithe in the offering or this paycheque will bounce!”
In the midst of this ongoing financial crunch (our congregation was a middle-lower income group with many new Christians and nonchurch people), God prodded me into telling the Church Board and the congregation that we should begin to tithe as a congregation in the same way that I had been teaching our people to tithe personally. We figured out that we were giving 2% of our income to missions through our denomination. I told the church, “I believe that God wants us to follow Scripture and give 10% of our offerings to missions. I know that we cannot do this all at once so let’s begin a graduated tithe by increasing our missions giving to the Baptist Union by 1% each year until we reach our 10% goal. I realize that we are already having difficulty paying our bills, but let’s take a step of faith and see what God will do. Anyways, remember that it is my paycheque that is on the line, and I am saying we should test God. Let’s be a true faith mission.” Then I read Malachi 3:10 to the people.
When our treasurer supported my recommendation to take this step of faith (she was also a person of faith as well as an accountant!), the congregation said, “Yes!” Further, they agreed to pay the tithe off the top of each Sunday’s offering, no matter how little the amount was or whether we could meet payroll or pay bills. And, no, our finances did NOT improve immediately. I still waited for my paycheque. Our treasurer would come to our Deacon and Elder Board meeting with a folder containing all the unpaid and overdue bills and place them in the centre of the table. Then she would ask all the deacons and elders to place their hands on the folder and have each member pray out loud that God would meet our financial needs and keep our church open.
And God did pour open the windows of heaven and bless us. Each year we increased our tithe, gradually the paycheques came on time and the bills were paid every month. But, that is not all. When we reached our goal of a 10% tithe, we increased our tithe to 12%. After the tsunami hit Thailand, we became a sister church to The Seed Church in Phuket – an ongoing mission project. This Christmas will be our fifth year when we encourage our congregation to buy a farm through World Vision for some village in Africa. And now, most recently, we are raising $10,000 to join Hope International Development Agency in supplying a well for clean water to a village in Cambodia. But God has also blessed and expanded our ministry in the Fort. We have been able to raise the funds to enter a partnership with Young Life and hire a youth pastor and then, three years ago, we took the step of calling a part time Children and Family Pastor (thank you to our denomination for the Trinity Opportunity seed money!).
Truly, God has fulfilled his promise through the prophet Malachi. We took the step of becoming a faith mission and giving God our tithe and he has opened the windows of heaven and blessed us. Our experience has taught us a valuable lesson: never wait for the money but step out in faith and give God his tithe!