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Tag: Tithes and Offerings

Don’t Waste Your Time and Money on Church

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Guest Post by Karuna Gal

Do you think about what you get in return for the money and time you spend on your church? Here’s the answer: “You receive intangible spiritual benefits.” That sentence was printed on the quarterly donation statements sent from my last church. Well, at least my church was somewhat honest. What I truly got was nothing — especially nothing spiritual. But perhaps there were some details which the church didn’t include. For example, maybe I helped finance the Second Coming, thereby earning some Divine brownie points? Don’t laugh. A nineteenth-century Christian millennialist group, the Harmony Society, actually opened up a bank account for Jesus to use when he returned to earth. I’ve seen the entry in their accounting book, which is on display in a museum. Jesus never showed up to use the money, though.

I gave the churches with which I was involved a reasonable amount of money. But churches push you to give more all the time. Here’s an example of guilting you might see in a church newsletter: “In the Old Testament, the Israelites gave the Lord 10% of their harvest, which is called a tithe. The church staff is tithing on their income for our church, as a spiritual discipline. God rewards the cheerful giver and will bless you for your donation.” So, reading between the lines, what this means is, “And why don’t YOU do the same, you undisciplined, unspiritual parishioner? Smile and open up your damn wallet for GOD!”

Even now, my old church’s website has not one, but two donate buttons on their homepage. Every church newsletter had the Treasurer’s report and articles about church repairs to be financed and charitable needs to be met. And then there was that dreaded “Time and Treasure” season when you had to say how much you would pledge for the following year. I dreaded it because then the pressure to give the church money went up to a fever pitch from clergy and the Vestry (church board.) Sluggards got a call from the Vestry if they hadn’t yet pledged.

One Christmas, we had a big snowstorm and couldn’t hold Christmas Eve services. Our rector grumbled to the Vestry later that we lost a lot of income due to that. However, he wasn’t upset that the congregation missed out on Christmas.

When I served on the Vestry of my last church, I created a Fundraising Committee, since it seemed from all this hoopla that the church needed more money. I worked hard with my committee members to raise money by organizing events and selling cookbooks, among other things. I never got much recognition for my efforts. But because of my fundraising prowess, the rector wanted me to start talking to parishioners about leaving money to the church in their wills. That was the sort of glad-handing I avoided doing.

At least the churches I attended were open and public about their finances. Other churches aren’t. A 501(c)(3) tax status is a great thing for religious organizations to have. This means that the church meets the IRS’ definition of what constitutes a church, and once the organization gets this status it will have an automatic tax exemption. A religious organization with a 501(c)(3) status also doesn’t have to file a non-profit tax return or a financial statement. It’s a religious shyster’s wet dream. Beware of a church that isn’t transparent about where your money goes — it could be paying the mortgage on its sleazy minister’s palatial digs (Joel Osteen’s palatial digs come readily to mind.)

Volunteering is another way churches take advantage of their gullible flocks. A believer’s fervor powered my volunteering. I had to do my part for God’s house, my church, and if I didn’t, I was an ungrateful Christian, and God would scold me on Judgement Day. So, along with serving on the Vestry and the Fundraising Committee, I was a choir member, a Chalice bearer, a helper with Sunday School, and I participated in all kinds of projects. My church also got a lot of free labor from retired parishioners, a source of envy for the rectors of other Episcopal churches, who didn’t have nearly as many devoted volunteers as we did.

All this fundraising and volunteering — mine and others’ — must have helped burnish our rector’s reputation in the diocese. He left after only five years with us, for a better gig in the big city. And when he returned for a visit after he left, the first thing he asked me about was not my health or my spiritual walk. He wanted to know . . . if I had started talking to the parishioners about leaving money in their wills to the church. I hemmed and hawed and did not answer.

The church got a lot of mileage out of me before I finally realized that I had been used. All I gained out of my church experience was regret. I wasted so much time and energy in all the churches I belonged to. (But luckily I wasn’t out of too much money. I wasn’t that starry-eyed.) It would have been much better for me to focus on getting my own house in order instead of taking care of God’s house.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Stewardship Month and Faith Promise Missions Giving in the IFB Church

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This is mathematically impossible. 🙂

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for preaching on money, particularly tithing and giving offerings above the tithe. For readers who don’t understand the “Biblical” concept of tithing, let me explain this money-raising scheme to you. The word tithe, in IFB parlance, means 10%. Church members are expected to give 10% of their gross income — God and the government get theirs first — to the church.

I heard countless sermons over the years on the subject of tithing. Preachers, with hands and pockets open wide, told congregants that God demanded at least 10% of their income. Even children were expected to give a tithe to the church from their allowances, yard mowing money, babysitting money, etc. These preachers knew it was important to indoctrinate children. Teach (expect) people to tithe when they are young, they will continue to do so when they are older.

Many IFB preachers threaten congregants with the judgment of God if they don’t tithe. They also tell church members that God will materially “bless” them if they do tithe. Some pastors check the giving records to make sure people are tithing. Those who don’t tithe are considered backslidden, rebellious, or out of the will of God.

Malachi 3:8-10 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 ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith 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.

Don’t want to rob God? Please make that check payable to Victory Baptist Church.

Unlike many of my Baptist peers, I rarely preached on tithing. I grew up in churches where my pastors constantly harped on money. Even in college, poor students were expected to give 10% of their gross income to the church affiliated with the college. These negative experiences affected me in such a way that I was hesitant to bug and beg church members for money. I just couldn’t do it. I grew up poor, and we lived at or below the poverty line for the first thirty years of marriage. The most I ever made in the ministry was $26,000 (with a family of eight). I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for eleven years. The most I ever made in one year at Somerset Baptist was $12,000. I certainly wasn’t in the ministry for the money.

Many of the people I pastored were poor. I found it hard to ask people to tithe when they were barely keeping their heads above water. One year at Somerset Baptist, the highest paid man in the church made $21,000 (an auto mechanic). Appalachian economics applied to the church too.

Not only do IFB preachers preach on tithing, but many of them also preach on stewardship and faith promise missions giving. Polly’s uncle, the late James Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis) would spend a month every year preaching on stewardship. The goal? To remind congregants that God expects them to give 10% of their income to the church; to remind congregants that God expects them to contribute to the mission fund, building fund, and any other “fund” the preacher cooks up.

IFB preachers are fond of humble bragging about how many missionaries their churches support. Instead of investing significant amounts of money in one missionary, churches will give fifty missionaries $25 a month. As a result, missionaries have to go to numerous churches on deputation hoping to raise $25 a month from each church. Many missionaries spend years on the fundraising circuit (the better the slide presentation of poor black people, the sooner the missionary makes it to the field). Some give up, never reaching their financial goal. Deputation is a cruel racket. It turns good people (regardless of what I think of mission work now) into beggars.

tithing

Some IFB churches have annual faith promise missions conferences. Missionaries come to the church and present their work (priming the pump for the money ask). Congregants are asked to promise God, by faith, that they will give $xx.xx a month to the church to support the mission program. What if they don’t have the money? Church members are expected to give the money even if they don’t have it. After all, they made a “faith promise.” Remember, congregants are told that God promises to “bless” them materially if they tithe and give offerings above the tithe. I pastored poor church members who gave 20-25% of their income to the church. I was one of those people until I figured out late in my ministerial career that it made no sense for me to do so as long as the church wasn’t paying me. Giving to the church so they can give it back to me was just me paying myself with my own money. Silly, right?

In the mid-1980s, a missionary from Bearing Precious Seed — a KJV Bible publishing ministry of First Baptist Church in Milford, Ohio — came to our church to hustle for money. I told him about the economic status of many church members, warning him that promising congregants a Bible in return for a monthly faith promise missions offering was a bad idea. The missionary ignored me, offering church members a brand new leather-bound KJV Bible if they would give a monthly donation to Bearing Precious Seed. More than a few church members took him up on his offer. The church was expected to collect the money and forward it to Bearing Precious Seed every month. Sure enough, after several months, some of those who promised to make a monthly donation defaulted on their commitment. Not wanting to look bad, I had the church make up the monthly deficit. Guess whose pocket that came out of? Mine.

Do you have a tithing or faith promise missions story to tell? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

God DESERVES the Best of Everything!

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Sarcasm ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should not read this post.

The Christian God is quite demanding, according to Evangelical preachers. God demands and expects the best of everything from his followers. Never mind the fact that God allegedly owns and controls everything right down the hairs on our heads. He still demands that Christians bow in fealty to him and bestow upon him everything they own and have worked for. According to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) eschatology, Christians will be judged by their works on Judgment Day and rewarded with crowns for their good works. A lifetime of slaving for Jesus, and all Christians get are tinplate crowns made in China? And even then, God expects believers to remove their crowns from their heads, joyfully, reverently casting them at his feet. What’s God’s going to go with all these crowns, anyway? Sell them on eBay?

For those raised in Evangelical churches, how many times did you hear sermons about giving God your best? Jesus died on the cross for our sins! If Jesus gave his ALL for us, shouldn’t we give our ALL to him? Our thoughts, words, and deeds, all belong to Jesus! This life is just preparation for the life to come. Giving everything to God now means he will reward us after death! Or so preachers say, anyway. No evidence for this claim is forthcoming. You are just going to have to take them at their word. But let’s, for a moment, take the non-inspired, errant, fallible Bible at face value. What awaits Christians after the resurrection of the just and unjust? Sure, no more pain, sickness, or death. But that aside, I am not sure Heaven (the eternal kingdom of God) will be such a great place to live for millions and millions of years. What will Christians spend their endless days doing? Worshiping, praising, and glorifying the universe’s ultimate narcissist, God. God demanded everything from his followers in this life, and he does the same in the life to come. Come on, Jesus, when is enough enough? Can’t believers have a toke of marijuana out back of the throne room with Peter or share a few off-color jokes with John? Must believers forgo the joys of human existence all because he who has EVERYTHING wants more? I am starting to think Hell is a far better destination. Satan didn’t ask anything of me in this life, and I heard from a reliable source, Christopher Hitchens, that Hell is quite the party. Sure, Hell is a bit warm in July, but hanging out with Hitch and other atheists at Beelzebub’s Bar and Grill seems preferable to neverending worship of Jehovah.

This notion of God deserving the best of everything has real-world implications. Instead of Christians focusing on life and enjoying the fruits of their labor, they are expected to hand their pay and the title of their property to God. How does this transfer of wealth take place? On Sundays, at Evangelical churches everywhere. Congregants are expected to tithe, give offerings, and give money to whatever project the pastor cooks up. Church members are reminded that all they have belongs to God, that he is just loaning it to them, subject to call at any moment. Christians are conned into believing that nothing they own belongs to them. Cue the song, All to Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I Freely Give.

Churches are, at their base level, membership clubs. I don’t have a problem with churches expecting members to pay their dues. However, it is not uncommon for Christians to give 10-25 percent of their gross income to their churches. In the IFB churches, we had numerous income streams: tithes (10% of gross income), building fund offerings, and faith promise missionary offerings, along with special offerings collected for guest speakers, evangelists, and singing groups. And then there were special projects that needed funding, often requiring thousands of dollars. Pastors think the church needs this or that, so they go to their congregations and ask them to cough up the money. “God is leading us to do __________! preachers say. Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I raised money for everything from pews to building refurbishments to copiers to buses. While some of these projects were certainly worthwhile, at what point do preachers stop bleeding church members for more money? If the early church could meet in homes or outside, can’t modern churches do the same? Surely, you jest, Bruce. God needs the best of everything! And that includes lighting and AV equipment. One local megachurch took up residence at the Defiance Mall. God “led” the pastor and other church leaders to install $100,000 of state-of-the-art AV equipment. Nice set-up, to say the least, but where did this money come from? Church members.

Bruce, shouldn’t Christians be free to give as much money as they want to their clubs? Sure. We live in a free society. We are free to spend our money as we wish. My objection is to what drives giving in Evangelical churches: the idea that God deserves the best of everything. How do Evangelical preachers know what God wants? How do they know that God only shops at Saks Fifth Avenue? You see, when I read the Bible, I see a God (Jesus) who is more of a Walmart shopper. If Christians are to follow Jesus’ example, how does that comport with the notion that God deserves the best of everything; that church buildings should be temples of capitalistic splendor? And this is not just an Evangelical problem. One need only look at mainline and Catholic church buildings to see glaring testimonies to the belief that God deserves the very best. If Jesus is the example, it seems evident, at least to me, that most Christians are not paying attention.

Further, I have a big problem with preachers who manipulate church members with claims that God spoke to them, telling them that to receive his blessing God wants new $30 a square yard carpeting for the sanctuary. Churches should be focused on meeting congregant needs and ministering to the sick, poor, and marginalized, and not building an opulent palace for a deity who supposedly already owns everything.

People who wholeheartedly love Jesus are bled dry by such thinking. People give even when they don’t have the means to do so. Their pastors encourage them to have faith or sow mustard seeds for God. Matthew 17:20 says:

. . . verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

NOTHING SHALL BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU, shouts the pastor. On his last show on 700-WLW, Gary Burbank — my all-time favorite comedian — said this:

The Little Radio Church of the White Winged Gospel Truth is in the air. Flock, as it sayeth in the Book of Hominominies, not your old testament, not your new testament, but your present testament, writ by me, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, ‘cause the Lord likes to mess with us. Can I get an “Amalulah!”? Now the Lord is taking Gary Burbank – not calling him home, just getting’ him off the radio. I’m going to need some love offerings soon before my radio pulpit goes away. So reach into them jeans and pull out some greens. Fly them rockets from thy pockets up around my altar. Don’t make me holler, don’t make me shout. Turn them pockets inside out.

The only difference between when Burbank acted out this script and the present is that Evangelical preachers now have MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for extracting money from congregants. Imagine a cash strapped congregant at First Church of the Born Again hearing his pastor’s plea for money to fund new equipment for the praise and worship band. This devout Christian, feeling the “leading” of the Lord — also known as psychological manipulation — goes online and maxes out his credit card for the Lord. His pastor praises him for heeding God’s voice. And then the first credit card bill comes. For the next five years, this God-led Christian will be paying off his donation monthly with 24.99% interest. Ain’t God awesome?

Did your pastors pressure you or your parents to give money to the church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why I Kept the Church Open When I Shouldn’t Have

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Thanks to various state governors, including Mike Dewine, the Republican governor of Ohio, houses of worship are exempt from gathering bans. While thousands of thoughtful, caring churches canceled services, more than a few Evangelical churches dug in their heels and kept their doors open. Whether out of the belief that the Coronavirus pandemic is a government attempt to take away civil liberties, an attempt by Democrats to take down President Donald Trump and spoil his reelection bid, or out of some sort of loyalty to Jesus and the Bible, none of these supposed defenders of God, freedom, and coffee after church are telling the real reason for carry on as normal.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. I hated to cancel services for any reason. “Sundays are meant for worship, bless God, and regardless of whether there are two feet of snow on the ground, the true Christians at _____________ (fill in the blank with name of church I was pastoring) are going to gather at their appointed times. Can I get an A-MEN? AMEN!” (Though I suspect more than a few members were thinking, FUCK YOU, PREACHER!)

Of course, people who cared about their personal safety and that of their family stayed home, but I could always count on some faithful souls showing up to worship the one true God. Rarely were these services memorable. Why? Because everyone there wanted to be somewhere else, myself included. “Then why have the services?” you might be thinking. Simple. Are you ready for the answer? I am going to blow your mind with my answer. The reason I was Heaven-bent on holding services regardless of the weather was because of money. Churches require money to operate. Most Evangelical churches don’t have large sums on deposit or investment accounts. Most churches rely solely on the tithes and offerings of attendees to operate. Without weekly offerings, churches quickly get into financial trouble. Churches are, in many ways, financially no different from the families they minister to. Living from offering to offering, many churches face employees not getting paid, utilities getting shut off, and mortgage payments going unpaid when services are canceled. It is for this very earthly reason many churches refuse to shut their doors during the current pandemic. Oh, they will put a shiny, pretty coat of paint on the situation and make all sorts of excuses, but the fact remains: it’s all about money. It is ALWAYS about the money (as it is for all of us).

“Bruce, surely congregants pay extra tithes and offerings to cover the services they missed?” While that is certainly a nice sentiment, far too many church members have a “no show, no money” approach to giving. Their thinking goes something like this: “If there are no services at church, why should I pay for sermons, sacraments, music, and fellowship not received?” I could count on offerings dropping fifty percent or more on weeks when services were canceled. Such income loss often meant that I didn’t get paid. Better to keep the lights on and propane in the tank than Pastor Bruce get paid. I know, what a guy, right? In retrospect, such thinking was stupid. It unfairly made me bear all the burden for decreased income. Instead of being honest with the churches I pastored about this, I, instead, bullied them into being present and accounted for on Sundays when ninety-nine percent of county churches were closed.

The good news is that by the time I started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio in 1997, I had things figured out. Well, I had the offering issue figured out, anyway. I was no longer going to carry the load when church services were canceled and income was lost. I was first in line when it came to getting paid. I spent way too many years being the last person in line; often finding out that all that was left was a few widow’s mites, food stamps (yes, I preached that poor people should tithe their food stamps), and a cold half-eaten Big Mac.

While I certainly understand the financial pressures pastors and church leaders face when church doors are closed, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to act in the best interest of not only their congregants but the unsaved world they say they love and are trying to reach with the gospel of Christ. Want to model love, mercy, and responsibility, preacher? Shut the damn doors of your church until local, state, and federal officials say it is okay for people to safely gather in groups again. People will remember the pastors and churches who didn’t care about the health and welfare of others. They will also remember who put their lives before theology, politics, and money. How you respond during this crisis says a lot about you as a person, preacher and the church you pastor. Your “testimony” is speaking loud and clear.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser