I recently agreed to be on a panel at a local seminary on the topic of “What I Wish I Knew Then: How to Make Smart Financial Decisions (and Avoid Common Mistakes) Early in Your Ministry.” Then, closer to the deadline, it occurred to me that I needed to have something to say. So here is what I wrote down: The only really smart financial decision I ever made at any point in my ministry was the decision to give a tithe to the local congregation of which I was a member, whether I was a staff member or not. Here’s what I like about that decision:

    • Ten percent is enough to be a real challenge, but it’s not impossible.
    • Tithing reminds me that everything I have is really God’s; it’s not that I am giving God ten percent of what I have. It is that God is giving me back ninety percent of what really belongs to God.
    • Tithing reminds me to trust God for everything. God has not failed to provide for me to have shelter, clothing and food yet, and I can trust God for the future.
    • There is no way I can ask congregation members to give generously if I am not doing that myself. They too have educational debt, medical expenses, and car breakdowns.
    • This is my favorite one–tithing gives me a place on which to stand when I want to insist to a committee that they should give to the mission causes in the budget every month rather than waiting to the end of the year to see “if we can afford it.”

Then, after I wrote all this down, I realized that I had not in fact made arrangements to have ten percent of my retirement income sent monthly to the congregation I’m worshiping with now. When I did the calculations, the amount looked like a lot in light of the expenses that have to come out of my retirement income. Looks like I will have to keep trusting God to provide. I guess that was the point in the first place.

Sharyn Dowd is a retired pastor. She lives in Decatur and worships at Edgewood Church of Atlanta.