. . . posts on faith and life
In my denomination each local church pays a tithe of tithes (TOT) that totals 10% of the members’ tithes that come into the church. Half of that TOT goes to the state or regional offices and half of it goes to the international offices in Cleveland, Tennessee. Also, each church pays an additional 5% of the tithes as an offering to missions and evangelism. Half of that amount goes to the international outreach known as Church of God World Missions (COGWM) and half of it goes to the state or regional Evangelism and Home Missions fund (EHM).
Currently these tithes and offerings are at the center of a great debate. Many pastors want to know why they are paying 15% tithes, when the word tithe literally means ten percent. The response is often, “You’re not paying a 15% tithe. You’re paying a 10% tithe and a 5% offering.” OK, that’s fine. But if you want to get so technical about semantics here, you cannot call a compulsory payment a gift, much less an offering. Perhaps we should call it a tax. That would be more accurate.
So, that leaves us with the 10% tithe and the 5% tax. For several years pastors have been complaining that this total of 15% is too much. What’s the difference between 10% and 15%? Well, it’s a 50% increase! Most churches operate on a budget where their real costs consume 80-90% of their revenues (whether or not that’s a good decision on the part of churches is another post). So, that 5% often represents the tipping point. Compare that with other church planting networks and affiliations, which often require something in the neighborhood of 2.5% to 5%, and the COG suddenly operates on a structure that requires a taxation that is 500% higher than some other organizations. Now, 500% might be worth it if you’re getting a lot out of the organization. However, when pastors are feeling unconnected, unsupported, and unable to have much of a voice…well, you can imagine what type of morale that brings.
Finally, the administration of the church has brought measures that would enable this total tax to be reduced to 10%, but the problem is that these proposals are not addressing the areas that the pastors are calling to be trimmed. Instead, the measures have proposed to cut COGWM and the EHM. This would leave the budgets of the International Offices and the State/Regional Offices completely intact. The pastors are not necessarily completely opposed to this cut if it is indeed the only option, or even the best financial decision. So, they have called for a detailed report of the budget of the International Offices, which has been mandated by the General Assembly, which is supposedly the highest governing body in the COG. However, to date the report that is available is supposedly hard to come by, and also supposedly insufficient in details and financial disclosure.
As you can imagine this has left many pastors (and members too) disillusioned about the structure. They want to cut some administrative costs, which means some salaries, some departmental spending, some building costs, etc. Instead, the proposed measures appear to be cutting ministry, and the ministers feel that they will never be given the simple thing that they are calling for. Moreover, that they will never be given an explanation as to why they are not getting what they are asking for.
There are simple solutions that would force everyone to share in the budget cut. One option has been a 10% TOT where 1/3 goes to State/Regional offices, 1/3 goes to the International offices, and 1/3 is split between the COGWM and the EHM. This would reduce the State and International offices budgets from 5% of the tithes to 3.33% of the tithes. And would reduce the COGWM and EHM budgets from 2.5% of the tithes to 1.65% of the tithes. Pretty simple huh? So, why has this, or something similar not been offered? Only the 23 men who decide what gets voted on at the General Assembly can answer that question, and so far they aren’t talking.