jonathan stone's blog

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tithe of tithes

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.

13 comments on “tithe of tithes

  1. Darrell Buttram, Jr.
    July 29, 2008

    Simplicity? What is that? It’s not in my CoG Lexicon, did they leave that page out?

    This issue is going to be sticky no matter how it ends up. I really want to have an open dialogue about this between now and 2010 with hard facts and reasonable projections of how this will affect us around the globe, the nation, the state and the neighborhood.

    As it stands right now I feel as though we are being pushed to settle for something far below the best choice…mostly because no one has yet articulated the best choice and ironed out enough details to prove it is best.

    I do like the simple suggestion you’ve mentioned. I too feel the changes should be shared across the board, but I also feel the pastors and churches need to be very careful in what they do with that 5% they believe they are saving.

  2. mike mcmullin
    July 29, 2008

    I think you’ve stated the issue in both a clear and fair manner. I also like your solution.

    Although, I could be in favor of cutting, State and HQ money without touching International money. I also like Nick Park’s idea ( of allowing established regions outside of the U.S. to be treated like everyone else instead of “projects”.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a vote. I won’t be in San Antonio and I’m not an Episcopos.

  3. jonathanstone
    July 30, 2008

    Ha! Yes, we like to make things way more complicated then they need be, huh? I couldn’t agree more. I hope this doesn’t go through, and just as importantly, I hope that the response is to get serious about searching the options out!

    Unfortunately I’m in the same boat. I’m hoping some guys are twittering from the floor!

  4. Don Warrington
    July 30, 2008

    Mike, as a persistent supporter of internationalisation, I think the concept of treating established regions “like everyone else” is a great idea.

    Last summer, the EC invited the Caribbean region overseers to Cleveland for a meeting. As I understand it, it was the first meeting of its kind. It enabled these fine people to meet with the entire International Office’s staff, the BCM and the EC.

    Keep in mind that, for a “first meeting of its kind,” we have had congreations in this region since 1910, and I think we have more members in this region alone than we do in North America, to say nothing of the West Indian, Haitian and Puerto Rican congregations in this country and Canada!

    Such a transfer of oversight would free up COGWM to concentrate on places that really need missionary assistance and supervision. Unfortunately, this kind of proposal would probably not be viewed favourably by COGWM. There are two reasons for this.

    The first is that it would reduce COGWM’s scope of activity, which no organisation really wants, if nothing else from a pride standpoint.

    The second is that it would be used to justify a reduction in COGWM’s share of the money from local churces, even in the face of the fact that it would not result in a reduction in the number of missionaries or mission activities in the field.

    I dare say that, if the second reason could be addressed properly, the first would be a great deal easier to deal with!

    I could be wrong about these last points. I would love to hear what COGWM people would have to say about it.

  5. jonathanstone
    July 30, 2008

    Interesting observation. Indeed, internationalization is the BIG question for the CoG future. We have been asking the question for 20+ years, but so far no one has been willing to pursue it. We have reached some sort of tipping point it seems. So, perhaps this tipping will finally open the door for internationalization. If it does, it will radically reshape our structure…for the better IMHO.

  6. Dale P. Combs
    July 30, 2008

    I appreciate the info concerning the T o T. It is quite obvious that we have moved away from trusting those in leadership. My father is a retired pastor of over 30 years. He and those in his generation were asking some of the same questions that we are asking today. The difference, For them, there was an acceptance and appreciation for the leadership. Regardless of the failure to disclose information, their attitude was, They were not just appointed by the GA they were where placed there because the Holy Spirit desired them to be there, or else they wouldn’t have been elected. They believed that the leaders of this denomination would always do what was in the best interest of the whole as the Holy Spirit lead. Right or wrong, they believed that it was God’s church and He would ultimately work out the details. Sad to say, those days are long gone in many ways. With what is happening today in our culture, mistrust is the modes operandi. There is no trust in leadership. The truth is (and I wish I had the stats) many congregations do not trust their own Pastors. Pastors do not trust other Pastors (There, I said it!). It is the best of times and the worst of times. I am not meaning to sound so skeptical about today’s leadership and yet I know it seems that I am. I believe on the other hand, being financially accountable is an imperative (that is why I am for the cut although It is sad that HQ hs decided to make it about WM when I do not believe that is what it is about). Gone are the days that the International office could say, “we don’t want to disclose salaries for fear of creating jealousy among the brethren.” Now what Job said, The thing I feared the most has come upon me! is exactly what is going on. Today jealousy, suspicion, the lack of trust now prevails with in the denomination. Perhaps not on the whole, yet it is in pockets. Why does the MIP now require full financial discloser of all new candidates for ministry, and criminal background checks? Gone are the days of one’s word. While I think background checks are vital especially for children, I am concerned with full financial disclosure when the denomination will not do the same for its ministers. Perhaps that is a blog of a different sort. The T o T is just one area that proves this. There needs to be change. Jonathan’s article well addresses need for change. I know that I have been asking for divine leadership in this matter as well as others here. We will see in a few days where this will lead us.

    Just some thoughts to throw out there!

  7. jonathanstone
    July 31, 2008

    Dale, you’re exactly right on the pervasive lack of trust in my estimation. In fact, you left out one dynamic that I have encountered many times as well–many pastors don’t trust their members. Also, you make a great point about what we now require for ministers and yet are not willing to do at the highest levels within the organization. Great point! Thanks for that! Unfortunately, I cannot attend the G.A. this year. But I hope to meet you and take you up on the handshake some day! 🙂

  8. Warren Quinley
    August 9, 2008

    Whatever happens, World Missions funding must not be cut unless there is a corresponding reduction in WM Executive salaries. The Great Commission simply cannot be compromised for the sake of the organization’s big takers in the Executive Offices.

  9. Mike Burgner
    August 12, 2008

    Would somebody please tell me what exactly happened to this measure on the agenda to reduce the TOT? I wasn’t at GA and stand clueless as to what exactly happened to this measure.

  10. jonathanstone
    August 12, 2008

    Mike, check this out for an explanation.

    I was not there either. But as best I understand it there was a substitute motion offered by Travis Johnson that the TOT would be reduced from 15% to 10%, but that the International Offices, State Offices, and COGWM would SHARE the cut, instead of the cut coming soley out of COGWM and EHM. The motion was ruled by the moderator as being “not germane.” Travis appealed to the body, and the body overruled the moderator. An amendment was made to allow a year of research on how to best go about implementing these cuts. The new Presiding Bishop asked for “trust” from the O.B.’s, expressing that the E.C. hears what the O.B.’s are asking for and promising to deliver, but to give them this year to figure it out. Once that is decided, the reductions will begin September 1, 2010. Whether or not that will mean there will be something to vote on at the next assembly or not is not clear to me.

    Hope that helps!

  11. jerry timmerman
    August 14, 2008

    tithes is of the law and the law produces failure or did i misunderstand what Paul said. when you mix money with men and add a bit of athority and remove accountability what do you get?

  12. jonathanstone
    August 15, 2008

    Hey Jerry! Thanks so much for posting!

    You’re cutting straight to the quick with your comment! 🙂

  13. Desozza
    December 2, 2008

    Hi guys, my name is Desoza and i am in UK doing my graduation and i am basically from uk
    i found this website and joined, may be i could make friends over here
    i hope this would be great
    Take Care

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2008 by in crisis, issues, missional, sustainability, trends and tagged , , .
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