by Tom Kirkpatrick
Let me start by acknowledging I am a strong believer in stewardship. Sue and I first committed to the tithe as the minimum standard of giving in 1987, although it took us a long time to get to a 10% tithe. However, I haven’t always been a believer in tithing.
I was baptized and raised in the Episcopal Church. My giving was initially focused on “paying my dues” each week, and later in life evolving to give my “fair share” by comparing my giving versus other parishioners. I also believed it was important to “give to a good cause” and felt it was my duty to “pay for what you get” at church.
My beliefs about Stewardship, and my relationship with God and the church, changed in 1987 when Father Hill suggested I attend a diocesan stewardship conference. I had been asked to be Stewardship chairman—to replace Dave Seagram—and inherited pledge records which confirmed my giving was above average… so I knew I should focus on trying to get everyone else at St. Barnabas to give more—the “others” who were not giving their fair share.
The conference was led by an Episcopal priest, and what he taught that Saturday morning changed me forever. You see, I never understood our church believes stewardship is not an economic issue. It is a faith issue and one of the main issues of our Episcopal Church. It’s a crossroads issue, because it gets down to the “nitty gritty” of whether we accept Jesus’ teachings, that God is the ultimate “owner” and giver of everything we have, and we are simply His stewards for the short time we are on this earth. He calls each of us to manage the talents and the gifts entrusted to us, by giving back a tithe, or percentage of all He has given us.
I did not want to deal with my own Stewardship; I wanted to focus on others. But for the first time, I realized I needed to deal with my own giving/Stewardship, and not worry about whether others were giving enough. I was a partially-committed, somewhat-selfish, and fearful steward who was unwilling to respond to this biblical message. It took me years of struggle, and rationalization, and budgeting, before Sue and I could get my finances in order: pay off all debts, save cash to buy a new car, tithe. It was a struggle to turn my life upside down—from everything I have is mine because I worked hard and earned it…to everything we have is a gift from God and he made us able to earn it.
Dad taught me to believe in the American dream—the protestant work ethic. He grew up on a farm in Indiana. However, I always thought I was successful due to my hard work. I never considered that God gifted me with the skills to be successful. Now, I believe God entrusted talents to me and I’m ultimately accountable for how I use these talents. I hope and believe someday, I’ll be at the gates of Heaven, and St. Peter will ask what I did with the talents God entrusted to me. When I think about whether I should buy a new car, or add cable channels, or buy a cottage in Michigan, when most of the world doesn’t have more than one pair of shoes… it’s a sobering question… how can I not tithe?
Tithing has been an incredibly energizing, “freeing” budgeting tool for me. I am more grateful for what I have and worry less about what I don’t have. My giving has increased tenfold as I worked to achieve, then beyond the tithe. I am now grateful when asked for an extra contribution, or for my time to serve on another committee, rather than being resentful because I am too busy. Who isn’t too busy? But it allows me to use my time and talents to participate in the mission of Christ.
What should you do about the stewardship message this month and completing your pledge? That’s up to you and God. However, I’d like to suggest you start by checking your tax return. What is your total charitable giving? How does it compare to the tithe? How do you use the talents God gave you? What would happen if all of us at St. Barnabas started tithing, and we had $1 million or more each year to do the work of God? What could we do together? Or if everyone started tithing—time, talent, and treasure? Could we solve all the world’s problems?
God wants us to tithe to get our priorities in order: to experience life more fully and achieve the joy of giving. Giving generously, with enthusiasm, grateful for being asked—not jealously guarding what we think belongs only to us. We live in a material world in our country, and this discipline and commitment to tithing can help us get and keep our life in balance. I am thankful to God for opening my eyes to the joy of giving.