As followers of Jesus, we should be well aware of our call to help the poor. The poor were a central focus of the ministry of Jesus when He walked the earth. They are to be a central focus of His continuing mission through all who follow Him. Is each of us individually doing enough to help them? Are we, as a church, doing all that we can to help alleviate the suffering of those gripped by the throes of poverty? The tithe in the Old Testament was the practice of giving the first 10% of your blessings (money, possessions, and time) back to God. Most Christian churches continue to preach the concept of the tithe today and encourage the attendee’s to give 10% of their income back to God (usually with a strong emphasis on giving it to their local church; I’m yet to find the Scripture to back up that particular teaching).
How is the body of Christ doing at implementing the giving of the tithe? Here are some shocking statistics taken from Richard Stearns’ book, “The Hole in Our Gospel” (the book is well footnoted, so I’ve given page numbers if you are interested in the original source of these statistics). The income of churchgoers in America is $5.2 trillion (p. 216). I think you’d agree that is a staggering number. If American Christians would simply give 1% of their income to alleviate poverty in the world, we could lift the poorest one billion men, women and children in the world out of their extreme poverty (p. 216). Since poverty is obviously not being eliminated, how much are we then actually giving? American church-goers are in fact giving 2.58% of their income to the church (p.217); that’s the somewhat good news. The bad news is that only 2% of that 2.58% is actually given to overseas ministries of any kind by the American church. Not all of these ministries that do receive the funds are dedicated to alleviating poverty. That means that less than 2% of the 2.58% of money American Christians give to the church goes toward eliminating poverty around the world. That breaks down to roughly five ten thousandth of our income (p.217). Expressed in terms of a decimal, the shocking and heartbreaking number looks like this: 0.0005; that’s how much of the income of American Christians goes to the work of ending poverty in our world. To put it in everyday terms, for every $20 dollars an American churchgoer earns, we give one penny to the cause of eliminating poverty. Christ commanded us to care for the poor, so where is our commitment? Where is the heart of the church? We can proclaim our concern and burden for the poor all we want; the proof is in our actions, and the numbers contradict our empty words.
If the American church would indeed give 10% of their income to the cause of the poor, we could give $168 billion each year (p.218). That number is greater than the amount of money spent by every nation in the world combined for poverty related services. Imagine, we as the American church, could give more than the rest of the world combined! We could quickly eliminate poverty in our world if we would simply follow the commands of Jesus. If we would care for the poor, if we would allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break God’s heart, if we were to truly be the hands and feet (and wallets) of Jesus, we could end poverty and do so in our generation. I ask again, where is our commitment, and where is the American church? Are we so brash as to assume we will not have to account for our lack of action, our apathy and our selfishness? This is our time, this is our calling; it is time for action.
What will you do to eliminate poverty in our world? What will you give? Look at where you spend your money; what could you give up and instead give to the poor? If we spend more on ourselves than we do on the poor, the naked, the widows and orphans of our world, then we are not living the life we are called to live. This is a black and white issue. The question requires a yes or no answer, with no elaboration. So my question to you, to myself and to the church in America is this: Are you doing all you can to eliminate poverty in our world? If your answer to the question is ‘no’, then ask yourself, “Why?” What can we change, what must we do differently? The world is dying around us and the call is clear. Be the hands and feet of Jesus; be a true and devoted follower of Christ. It is up to us to end poverty. It is within our reach, we can get it done; and we must.