Indiana Conference Treasurer/Executive Secretary Mark Eaton discovered many lessons from the pandemic, as it relates to tithing. "While church services are important, they are not the primary motivation for giving," he said. "It is love for Christ and obedience to His word that impel us." |iStock photo
God’s People are Faithful
When the pandemic initially forced the closure of churches, I (and others) anticipated church giving going into a free-fall. I was wrong.
In May, 2020 the Indiana conference actually had a tithe increase 6.2%. As of June 30, 2020 year-to-date tithe has decreased 10%, but that is mostly due to the fact that in June, 2019, the Indiana Conference received a large tithe windfall. Without that windfall, the Indiana conference tithe decrease is only 4.2%. Yes, it is a decrease, but not nearly of the magnitude expected. Even in a normal year, it is possible to have a 4% decrease in tithe. Other conferences, such as Wisconsin, New York, and Oregon have experienced significant tithe increases.
This emphasized to me that tithing is a deeply rooted value and practice of Seventh-day Adventists. While church services are important, they are not the primary motivation for giving. It is love for Christ and obedience to His word that impel us.
In Extraordinary Times, God Provides Extraordinary Help
God’s work is not immune from the ups and downs of the larger economy. When the economy is strong, conference finances improve. When the economy is weak, conference finances suffer. What is evident both now and in the past is that, in extraordinary times, God intervenes.
In February 2020, just one month before COVID19 struck, the Indiana conference became the beneficiary of a matured trust of $273,000. In addition, the Lake Union Conference returned to the conferences funds that had been invested by them in the Lake Union Revolving Fund at its inception. That provided another windfall of $126,000. In addition, the Lake Union Conference and the North American Division have responded to the crisis by appropriating some of their financial reserves to the conferences. The Indiana conference received $78,000. God knew that a crisis was coming, and He intervened just in time to bring special help.
Financial Reserves Are Important
The objective of for-profit corporations is to maximize shareholder wealth. In contrast, the objective of non-profit entities is to maximize mission, i.e. to deploy financial resources in the most effective and efficient manner to achieve mission objectives. Generally, a non-profit should not accumulate large surpluses because doing so keeps financial resources from being utilized to achieve its mission.
Overspending, on the other hand, depletes resources needed for future mission initiatives. It borrows from the future to achieve the objectives of the present. Maintaining adequate financial reserves is necessary to ensure that future operations are not impaired. It also enables non-profit entities to avoid crisis management, whereby drastic reductions in staff are required to stem operating losses in times of financial stress.
Church Structure Is Important
The Seventh-day Adventist denominational structure is designed around the concept of the pooling of resources. The idea is that by pooling resources we can achieve objectives that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. For example, no one church in the Indiana conference could operate a boarding academy. However, by pooling the resources of all the churches in Indiana, the conference is able to operate Indiana Academy and provide a Christian education for its high school aged young people.
It also enables the strong to assist the weak. Because the Lake Union Conference and the North American Division had adequate financial reserves, they were able to provide financial assistance to the conferences during the COVID19 shutdown. Likewise, the Indiana Conference was able to help the local churches with their employee expenses for 2 ½ months. Without the current organizational structure, each church and school would be left to survive on its own.
Reversals Are Temporary, Gods Plans Are Eternal
There are times when the challenges and obstacles that we encounter in God’s work appear overwhelming. I have often wondered, “How will we solve this problem?” Indeed, our own wisdom and resources are inadequate.
But God leads no backward movement. Jesus said it succinctly to Peter, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matt 16:18. Someday, the last message of warning will be given. God’s work will be completed. Jesus will come. And we will see as did John, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes . . .and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev 7:10
Mark Eaton is Indiana Conference's treasurer and executive secretary.