Bringing in the sheaves


White Oak makes tithing regular part of worship

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Some churchgoers don’t like hearing sermons about tithing. They don’t like anyone to know how much they give.

If you fit that profile, don’t join White Oak United Methodist Church near Crystal Springs. The small church takes a much more up-front approach to tithing and stewardship and the result is fully paid apportionments and a reputation for helping those in need in the community.

White Oak uses a couple of unusual methods that actually encourage giving. First, a quarterly report is mailed to each church member listing by name how much each has given. Second, the offering plate is held at the altar and members come forward each week to present their gifts.

“When I presented (the quarterly report idea) at the last (conference) stewardship meeting, a lot of people gasped and said it wouldn’t work in their churches,” said White Oak member Tim Crisler, the Mississippi Conference lay leader. “I asked why not? It’s not uncommon for parishioners to k now what the pastor gives. I asked why just the pastor is put on the spot. If you put him in the spotlight, why not Brother Bob or Brother Sam? Every member is listed each quarter with what they paid.”

The Rev. Joseph Crawford was appointed to White Oak in June, but has enthusiastically joined the church’s stewardship program. However, he admitted not all members of the church were eager to see their names listed on the quarterly giving report.

“One or two members who are on a limited income have expressed their desire not to be on the quarterly report,” Crawford said. “But they’re giving what they can. Sometimes when a person is on a limited income, they don’t want it to look bad on the report. I counsel them to give what they have with a cheerful heart.”

Crisler agreed getting the program took some persuading. “We were challenged, and some questioned it. Our pastor invited (Conference Treasurer) David Stotts to come down, and he looked at the reports and said there was nothing wrong with it,” Crisler said.

“When you see what others do, you might be encouraged to give more. Sometimes you have to push a little more. It’s about responsibility; do what God asked us to do – give.”

“We found our giving increased when people looked at what they were doing and could do.”

Of course White Oak’s stewardship program doesn’t start with a quarterly report. Crisler and Crawford said they teach giving on a regular basis.

“I say something about stewardship and giving every Sunday,” Crawford said. “I even asked one time if it made someone angry when I mention giving as often as I do. They said no, it serves as sort of a reminder. They welcome that. They were very well taught by the lay leader of the church (Crisler) before I got there. He stands before the church and says we have a pastor who believes in giving and to follow his lead.”

Crisler and Crawford point out that tithing is biblical. One of the guiding verses is Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Crisler said he believes churches in general have moved away from a good practice of making tithing a regular topic and of presenting tithes publically.

“The Bible tells us to bring our tithes and offerings. It has gotten to point where we don’t really celebrate what we are bringing,” said Crisler. “At White Oak we started getting up and bringing it to the altar. We make a big deal of it. The stewards stand in front of the congregation and hold the baskets. When God has blessed you to earn it, you can bring it, not make me go get it. When you have to get out of your seat, you’re more reluctant not to give something.”

And White Oak has been blessed for its giving. The 80-member congregation has a new, $500,000 building that was paid off in five years.

“We don’t have any millionaires, but we have strong faith,” Crisler said. “We had doubt, as with any building project. But God showed us we can.”

Crisler said when church leaders began seeking financing for its building, the records of consistent giving demonstrated the church would be able to pay off the loan. Otherwise, the funds might not have been available, Crisler said.

A giving spirit also translates into helping others, Crisler said. He cited a recent situation where a church member heard a radio report about a family that fled Hurricane Gustav didn’t have the funds to return home. Touched by the story, he contacted the family and then church members, who quickly raised $500 for the family to return to its home.

“Once people get in their minds to step out in faith and trust God, other things you’re looking for come to fruition. Giving goes up, especially when see people being blessed. You don’t have to be a member to be blessed by our church family,” he said.

Crisler said pointing to such instances makes it easier to support apportionments. He said church leaders draw comparisons to helping those in the community and helping those around the world. He said apportionments are the church’s opportunity to bless folks around the world.

“We look at the overall church as our opportunity to be of service to all mankind,” said Crawford. “We have a singles ministry, couples ministry, and we do some things in our church that a lot of people tell us other churches have gotten away from.

“We go around the community inviting people to become not only members of our church but other places if they desire. But a lot of folks come. We don’t treat them as strangers. We tell them they are part of White Oak and that the door is open for them. Many return.

“We have many supporters who are members of other churches. Our ministry starts at 8 a.m. for Sunday school and 9 a.m. worship. They come to our church, and then go to other churches afterward.”

Crawford said he believes other churches could develop a similar stewardship program and become a tithing church.

“The only way become one is to understand we are commanded by God to give, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of whatever we’re giving,” he said. “There are times when you give a little and times when you can give more. You have to be willing to give whatever part you can. If you give that way, whatever you give is going to be enough.”