Answering Your Question: Is Christian education tuition a tithe?

February 10, 2015

I need advice concerning paying Christian Education tuition (mainly K-12) and still tithing to the church. We have several children and not a huge income. Can we consider part of our tuition payments as a tithe?Anonymous Reader

There are a wide variety of views on what tithing means in the church. Tithing could mean an obligation or a tax given to support a church or the clergy of the church. To others tithing could be considered giving a certain percentage, like 10%, of your income to the poor or to the needy. But, can giving your money to an organization outside of the church, like the local Christian K-12 school, be considered a tithe, too?

Both the Old and the New Testament mention money and how it should be spent or given away. The Old Testament law required that a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle be given to support the Levites. In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that for support of the high priest (Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21-28). An additional tithe, collected every three years, was to be used to meet the needs of the Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Additional tithes were taken for festival purposes.

The New Testament does not give any specific rules about tithing and some aspects of the Old Testament law do not apply to Christians. However, Jesus made it clear that we are called to be generous to those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). Giving should be done cheerfully, rather than an obligation, and not for the purpose of public recognition (Matthew 6:1-4). The amount to give is not necessarily ten percent. Instead, generous giving is an acknowledgement that everything we have is a gift from God and is to be used for service to God.

To answer this question further, I asked three church leaders serving in three different types of congregations a series of questions. Hopefully this will give clarity to the definition of a tithe and help us answer our reader’s question.

What do you consider to be “a tithe”?
Pastor One: we don’t talk about “tithing” all that much–we rather use the concept of giving as a discipline and use the idea that the discipline of giving is a means of grace–or a gift God has given us to help us discipline our spiritual lives in the area of finances. We often say “we don’t take an offering because God needs our money–God has all the money God needs–giving is for us and it is a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in our world.”

Pastor Two: I consider a tithe in accordance with the Pentateuch–the first tenth of the fruit of our labor.

Pastor Three: I’ve read several different definitions of a tithe. One that involved tithing to support the tabernacle, tithing (separately) to support the Levites, and another tithe to support those in need. Because one of these was 10% every third year it added up to a total of 23.3%. When I was a child and my dad started paying me for field work, I got a dollar an hour. One dime was for the church. Tithing has been a way to remember that everything I have is a gift from God, to trust God with my money and for my necessities. Tithing is a way for me to bless others and a way that I have been blessed. It is a way that I can contribute to the life of the church; a way that I can be involved in the work of God’s kingdom around the world.

Do you talk about tithing in your church?
Pastor One: We talk about tithing in terms of the “guide for thankful living.” Or, to put it another way, if you’re looking for a way to get into the discipline of giving in generosity, giving 10% of your money is a great place to start. Our congregation also talks about disciplines and habits a lot.

Pastor Two: We talk about tithing frequently.

Pastor Three: We don’t talk about tithing as an obligatory tithe. We talk about generosity and giving. The best message I’ve heard on tithing is by Rob Bell called “Who Doesn’t Want in on That”. That’s the approach I’ve tried to adopt here as well. I want to approach tithing as an invitation–giving through joy and inspiring generosity rather than demanding obedience. But, honestly, it’s infrequent that I focus on tithing on Sunday mornings. It does come up sometimes at leadership meetings. We have good, faithful, generous people on our stewardship team. And God has continued to bless us with increases in giving and generous people which has enabled us to accomplish what God has called us to do.

Do you think those who attend your church or members of your church should give all of their tithe to the church? Or, is it okay if they give to another charitable institution and not to the church?
Pastor One: “Should” isn’t really part of the equation since we’re New Testament Christians. I think Christians are called to be generous people and most either are or they aren’t generous.

One of the #1 comments I get about our church in the area of the country where we are at is how they love that we don’t talk about giving very much–especially those who’ve spent a lot of time in the church world. Many feel financially used by the church.

Pastor Two: In most cases, I expect members of our congregation to fully tithe within the bounds of the congregation that is their church home.

Pastor Three: At times, my family has tithed to other areas like sending a family member on a mission trip, supporting other churches, or giving assistance to people in need. I can absolutely understand the desire to use some of what God has entrusted to you to further God’s work in all these ways. I also see tremendous value in helping to support the church you belong to. Not giving as “voting with my checkbook,” but giving with open hands, open hearts and no strings attached. It can be a discipline in trusting the leadership to use it prayerfully and wisely. It is also the case that through our local churches, we support the work of the kingdom here and around the world. There are so many ministries and good alternatives for where we can be generous. But there is only one church. I personally wrestle with how to answer this one. Maybe my best thought is that there doesn’t need to be a hard and fast rule that fits everyone and every situation. Personally, I choose to give 10% to the church and look for opportunities to joyfully give beyond that to other ministries and needs.

Do you think paying for Christian education (mainly K-12) for family members (children) could be considered a tithe?
Pastor One:When we pay for Christian education, we are paying for a service for our children to receive. I do not consider this a tithe, but rather paying a fee for a service.

Pastor Two: I wish.

Pastor Three: It certainly could be considered a tithe. The work being done there is God-honoring and aims to further God’s kingdom. But, like so many opportunities worthy of our consideration and generosity, Christian education is not the church.

As a side note, though I’ve had giving ingrained from an early age in who I am, I fully recognize that this topic is easier for me now that my paycheck allows for more margin to give. There are many within our churches for whom it is really asking the “widow’s mite.” Too often this topic is preached smugly and demanded by leaders who will not be giving nearly as sacrificially as those to whom they are speaking. It is important for us to be sensitive as we teach how to trust God, give joyfully, and be good stewards of what God’s entrusted us.

Readers of iAt: Do you agree with the three pastors’ responses? How do you tithe to your local church?

About the Author
  • Liz Moss is the former managing editor of In All Things and the Andreas Center Program Coordinator. Today she is the Development Director for The Tesfa Foundation, serving students and families in Ethiopia. She is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.

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  1. I am not sure that the New Testament era that we are in requires the tithe. I believe that Christ’s teachings would demand more that 10 % for most of us and maybe less than 10% for the poor. I know of wealthy Christians who give 80% of their business profit to charity which includes the church, Christian education, and hundreds of other charities. Scripture promotes generosity and selfless engagement.

  2. It can be taken for what it’s worth, but sometimes the way things are treated in other areas can be instructive in our thought: as far as secular authorities are concerned, money paid toward tuition is not tax deductible, whereas offerings given to the church are. The key dividing line is whether we are paying for a service and who we hope to benefit with our spending. The government judges this as “detached and disinterested generosity.” This means something slightly different than what I read the plain sense of the words to say; basically, a true gift is separated from intent to control how it is spent or an expectation of a return of a substantial personal benefit.

    Giving to the church, then, is (or should be) detached from an expected further ability to manage the expenditure of those funds or the expectation that they will be spent directly for your benefit. (Although we obviously receive some indirect benefit when they, for instance, pay for a minister’s salary, allowing the minister to bring us the Word–a great benefit to us.)

    Paying tuition to a Christian school, admirable though the prioritization is, wouldn’t meet this definition because of the expected direct benefit of the education of your children.

    Again, I’m not saying that this legal distinction determines the theological question, I just thought it might help flesh out other instructive grounds for answering the concern.

  3. This debate between Christians will never be settled. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t lay out an answer directly in the New Testament, though in the Sermon on the Mount, He certainly raises the bar in other areas of life (adultery to lust, murder to hate, etc). A small group in our church recently went through the Biblical Stewardship Series and wrestled with this question, and of tithing in general. I’d like to submit Austin Pryor’s (of Sound Mind Investing) response to this question of how much we should give: “How much do you want to give?”
    I think we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not “should”–it’s “want to.” If we want to acknowledge God’s lordship over the finances he has entrusted to our care, what does that look like? I think the tithe is a great place to start, not finish. 10% is a nice start to acknowledging God’s lordship. He doesn’t need it. But we have been invited to return some resources back to Him so that we can play a role in the advancement of His Kingdom. How cool is that?! And it’s how He wired/designed us to live! He created us to be generous (after His own heart), so that we could be used as His vessels in the advancement of His Kingdom and glory. And because that’s how we’re wired, we get so much fulfillment from doing so. And here’s the rub: even though God gave us those resources to begin with, designed us to experience fulfillment through generosity, and extended the invitation to play a role in His kingdom (He’s doing all the work so far), He then REWARDS us for that generosity with treasures in Heaven and uses His Spirit to cultivate a more generous heart so that we may have a closer walk with Him while we’re here on earth. Where is the losing part of that? It’s like a win-win-win-win-win. Best investment ever.

    We set savings goals, spending goals, vacation goals, retirement goals, etc etc. What about giving goals? Can I give more than I did last week/month/year?

    How much would you LIKE to give? Imagine the joy that can come from that gift being put to good use. Now remember that God can take that gift farther that your imagination can run. Here’s the full article from Austin Pryor:

  4. I feel pastor three was awesome with his answers. Pastor two was money for his church and was quite arrogant. Pastor was i between.