Dr. Bill Shiell, president of Northern Baptist Seminary gave an interview to Word and Way in which he discusses the challenges churches today face in teaching the concept of tithing to a new generation of believers.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. The interview was republished by Baptist News Global.
If churches know anything about tithing these days, it’s that it’s down from previous decades.
Part of that is the result of the way younger people see generosity and giving.
Bill Shiell saw that firsthand as a pastor of Baptist churches. His “aha” moment came about 10 years ago when he recognized that his “set of gen-Xers” considered all giving as a tithe – “everything from giving to a soup kitchen to giving part of their income to faith-based organizations,” he said.
“The church might only see 2 to 3 percent of the 8 to 10 percent of the income they were giving,” he said.
“Older adults resented that the younger members were not giving it all to the church but still claimed they were giving a tithe,” he said.
Congregations must begin to accept the “realities of today,” said Shiell, president of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill. He served as a pastor for 17 years, including at First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, Fla., before assuming the top post at Northern on March 1. Now he shares those concepts with seminary students to teach their congregations.
Shiell said younger members were just as interested in “giving their hands and feet” as in giving money.
“Giving must be tied to doing … and they are just as giving as senior adults,” he said.
He added he believes the focus should be on generosity, rather than on tithing or stewardship. While still a pastor, he explored the shape generosity and giving might take that would remain true to biblical understanding and would appeal across generations.
Although most pastors do not delve into the specifics, Shiell felt he needed to know members’ giving patterns. He believed that some members might be excluded from ministry, including deacon service, if only one person’s perception (usually the financial secretary) was taken into consideration.
He taught that generosity is just as important a ministry as Sunday school or any other church program. “Every generation wants to see their lives count but [they] go about it in a different way.”
Recognizing those differences, he changed his approach to tithing and stewardship, separating stewardship from the church budgeting process. Then he formed a team of laypeople to help members grow in their giving and preached about the role of the church.
“The only institution Jesus left behind is the church,” Shiell explained. “Instead of denigrating other organizations, we built up the idea of the ministry of the church.”
Shiell has translated some of his church approach to seminarians and leaders. The first change he made was to begin teaching students how to manage money in their own lives, particularly because many of them start seminary training while saddled with undergraduate debt.
Northern is also including teaching about generosity and tithing as part of leadership training. “It starts with the minister. If they are not tithing, how can they teach the church?” Shiell said.
He concentrates on giving as part of the pattern of the Christian life. “We must understand the Bible, especially the New Testament, gives the frame for living. How does the New Testament reframe the story?”
Congregational leaders must help people understand that materialism is part of the American system and not just simply a matter the church fights against, he said. They should teach members how to give experience and memories to the children in their lives, instead of just gifts.
They also must teach the church the many ways of ministering. “The early church had a community chest and food they gave over and above the tithe,” Shiell said.
“The goal is to live life fully.”
Northern Seminary will hold the inauguration of its eleventh president, Dr. William D. Shiell, on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at Good Shepherd Church, 1310 Shepherd Drive, Naperville, IL 60565. The ceremony is at 2:00 p.m. followed by a reception to meet President Shiell and his family.
Dr. Shiell brings 20 years of experience as a local church minister to his new position at Northern. His vision is to help churches live Christ’s call in their local contexts and to engage the world with hope and strength for a new day. Please join us for this momentous event in Northern’s history.
The public is invited to the ceremony of inauguration. If you come to the inauguration, be sure to come and talk to me.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary