When I was a new Christian a retired pastor took took me under his wing to disciple me. One of the Christian principles he taught me was the principle of tithing. At that time it was a new concept to me but his teaching, based in scripture, moved me to trust God and begin tithing. In my thirty-four years as a Christian it is a principle I have continued to practice. I can say that God has provided for our family in ways that have amazed us over the years.
In July of 1994 I was appointed to pastor the Tillsonburg Free Methodist Church (now called Open Arms Church). My previous church in Sault Ste Marie had many faithful tithers, a parsonage, stable finances and a budding building program. Tillsonburg had not had a pastor for eight months, had no parsonage and fluctuating finances. Some money had been set aside from the sale of the parsonage to loan to a new pastor for a down payment on his own home.
Before my first official Sunday I attended a board meeting where the budget was being voted upon. I discovered that the congregation was receiving an annual conference subsidy and that the amount they had budgeted for pastor’s salary/housing was far less than I had been told by the then conference superintendent. What a way to meet your new congregation!
After many phone calls the conference decided to raise the amount Tillsonburg received and for the next five years Tillsonburg was subsidized to the amount of 20% per year. I remember asking the treasurer how many people in the congregation tithed. He thought it was around 30%.
In the fifteen years we have been in Tillsonburg we have seen the finances rise and fall. We have had many desperate prayer meetings pleading with God to meet the needs. I have worked outside of the church part time a few times to help pay the insurance bills. Many years the budget was cut and cut again as we tried to meet the most basic needs. In my first fourteen years at Open Arms I received one pay raise and that was given back the next year because it seemed to be too much of a burden.
After preaching a series on tithing six years ago the board decided to take a step of faith and began to tithe to CORE. For a few months things went well and then some people left the church and the giving shrank. In order to pay the local bills the tithing dropped. Discouragement set in. Yet, in the midst of this God was faithful. Our church building experienced a flooded basement. Insurance would not cover the damage of $7,000. We didn’t have the money. I felt God asking me to call other churches in Tillsonburg and ask for help. Within days the monies were given and workers showed up to pitch in and repair the necessary damage. God was faithful.
A few years ago our congregation began to get a vision to minister to Mexican migrant workers who come to this area of Ontario from April through to October. We began with no budget and a few cases of pop to distribute to the workers when they came into town on Friday nights. Three years ago we began to receive financial help from the congregation at New Horizons in Sarnia to pay for a storefront location from which to minister. The owner of the building decided to waive the rent that summer so the donated money was used for bus rental and food. This ministry has grown. Last year we ministered to 80+ Mexican migrant workers and local Spanish-speaking people. Since November we now have a weekly Spanish-speaking congregation numbering in the twenties sharing our building. Praise God.
Over the last few years our congregation has given sporadically to CORE and Giving Streams. In 2008 our congregation again took a step of faith and as a body decided once more to tithe to CORE. Immediately after that decision the family who gave the most left. Another blow. The flat part of our church roof began to leak and the repair bill was $5,000. Another blow. But God proved faithful. Giving came from other sources including some who did not attend but felt led by the Holy Spirit to give. My father passed away in 2008 and with the inheritance I received I was able to pay back the down payment loan just in time to see the roof fixed.
By the end of 2008 our congregation had been able to pay our tithe to CORE for the first time ever. We also saw our Giving Streams giving increase dramatically and saw giving to local ministries increase. Our small congregation provides much of the funding for the Comfort Zone, a ministry to adults with drug/alcohol addictions. This year the Spanish-speaking congregation is helping pay the utility bills. The number of tithers in our congregation has increased and many of our senior saints give sacrificially.
Is everything rosy? No! Layoffs in the area are affecting some in our congregation. Yet, with God’s help and trusting in His faithfulness we will continue to tithe to CORE, continue to give to missions, continue to minister to Mexican migrant workers, continue to fund The Comfort Zone and continue to minister to those in our area and beyond.
Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this”, says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
I want to praise God for moving us from being a receiving congregation to a giving congregation, for giving us a giving heart. I want to encourage congregations that struggle with CORE. Keep on trying. The road may be rocky at first but God is faithful. Trust Him.
Rev. Doug Dawson is the Pastor of Open Arms Church in Tillsonburg, ON