The subject of generosity makes us squirm, doesn’t it? We feel in our gut we’re not nearly as generous as we could be, as we should be. So we live our days with low-level guilt when we’re not ignoring it altogether.
And then some article brings it up, and there you are—here you are—confronted again. 

But according to Tim Keller, generosity is about far more than money. It also relates to power, to relationships, to hospitality, to ministry, and above all, to grace. Generosity: Responding to God’s Radical Grace in Community is a new study kit from Redeemer Presbyterian Church that includes a study guide, DVD sermon series, and 20-day devotional booklet. A seven-session curriculum, Generosity is ideal for church and small group leaders seeking a solid resource on this vital but sometimes awkward subject.

I corresponded with Keller, pastor of Redeemer and vice president of The Gospel Coalition, about tithing, common misconceptions, whether pastors should know how much individual members give, and more.

What’s the link between tithing in the Old Testament and Christian giving to the church today? 

Jesus points to the Pharisees’ faithful tithing and says they nonetheless neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42). He then says they indeed should do the former (tithing) but not neglect the latter. Jesus seems to assume believers would tithe. 

But if we’re going to think about our relationship to the Old Testament (OT) tithe, I’d do it like this. Surely we’re more blessed than the OT saints. Why, then, would we assume we’d be expected to be less generous? So Christians should see the OT tithe as a kind of minimum percentage of their income to give away.  

How do pastors keep the biggest givers in their church from having undue influence over the way the church is run?

You shouldn’t know who the biggest givers are in the church. I’ve always deliberately not known how much individuals give, and I don’t want my ministry staff to know either (outside of those keeping the books, of course). That way you aren’t tempted to defer to them. Of course I may learn of an individual large gift from someone. But since I don’t look at the names of the givers and the amounts, I don’t know how that gift relates to others. 

From your vantage point, what’s the most common mistake evangelical pastors make when addressing the topic of generosity?

I don’t feel I know enough to speak broadly about most or even many pastors. In general, I think I’ve not spoken about generosity enough. I’ve probably shied away from the topic, even though the Bible talks about it a great deal. 

The other thing I’ve often failed to do is tie generosity to vision for ministry and service to others. I think I’ve often talked about it abstractly (i.e., “This is how much you owe God every year”).

In your 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, what’s the main misconception or weakness you’ve perceived among those you’ve pastored when it comes to generous living?

It’s the “frog in the kettle” problem. Americans of 40 years ago would be shocked to see what Christians today think of as necessities. But we view things this way because we keep defining “basics” the way the consumer capitalist culture wants us to—which is always being defined upward, and fast. 

Should pastors be aware of their members’ giving and hold them accountable for it?

Sure—as a body, corporately. I can know in general what people in my community make and how much they’re giving. Then I can speak to my congregation as a whole and hold them accountable to give more. But it’s quite complicated and ultimately ineffective to try to do that with individual families—unless it comes up as part of pastoral counsel, as in marriage counseling. 

How should we evaluate our lives in light of historical examples of “radically simple” living like John Wesley and John Newton?