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Should The Jobless Tithe On Unemployment Benefits?

The Village Green section of Christianity Today magazine which presents answers from leading Christians to pressing questions. CTI asked me to contribute to this question for their March 2011 edition. Here is what I said.

Yes, with generosity!

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent economic meltdown is long-term unemployment, a reality in which many thought they would never find themselves. For the first time, hardworking, well-intentioned individuals are paying their bills with the income they receive from government checks instead of their profession or trade.

During these tough times, it is easy for churchgoing, typically responsible Christians to fall off the radar as they deal with the shame of being unable to provide for themselves or their families. In these times, it is more important than ever that Christians seek out pastors, leaders, and friends who can provide loving community and accountability to be faithful stewards in times of hardship.

Scripture does not speak directly to the topic of tithing on an income that is not your own, so I am reluctant to say firmly, “Yes, give this much.” But the Bible has much to say on the subject of generosity and gratitude.

There are four questions church leaders and others can ask to help someone struggling with tithing on their unemployment benefits.

• Do you see unemployment benefits as part of God’s provision for your life?

• Are you continuing to practice generosity in every area: time, talent, and treasure?

• How does giving a portion of your unemployment benefits differ from giving apportion of your “employed” benefits?

• Would giving a portion of your unemployment benefits demonstrate gratitude that God is providing for you in this season of your life?

Generosity is a condition of the heart. As resources come into the hands of a generous person, he or she can’t help giving them away. It’s second nature. A lifestyle of generosity should not stop when times are hard. If anything, tithing when income is low reinforces gratitude and trust, as it reminds the giver that God can use even the smallest gift to accomplish his will. It also reminds me that I am always dependent on God for my sustenance, whether I have savings in the bank and a regular paycheck or not. This is where Christian community should be most apparent, in encouraging and supporting each other to live out generosity in tough times.

I’m not going to argue that a specific percentage be given, just as I wouldn’t in responding to an employed individual. That is between the individual and God. Living a generous lifestyle is not an obligation but rather an opportunity. It is something I get to do for God’s kingdom, not something I have to do.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7–8, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Staffing Your Church

Selecting and hiring church staff is one of the most crucial decisions a senior leader will ever make. Vanderbloemen Search Group has carved out a niche by specializing in corporate quality executive search for churches. Justin Lathrop founded and heads up, a search firm that has shown enormous abilities in searches for positions in the middle of a church org chart like childrens and student pastor searches. Recently, HelpStaff and the Vanderbloemen Search Group united. Their merger has broadened the capabilities of the  Vanderbloemen Search Group so they are now able to help any church fill any position. I recently had a chance to visit with both William and Justin to get their thoughts on what they are seeing in church staffing. Here is our conversation.

1. Is there any particular big trend you are seeing in the way churches are being staffed?

We’re seeing lots of new staff positions emerging that haven’t before, particularly among the larger, innovative (and smart) churches we get to work with. My hunch is that their innovations will become much more common in the near future

For instance, several of our clients are now employing a Pastor of Social Media. It’s a step up from simply having person who is good with social media to a person who has pastoral skill and is good online. This position often covers online campuses, like our friend Brandon at or Nils Smith at Community Bible Church in San Antonio.

Another new staff position we are seeing is a Pastor of Generosity. This is pretty much a Chief Fundraising Officer that has pastoral skill. When Jud Wilhite and the folks at Central Christian asked us to find this position for them, it showed me a new reality: (1) lots of new believers are coming to growing churches, (2) new believers don’t usually give or tithe, (3) dollars are tight everywhere, and (4) the Senior Pastor cannot  ask for money all the time. Smart churches are hiring folks to help close the gap, just like hospitals, charities, and universities have for years. I know you all have been our in front of your sector doing some key thinking about raising generosity and generous cultures. Seems like the idea is catching on.

2. The role of the strong Executive Pastor, a COO type of position, seems to be expanding. What do you see in that area?

Executive Pastors searches make up about 40% of the searches we do, so we are seeing more and more models for the role. The common denominator I see in all the models is an increase in authority, responsibility, and implementation of the vision. Lead/Senior Pastors seem more intent than ever on casting vision, protecting their preaching preparation time, and getting out of the way for a strong XP/COO to get the ball from point “a” to point “b.”

3. What about multi-site? Any particular challenges there?

Many Campus Pastor roles don’t involve weekly preaching so the perception is that communication isn’t important. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The ability to communicate is greater than ever before.

Because of this perception, it is difficult for churches to get the right communicator that doesn’t view campus pastoring as a purely administrative role.

The Campus Pastor is a role that is here to stay. As the number of campuses at churches mushroom, staffing the role is more difficult than ever.

Bil Cornelius and I were visiting some time back about innovative ways to staff small campuses in small towns with superior leadership. A whole lot of new models are emerging in response to this crucial need.

4. Looks like there are a lot of Baby Boomer pastors leading mega churches. Are they thinking about succession? That’s a big looming issue, isn’t it?

I think succession is THE looming issue in the Church. It’s also the most common search we lead now.

The fact is, we are all interim pastors. And a whole lot of key churches are going to face pastoral retirement in the next 10 years. You know, retirement is only mentioned once in the Bible. It had to do with requiring the retirement of priests. It’s so natural for a Pastor to love his job and church so much that he doesn’t plan for the day he’s not there. But it will happen. So we are spending loads and loads of time working on this and have been blessed to receive a high measure of corporate training on the matter. Getting to help churches through that process is a rare honor and one we are taking very seriously.

7. I see you announced some big news about a week ago. Tell me about it? What prompted the partnership?

I’ve known Justin for about as long as I’ve been doing search and watched his company grow. He’s a great guy with a real gift. I’ve also noticed that he’s really good at mid-level searches, which were searches we weren’t really focused on. We talked for a while about referring searches to each other and then it dawned on us that it would be better to do this together. So now, we never have to tell a client “we can’t help you.” Whether it’s our traditional Senior and executive level searches or mid-level, we can help staff the Church. And we love getting to do that!

Great stuff, guys. Thanks William (@wvanderbloemen) and Justin (@justinlathrop)! You can find them at

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