Recently I learned of Ron Sider’s death at 82 from sudden cardiac arrest.
Fifteen years ago I had him speak at our church and took him and his wife Arbutus to dinner after the Saturday night service. Their gentle demeanor reflected their Mennonite tradition, but underneath you could intuit a fierce sense of justice.
Many years earlier I had read his seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1977). I wasn’t sure at the time if I should like it. It felt subversive. The biggest part of those feelings was due to my quickly changing paradigm as a new Christian: after coming out of an anti-authority, counter-culture movement and being thrown into the evangelical church subculture, I wasn’t sure what politics and social philosophies I was supposed to subscribe to. I was a far left fish tossed in a far right stream. Thankfully, Jesus catches and cleans all kinds…and the total surrender He calls us to can’t be labeled and polled.
As time crept along, I had questions that buzzed me, like: why can’t the Church be known for its humility and servanthood and yet have a prophetic voice in the culture? Doesn’t a call to follow Jesus demand a response to the poor? Are classic evangelism and social justice mutually exclusive? Does the Good News that lifted me out of a lonely, drugged, and spiritually lost state have something to say about racism, economic oppression and structural injustice?
It did and does.
Writers like Ron Sider sounded the call to move beyond categorized political and church labels and simply do the right thing…or dare I say: do what Jesus would do.
But there was more to it. In an interview way back in 2005, Sider said:
“Materialism continues to be an incredible scandal. The average church member [from across the denominations] today gives about 2.6 percent of his or her income—a quarter of a tithe—to the church. Evangelicals used to be quite a lot better [in giving] than mainline denominations. But their giving has declined every year for several decades, and they’re now getting very close to the norm. The average evangelical giving is about 4.2 percent—about two-fifths of a tithe. Six percent of the “born-again” people tithe; nine percent of evangelicals do. Our income has gone up fabulously over the last 30-plus years. The average household income now in the U.S. is $42,000-plus. If the average American Christian tithed, we’d have another $143 billion.”
That was a stunning way to think about giving.
Just imagine what $143 billion could do toward homeless and marginalized people? Toward child poverty in America alone? And we’re not really talking about sacrificial giving, but what may simply be due God.
Often in evangelical circles is talk about revival—lost people saved, worship breaking out, signs and wonders coming. But interestingly enough, in Hezekiah’s great revival in Israel—which followed tearing down their idols—perhaps the most powerful evidence of revival was that people generously gave. And tithed. …They gave freely of the first portion of their grain, new wine, oil, honey, and everything they grew in their fields. They brought a large amount, one-tenth of everything. The people of Israel and Judah who lived in Judah also brought one-tenth of their cattle and sheep and one-tenth of the holy things that were given to the Lord their God, and they put all of them in piles. 2 CHRONICLES 31:5-6 (NEW CENTURY VERSION)
I hate to admit it, but the way we think about disciplined giving may reveal more about us than we like. And tearing down our idols probably precedes it. It all seems to go hand-in-hand with seasons of refreshment.
Discipling our people toward generosity for the well-being of the communities, towns, and cities we live in is hard work.
How does your leadership reflect that challenge?
Dave Workman | Elemental Churches
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