An Alternative Way for a College Student to Tithe

Though God has been gracious and faithful to us, we have never been a family of extraordinary means. In fact, I don’t know how, but my parents were able to support a content family of five on a single average income living in the expensive Southern California. *Queue audience applause*

I remember sitting in church with my family as a kid. When the offering plate was passed through our aisle, my Mom would give me the envelope that had our tithe so that I could drop it in the plate as it passed by. At the time, I was well aware that we weren’t the most financially capable, so it always struck me that we “sacrificed” some of our money and gave it to the church.

Then there was the financial crisis of ’08. The American– and subsequently, global–economy collapsed. Being in the insurance industry, my Dad, at some point, lost his job. Things got tight, and through God’s goodness and my parents’ wisdom, we made decisions here and there that helped keep us afloat. One decision we did not make, however, was to stop tithing.

Every Sunday, I would have an envelope to drop in the offering plate.


We want to acknowledge that all we have comes from God, and we want to show gratitude. We want to demonstrate our trust in his ability to provide in all circumstance. We want to support the church and its ministry. We want to obey what’s commanded in the Bible.

All these reasons were taught and instilled in me by my parents, so it’s natural that as an almost-independent person, I want to participate in my own giving to the church. While I don’t have a regular or substantial income, I still earn from internships, fellowships, tutoring, or TA’ing. No one is surprised that I, a college student, am not making much money. But does that excuse me from tithing? I don’t think so.

I think about the New Testament account of the poor widow who gave two copper coins to the Temple. Other rich people around her threw in large sums of money, and yet, Jesus specifically commended the widow (Mark 12). Like many other biblical things, it’s not about how much or about what other people see: it’s about the heart and true motivation behind your actions.

Now that I think about it, I never knew how much was in those envelopes my Mom would hand me to drop in the offering plate. It’s likely that the amount decreased during financially harder times, but my parents still prioritized the liturgy of tithing.

Okay, so everyone’s supposed to tithe–that’s not news to anyone reading this. The current model for tithing is to give to the church you regularly attend, at a rough minimum of 10% of your income. Although that seems like just something to check off the to-do list, it works for many. I don’t mean to challenge this model, but I do intend to present a alternate model, specifically tailored to people in my situation.

I have limited income, and while I do attend a church regularly throughout college, I’m not a member there. I wouldn’t call it my home, and after I graduate, I’ll likely move somewhere else and attend a different church there. I don’t feel an allegiance with the church I attend when I’m at school. I don’t think they’ll miss my meager tithes when they look at their books at the end of their fiscal year.

Now, an anecdotal story that will help illustrate my point. Through God’s provision, I’ve been able to serve the global church through various mission trips. Anyone familiar with mission trips knows that the majority of funding is raised through support letters sent to one’s community of believers. When I send letters to my college friends, they show them to their parents and see if they are able to support. One friend’s parents gave a substantial amount: seriously jaw-dropping. I asked her how and why this happened, and she said: “Oh, my parents set aside money specifically to support people going on things like mission trips.”

“On top of what they give to the church?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied.

This was a novel idea. One that’s stuck with me. So here’s my pitch:

The church is not a building, but a body of believers. As a student, with limited income, and no “loyalty” to a local church, my model is to “tithe” to other christian peers. If I make $25 from a tutoring session, I would set aside a part of that. As paychecks trickle in throughout the year, I keep setting portions aside, and eventually, that would become substantial. Attending a school like Wheaton means that many of my peers go on great mission trips during the breaks in the academic year. Now, when any of them send me a letter that asks for support, instead of passing it along to my parents, I can take the letter and give out of what I’ve set aside.

In this way, I am personally helping to support the work God is doing in and through my peers. It’s definitely more satisfying to give to people you have relationships with. No, it’s not a typical tithe to a local church (that maybe I don’t feel an allegiance to), but it is a tithe to God and the global church nonetheless.



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