Should the Jobless Tithe on Their Unemployment Benefits?
Three Christian leaders weigh in on a difficult giving question.

In the March edition of Christianity Today, three men with backgrounds in church and personal finances were asked whether the jobless should tithe on their unemployment benefits. Read their answers, then share how your church has (or hasn't) addressed this question as the unemployment rate remains at or above 10 percent for many parts of the country:

"Yes, if joyfully. ... There are some reasons for jobless people—or anyone, for that matter—not to tithe. Do not tithe out of joyless obligation to law. Do not tithe if your soul requires nothing short of a New Testament demand to tithe (there is none). Do not tithe under the assumption that God will owe you anything. Do not tithe if you expect to default on a debt. Do not tithe if you will resent God for asking sacrifices of you—unless you intend the tithe, in the spirit of "I believe; help my unbelief," as your invitation for God to purge your resentment." –Douglas LeBlanc, editor at large for The Living Church magazine and author of Tithing: Test Me in This. Read his full answer here.

"Yes, with generosity. ... 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 a portion 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?

–Jim Sheppard, chief executive officer of Generis, a consulting firm devoted to expanding the generosity of churches and ministries. Read his full answer here.

"Probably not. ... The simple reason, to begin biblically and to paraphrase the Great Steward, is that the tithe was created for people; people were not created for the tithe. Moses taught that the tithe was a celebration for the affluent and a gift to the less fortunate, including priests (Deut. 14:22-29). The tithe was created in part to help those on the biblical equivalent of unemployment; requiring them to contribute to the offering when they should be receiving is an unhealthy inversion of the biblical mandate to give to the poor.

When Malachi gave his challenge to "bring the whole tithe," God was not telling people to fund the temple's institutional needs as much as to make plenty of food available for those in need. Taxes were levied for temple needs, but this tithe was for something more.

Yet studies from empty tomb, inc. and other Christian financial advisers have long indicated that little giving to churches goes beyond institutional support. We've grown comfortable with the modern church abdicating, largely to governments, the extrinsic work for which the tithe was intended in biblical times. Most churches should therefore not expect the full biblical tithe, particularly if it's to support a comfortable lifestyle for the church's leaders." –Gary Moore, founder of the Financial Seminary and author of Faithful Finances 101. Read his full answer here.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments


May 05, 2014  2:57pm

I received unemployment benefits from June 2013 to December 2013 and i returned tithe and offering on each weekly check. When i filed my taxes for 2013 i had to include those benefits because it was considered income. When i applied for medical assistance in the state which i live i had report those benefits as income. In turn it effected how much i would pay for those medical benefits. Therefore, i personally felt that it was no different than me returning tithe as if i had worked to receive a pay check because it was income.

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January 01, 2014  7:14am

I agree with an earlier post that says that you shouldn't tithe because it is income that you already tithed on. Think of it as savings then, not income. The government has deducted some amount to benefit you in the future. If the person still wants to give a portion of this to God, well and good. This is sacrificial offering then. Either way God is pleased.

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May 25, 2011  8:40pm

Unemployment benefits are not a "job." or an income. A job is supposed to be permanent as long as the employer and the employee mutually agree to continue the employment. If the company closes or the employer must do layoffs – not for performance or negligence – then there is unemployment. This lasts for six months or more, depending on how bad the unemployment rate is. It's also dependent on available federal funding. The MAXIMUM amount most people get on unemployment is $300 to $400 a week. Then taxes must be paid on that. This amount is well below what federal agencies consider levels where someone is eligible for Section 8 housing – poverty. Preachers love to say the tithe will show where the congregant's heart is at. Insisting on tithing when below poverty – for unemployment or even a low-paying job ALSO shows where the church's heart is at. It's with the money and who can pay their salaries and the salaries of all their family members on staff. They care nothing about helping people get out of the situation, even those who really want a job. I agree that some people will abuse generosity by a church (if you can find a church that is generous). The churches are refusing to address this issue today and its true root cause in government and society, and yet still want a cut of what is essentially a government welfare check to someone without a job. Isn't your tax free income enough? No – Because you're all about money. Instead of quoting verses that allow you to collect your salaries, quote verses that say Jesus wants us to show compassion for others and to help the poor – not take advantage of them.

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May 18, 2011  11:03am

the tithe is already money you tithed on and that you will owe taxes on later. Its a double tithe

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May 18, 2011  10:02am

In my opinion, Jim Sheppard gives the best insight to the question here. Generosity, especially tithing, is a matter of the heart; and he addresses that by asking important questions for one to consider. The bigger question and failure of many churches is helping Christians walk in ALL parts of their stewardship. If I were doing statistics, I would wager that 99 out of every 100 sermons about money involved tithing and generosity. While that's a crucial element, it's not the only one. If churches would focus on building better stewards, they would have better givers. Instead, the focus always seems to be on building better givers.

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