By Aaron Wilson
“If after 90 days of giving, you aren’t satisfied the Lord has blessed you in return, get your money back, no questions asked.”
Over the past five years, wording like this has appeared on websites across the country as churches seek to encourage generosity among their congregations by offering a money-back guarantee on tithing. Churches who offer refunds on tithes draw the practice from Malachi 3:10, where God invites the Israelites to test His provision in response to their giving.
The act of presenting a church refund policy on tithes has been both lauded for its ingenuity and criticized as gimmicky. While the practice likely leads to more funds being given to the kingdom of God and encourages some believers to take their first steps in giving, it also runs the risk of doing harm to the proclamation of the gospel.
Here are five reasons churches should avoid the dangers associated with risk-free tithing.
1. A Money-Back Guarantee Confuses Stewardship with Ownership
Scripture is not shy in assigning financial roles to God and mankind. God is the sole owner of everything while men and women are entrusted with God’s wealth as stewards.
Driven by a stewardship mindset, a Christian invests in the local church and releases money and possessions through her on behalf of God. Put another way, the steward’s mindset is, “This money was never mine to begin with.”
Contrast this with a refund policy designed to take the edge off giving. It communicates, “This must be my money because I get it back if this whole tithing thing goes south.”
A tithing refund distorts God’s design for giving by presenting people as owners with nothing to lose, rather than as stewards who sacrificially engage in spiritual investment.
2. A 90-Day Refund Pales to an Eternal Guarantee
Some churches offer tithing refunds as a 90-day giving challenge. This model allows three months for the giver to evaluate God’s provision before potentially requesting a reimbursement of his or her tithes.
Scripture is filled with promises of blessings for faithfulness. However, God seldom gives Himself a deadline for providing these blessings short of eternity. Rather, God often warns—and Jesus clearly models—that it is likely our lives will be spent and exhausted in this world, ushering in eternal blessings in Heaven and on the New Earth.
While God certainly provides temporal blessings at His choosing, a Christian’s ultimate hope is not anchored in what happens three months from now, but in what takes place 3,000 months from now and beyond.
From an eternal perspective, a 90-day guarantee is too shortsighted a timeframe to weigh God’s response to faithful giving.
3. Christians Are Called to Remember Lot’s Wife
Lot’s wife is notorious for tarrying in her journey toward deliverance, becoming a pillar of salt for longingly looking back at the life she was leaving behind (Genesis 19:26).
Jesus uses Lot’s wife as an example to encourage His followers in the paradox that, “Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33).
Likewise, Jesus illustrates the cost of discipleship by saying a Christian must be willing to put his or her hand to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62). Given this biblical counsel, is it really in the best interest of people to give them an escape hatch in the form of a refund when it comes to following Christ?
If my dollars can be reeled back from the church after I’ve given them, have I really let them go in the first place? Is my pocketbook declaring I’ve lost my life, or am I trying to preserve it through the offer of a satisfaction guarantee?
4. Refund Policies Gives Doubt Room to Breed
Here lies the heart of the issue: what does God mean in Malachi 3:10 when He tells the Israelites to put Him to the test?
Churches performing 90-day tithing refunds claim to be providing a modern day outworking of this biblical command. Yet, there is also Jesus’ rebuke to Satan in Luke 4:12 to consider which reads, “Do not test the Lord your God.”
Satan’s guise in Luke 4 was to get Jesus to test the Father out of doubt that God would provide for His Son’s physical safety.
Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which alludes to a story in Exodus 17:7 where the Israelites tested God by asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?” This kind of testing dishonors God. It’s motivated by doubt and has an escape plan—be it a return to Egypt or a money-back refund—waiting in the wings if God doesn’t appear to have come through.
Contrast this to the kind of test Malachi 3:10 offers which is motivated by faith. It tests God in the way a drowning person tests a lifesaver by throwing his full weight onto it. Note God’s language in Malachi: “return to Me” (3:7) and, “bring in the full tithe” (3:10). There is no escape plan or refund policy found in these expressions.
Tithe refunds are marketed as tools to strengthen faith; however, they actually accomplish the exact opposite by giving doubt a platform and a specific timetable in which to breed.
5. The Gospel, Not a Refund, is the Catalyst for Good Works
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, tithing refunds run the risk of detaching the gospel from the discipline of stewardship.
Any Christian program designed to develop stewardship habits cannot be content to only change the behavior of people. Rather, stewardship training must have an understanding and an outworking of the gospel as its nucleus. If it doesn’t, church members are only learning to become religious philanthropists.
A Christian’s motivation to give should primarily stem from the good news Jesus has given His life for His bride. “You were bought for a price, therefore honor God in your body,” is the primary reason Christ-followers give sacrificially to the church, make the best use of the time, and even prepare to lay down their lives for the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Of course, God does intend for Christians to be motivated by His promised rewards. It was for “the joy that lay before Him” that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). However, the promise of heavenly and earthly rewards must follow the gospel—not supersede it—as an inspiration for Christian behavior.
The cross will always be a better motivator than a refund.
The Gospel is Not Risk-Free
For these reasons, it’s wise for churches to refrain from stewardship campaigns marketed around tithe refunds, satisfaction guarantees, or 90-day trial periods.
The Christian life is decidedly not risk-free. A disciple may very well lose his or her life following the Lord.
Churches should consider avoiding retail jargon in order to present the kingdom of God as costly, but worth it all.
AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor of Facts & Trends.