© 2006 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved President, Ministry Business Services, Inc. Submitted to Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology
Calculating a tithe for employees is easy because they receive a paycheck. Doing so for business owners is more difficult because there are so many organization models, income sources, and accounting system standards. The result has been that business owners are left to themselves to identify their own methods for calculating a tithe. I hope this attempt at identifying factors for business owners to consider is the beginning of a discussion that helps many to do what our Lord challenged us to in Malachi 3:10-12:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)
As business owners, we wrestled through these issues and found ourselves having to work through a number of challenges.
- If the IRS limits how much a business can write off of its contributions (10% of net profit for corporations, 50% of adjusted gross income for unincorporated businesses), should that be our guideline? While this definitely impacts us, we asked ourselves what we would do if we lived in a country that offered no tax incentives at all. The answer we came to was that we would honor God with our tithe regardless of any tax considerations. Working through that one issue framed how we approached everything else.
- Should we tithe before or after taxes are paid? It seems clear in the Scriptures that we are to tithe based on pre-tax amounts. Leviticus 27:30-33a says: ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. The entire tithe of the herd and flock — every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod— will be holy to the LORD. He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution.'” (NIV)
This was told to those in an agricultural economy, and there are adjustments we need to make as we apply the principal in today’s economy. But what it does not say is to tithe what’s left from all that your fields produce each year after you’ve paid your taxes.
- How obligated should we feel to tithe? 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NIV) Rather than seeing our tithe as a bill to pay, we approach it cheerfully as a privilege. In fact, giving to our church is my favorite part of worship because it is my tangible offering to our loving and gracious Lord.
Calculating a Business’ Tithe
Many business owners want their business to be a “tithing business”. The best “first fruits” model (calculating based on gross earnings) is to have the business tithe 10% of its book net income before taxes. This calculation should include all forms of income.
- Sole-Proprietorship. Sole proprietors might think they should use their Schedule C net profit / loss (line #31) as their tithing basis. However, the amount on this line can be reduced by some tax incentives in a way that it is no longer “first fruits”.
- Partnership. A majority of partners must agree on being a tithing business. If they don’t, individual partners should base their business tithe on their K1’s total of lines 1-11 in Part III.
- S-Corporation. A majority of shareholders must agree on being a tithing business. If they don’t, individual shareholders should base their business tithe on their K1’s total of lines 1-10 in Part III.
- C-Corporations. A majority of shareholders must agree on being a tithing business.
- Accrual Basis Accounting. Accrual basis accounting refers to when income and expenses are booked. Since this method recognizes both income and expenses when they’re incurred, the tithe should still be based on the book net income.
Calculating a Business Owner’s Personal Tithe
A business owner should personally tithe 10% of his/her income from all sources before taxes. This includes all types of income received from the business (paychecks, rents, interest, leases, etc) and other sources. Excluded from this calculation are any investments that have changed value— up or down— but have not yet been realized.
Business owners are cautioned from approaching the tithe like a tax. U.S. tax regulations allow many expenses that are really personal expenses to be paid by the business. When considering the spirit and intent of God’s challenge to tithe, however, these expenses must be backed out to arrive at an appropriate “first fruits” amount.
The goal is not to live by a strict rule, but rather to live a life reflecting the generosity we received from our Lord. He challenges us to tithe and live generously towards his works. These guidelines will help in working through the issues, establishing a starting point, and living the generous lives we intend.