Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Stain of Stingy Christians

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm cheap. Unless its to purchase an unusually great book, I typically keep my money in my wallet. That principle usually holds true when I go out to a restaurant. Despite the food I might buy, I almost always ask for water.

But recently while reading a post from a few months back on Abraham Piper's excellent blog I was convicted about my stinginess in restaurants and the ugly mark it can leave - especially when I'm known as a Christian in certain restaurants. His comments appeared in the context of large groups of Christians flooding the nearby restaurants during a recent Christian conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Consider Abraham's bold call to Christian generosity in the marketplace and the comments of some of his friends:

When Christians at conferences overwhelm a bar/restaurant it’s an opportunity to blow minds with Christ-centered generosity. Tip high and buy drinks. - Abraham

A long time ago I was a waitress. I had a table of 20 from a local church. Needless to say they worked me rather hard. My tip? Bible tracts. Can’t say I was feeling Christ’s love that day. Somehow God still drew me near to his heart despite that experience. - Karen

I had a friend I was witnessing to who had horrible experiences with big groups after church would let out. They would tip those tracks that looked like money. How sad. In my experience in the service industry I found that gay men tipped the best and big church groups the least. - Aaron

I worked for three years as a waiter/bartender and all the non-Christians I worked with HATED the church crowd. Inevitably, a troupe of about 20-30 would come in 20 minutes before close unannounced, all order water, split the meals and complain about the music. - Drew

Back in my McDonalds days I used to dread working on Sundays because of having to deal with all the church people. On the other side of the spectrum, I remember one day when a group of kids from a nearby Bible institute came in and left such a great testimony that I felt compelled to let the leadership of the institute know. - Andrew

I know a lot of Trinity folks who commonly frequent restaurants after church on Sundays and are likely spotted as Christians for the size of the group and how they're dressed. That's not often me but I do spend a lot of time in Minot's restaurants meeting with people - sometimes with a Bible in hand. In some establishments I'm trying to build relationships with the staff. Please join me in heeding Abraham and his friends as they call us to intentional generosity for the sake of Christ. By God's grace we'll be cheap no more.


Colin said...

Thanks for bring this topic into the light. But obviously it can lead to many other thoughts on our public "walk with Jesus". I also struggle with being stingy in restaurants. The biggest help has been to remember that the money is not mine's Gods. If He chooses to bless me with some, it becomes my responsibility as His child to in turn bless others with it. And even if I only order a cup of coffee, and a muffin....the tip had best reflect my love for that person, not the $4 the snack cost. Go show His generosity....not ours!

vince said...

I saw this exact thing when I worked for Starbucks. The most generous people were typically the most worldly. The customers that I knew to be Christians were typically the least generous.

Now, the other question that may come to mind is - "Why is there a tip jar at Starbucks?" I don't know the answer to that but it can be a blessing to the people who work at these establishments.

vince said...

anonymous - thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your experience in this area.

We would invite you to continue to comment. Please read the first post entitled "Blog Introduction and Appropriate Commenting." We would like this to be a place of growth for all who participate. Part of that growth happens when we are able to identify with those we know and love. In the future please post your name. We would like the conversation to continue by name.

For all who may be reading - we will begin deleting comments that are anonymous.

Thanks for participating!

Jason Skjervem said...

Sorry, I should have read the rules of this blog before I started. I was just to lazy to enter my name!

The ministry that I work for encourages this same mentality. At first I kind of struggled with it thinking that I should watch my money more closely (which we should), but have seen this play out so well and have seen the good impression that it leaves. For instance, every other year we have our national conference in Ft. Collins. They estimate that the city sees over $1,260,000 spent on food alone during those 10 days by our organization.

As an organization, they have had that conference there for over 20 years, and because of this gracious mentality, have built some great relationships with local eateries and other businesses. Some even give us huge discounts because they look forward to our business and know they will get good tips. This always hasn't been the case, and they make sure periodically remind us to be generous, one because it's a good Christian example, and two, because the city as a whole is not Christian, but they know that every two years 3,000+ Christians descend on their town and they watch us closely.

The feedback from the city that the organizers of the conference get is overall very positive, I'm sure this mentality is a vital part of that.

Ales' said...

Great topic!

I have talked to many people in the service type jobs who say Sunday is usually their worst tip day. That is so sad! What better way to show the generosity of our God in giving.

It is amazing what God will do when we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and release to others what is God's in the first place. God has given me numerous opportunities to share with people His character and the truth of His word through a tip! God can use anything!

So, give BIG to the Glory of a REALLY BIG GOD!! :)

Stephanie Says... said...

Stephanie Jespersen here! Great post, Andy.

I remember (with shame) eating out with a group after church one Sunday. There were at least 20 adults, and 10 young kids. The kids were at the ubiquitous "kids' table", I assume so the parents could talk in peace. The kids trashed the table and floor of this rather nice restaurant. The parents just left leaving the mess for the waitstaff to de-tox.

Chad and I have always made it a practice to de-grossify our area, returning it to its near-original state. Early in our marriage (pre-kiddoes), we witnessed 3 moms with 3 toddlers at Starbucks in Spokane. The moms let the toddlers turn muffins into crumbs and deposit them all over the table, banquet and floor. Chad and I cleaned up the mess. We knew the baristas at this particular Sbux pretty well; they knew we were church-goers (and hopefully they knew we were Christians, too!) as we stopped by most mornings on the way to church.

Galatians 2:20 said...

Totally agree with all comments made about the typical after-church crowd. I've seen those "tracts that look like tips," and they used to make me nearly vomit. I have made it a point for years to be as generous a tipper as I can be.

However, I don't agree that we need to buy drinks just to buy drinks. I simply don't drink very much besides water no matter where I am, so why should I buy anything else at a restaurant? However, not buying special drinks just leaves me more money available with which to tip.

Ben Duncan said...

It is important to differentiate between “almsgiving” and “tipping.”

In the case of the latter there are socially/culturally prescribed “rules” for when and how much we should tip. I’m not a socialist. I don’t believe that bad or lazy waiters should be rewarded the same as good ones. How many of you want to have the same level of financial success as the lazy bum next to you? No, in this life we hope and expect that hard work will help us “get ahead.” The book of Proverbs gives us that hope. So I won’t hand a bad waiter a 20% tip. But I will hand that much to a waiter who is on the ball, attentive, courteous, etc. The reason for this level of discrimination is due to the very context of the transaction: the entire premise behind tipping is that the person receiving the tip is being rewarded for their performance. At restaurants, as in every other aspect of life, Christians should be marked by prudence, discretion, humility, and temperance. Ordering gobs of food or drinks unnecessarily is none of those things. I applaud those with the self control to order a modest portion while spending within their limits, even if it means that the bill is a bit “low” for the preference of the waitress.

Concerning almsgiving, I think that Christians should be generous. In the case of giving to the poor – particularly the poor within the Church – we should be willing to open our purse strings a bit. Helping our brothers and sisters in need is what being generous is about.
So, here’s an example:

Let’s say that a waitress gives me mediocre service while I’m at the restaurant. So I lower my tip amount appropriately. That is in accordance with the concept and context of tipping.

But let’s say that on another night I’m driving home and I see this waitress on the side of the road with two flat tires. And to make it really good lets say she has no money. As an act of charity I call AAA and pay for the tires to be changed.

See the difference?

I read a few comments about worldlings being more free with their money than Christians. I want to add my observation to the mix:

I minister in a context where on a daily basis I see multiple folks who want handouts to cover their costs from them doing everything from buying ridiculously expensive rims for their car to blowing their money at one of the many strip clubs in the area. I conclude that in many cases these people ARE free with their money. More than a little too free. In fact, their willingness to give $100 tips to attractive waitresses or to buy drinks and movies and taxi fares for all their buddies is symptomatic of their financial foolishness. They throw money around because throwing it around makes them look like they’ve got money to waste. That and because spending money is “fun” and having “fun” is all they have in their sights. And they inevitably pay the price for their foolishness. There is a reason so many worldlings are in financial hardship right now. So please pardon me if I don’t want to “outspend” those who Proverbs refers to as “fools” or take them as an example of what “generosity” looks like.

So I encourage folks to act Christianly when in public – treat those whom you meet with kindness, respect, and patience. Don’t berate those who don’t serve you like you think you deserve. But don’t reward bad behavior either. When you see someone with a need

vince said...

thanks for the comments ben. i appreciate your thoughtful and biblical comments. i tend to agree with most of what you said.

i wasn't going to bring this up and it doesn't really have much to do with the origingal post but...

i would be interested to know where the tipping percentages started and why we are obligated to pay a certain percentage. i believe the obligatory percentage has caused some wait staff to do a mediocre job because they know they will get at least X percent. the customer is stuck. if the customer doesn't tip a certain percent they are viewed as cheap or rude.

my questions are these - 1.) how closely should we as Christians follow what is expected - even though it may be enabling mediocre work habits? 2.) should we tip the expected percent because that is what will show we are different than the world who won't tip that percent?

*and now you get my opinion...
i think we should pay ALL wait staff the same fair wage and then tip them according to how they serve.

Galatians 2:20 said...

I tend to agree with some of what Ben Duncan said. I just wonder about what was left unsaid.

For example, there have been many times I've been on the receiving end of poor service, but it was abundantly clear the waiter was swamped with more work than he could handle. Shall I punish the waiter for doing the best he could do in an unreasonable situation? I think being generous in such a situation would be closer to the ideal of Christian compassion, because you are acknowledging that person's hard work despite the poor service you may have personally received.

I have also been on the reverse side of that situation: working a job for tips when I was so sick I should never have been working at the time (but had little choice). Some people observed my poor service and tipped me accordingly (that is, not much), and I completely understood their decision. I was too exhausted to even think about complaining about it to myself. Then, there were other customers who had compassion on me and tipped me more than the service they received deserved. I have never forgotten the appreciation I felt during that time.

ottoman49 said...

Well said, galations 2:20, but you stole my thunder! When I read Ben's advice about not rewarding bad behavior, one thought I had was how then do we apply Christ's command to bless those who curse us? As we know, restaurant workers are generally overworked and grossly underpaid. They probably depend on tips for one-third of their wages. Sure, like everyone else, when I eat out I want to believe that my server is thrilled to see me and to devote his undivided attention to me from the moment I sit down. Unfortunately, unless I'm a rock star it's not likely to happen! My point is this: I should expect the best of people, but I need to realize that because I'm not perfect, my waiter probably isn't, either. When I'm on the receiving end of what I consider to be poor service, I must try to place myself in that person's shoes before reacting negatively with my wallet. Am I willing to give him/her the same grace that I've received from God and others? Usually a waiter knows when he's having a bad day and providing less than stellar service. What might it say to him about Christ if I choose to overlook his "bad day" by dispensing grace with a generous tip? Would not this be heaping burning coals and leaving a testimony of God's grace? In those times when I'm left feeling slighted by inattentive or poor service it's amazing how often the Holy Spirit will remind me about the wicked servant (me) who, having been forgiven of owing $1,000,000, refused to forgive someone who owes me 10 bucks.

Stephanie J. said...

Sometimes I just want to go out to eat and not think about the "transaction."

But to the issue at hand. Maybe challenging preconcieved ideas or rules would be good. Maybe tipping should be done away with completely. Don't rules such as this reduce the obviousness of being a Christian? I mean, a free acting moral agent often becomes no more when his behavior is dictated in advance.

Can you imagine how better would your testimony be if you tipped the lady who rang up your groceries?

Chad (using Steph's login)

Brad said...

I am one of those "cheap" folks who sometimes struggles with the idea of tipping someone. In fact, when I was younger I never left a tip. Then the Lord convicted me with James 5:4 "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty."

In this country many people do not earn their wages through an appropriate hourly pay, but through a lower hourly wage (currently around $3 an hour I believe), + tips. Those individuals rely on tips to make the rest of the equation. On the other hand, in some jobs, the individual makes a working (albeit low) wage, and tips are an extra amount. In that case I think you can make a decision whether or not to leave a tip. But for those who work for the "tipped worker minimum wage", which is even less than regular minimum wage, it is assumed that tips are part of their salary. Let's not hold back their due wages, even if it is because of bad service.