A pressing concern of many of our congregations is a lack of funds. I know you’re surprised, but money is a concern in many of our local churches. But, I’m going to let you in on a simple, yet very important secret. There is a simple, low-cost solution to most of our financial woes: we need to ask for more money from the people who have given their lives to Christ. The time has come to make sure people know that Christian discipleship impacts our entire life, including our wallet, pocketbook and checkbook. Myths about money and spirituality have been allowed to run wild, taking on the appearance of truth, but these myths are slowly (and not so slowly) killing many of our churches. Leadership requires that we sometimes challenge the conventional wisdom and speak the truth in love. Let’s destroy some myths, shall we?
- People in our churches do not want to hear about money. Well, in every church there are a handful of people who actually don’t, that’s true. But who made these malcontents boss? Are they our biggest givers? Are they doing all they can to support the mission and ministry of the church through their faithful and sacrificial giving? Generally, no. It is no wonder that poor givers don’t like having pointed out to them that they should be giving more. I don’t want people telling me that I am overweight and that I should exercise more. However, my dislike doesn’t mean the observations aren’t true. See, there is no true discipleship separate from faithful stewardship, and what we do with our money is a spiritual as well as practical matter. The Bible has a lot to say about our relationship to Mammon and material possessions. The whole concept of Christian community is founded on the idea that we will all share our assets to do the work and will of God. It is impossible to provide honest and transformative spiritual leadership to disciples-in-formation without talking about money and giving. AND, churches that do talk about it are in pretty good shape. Where people are taught about money and giving… wait for it… they learn to give.
- Money is a taboo subject. Once again, who says? They myth that giving is a personal and private matter is a truism of consumeristic, capitalistic culture, but we’re the church. Different set of rules apply. Certainly, those who don’t give much or who don’t give regularly will be deeply embarrassed for others to know they don’t keep their promises or that they are selfish, but this may be an important part of the learning curve. If a person feels good about their gifts, there’s nothing to hide. Now, I am not saying we need to make everything public. What I am saying is that there are church leaders who are responsible for budgeting and fund-raising and we tie their hands when they do not know who gives what. The healthiest churches in our denomination have leaders who can talk to one another and to the members about their giving. You can’t talk about what you don’t know… okay, I realize there are any number of jokes we could make here, but refrain… and that leads to myth #3 –
- Pastors should not know what people give. Why? Because they will favor the good givers and hold poor givers in contempt? Because they might try to take advantage of the good givers? Because then they would have to tell other people what they give? Come on. Pastors know fairly quickly who can give and who can’t in any setting. A pastor should be able to encourage anyone in their stewardship and spiritual growth, and in our congregations, the pastor should be aware of any and all issues that impact people’s spiritual lives. Transparency is a keynote of our healthiest churches, and the pastoral leaders of these communities of faith are well aware of who gives what — time, talent, treasure, skill, experience, knowledge, vision, etc.
- People in our churches are giving all they can. No, people are giving what they want to and a handful of them don’t want to listen to any instruction to do otherwise. A Katrina or a Haiti earthquake comes along, and BOOM, more money magically appears. A new boiler or roof is needed, BANG, people find a way to give more. Let’s not kid ourselves. We have all been suffering the same economy for the past couple years and while churches that don’t talk about money and giving wrestle constantly, we know that churches that talk openly and honestly are not only struggling, but their giving has actually gone up.
I’m not going any further with this, though I could. The big difference in our churches when it comes to fiscal health and vitality is tied directly to the open, honest, and regular conversation about giving as a spiritual practice. I’m not saying it’s easy. I am saying it’s necessary. If you don’t know how to talk openly and honestly about money, learn. The absolute most terrible thing that can happen is that a person will leave the church. The next worst thing that can happen is that some may complain and a few will say NO. But, at the same time, those who love God, love the church, love their friends, and want to grow in their faith will take it seriously and they will begin to grow in their giving and increase in their stewardship.
And that’s the other thing. The focus needs to be on the larger vision of stewardship, not just on giving money. My points about money are very specific, but stewardship is about a whole lot more than just money. When we tie people’s relationship with money to their relationship with God, Christ, congregation, and covenant community, then we lay a foundation for lifelong transformation. Don’t argue with me. Just make it safe to talk about money in the church, and see if I might not be onto something.
I served on staff of a large suburban church that I have always simply referred to as The Church of the Unlimited Resources. The lead pastor preached directly on stewardship throughout the year. Some people complained, especially the time he had the nerve to preach on stewardship on Christmas Eve. In his twenty year tenure the church grew in size and sustained a budget of over $1 million before he retired in the mid ’90’s. He was especially proud of the fact that mission giving at this church was consistently 10 cents on the dollar higher than the denominational average. He knew what everyone gave, and in return, they knew what he gave. The next pastor made everyone happy because he wasn’t always talking about giving. He lasted two years during which giving fell dramatically. They are now back to a pastor who recognizes that stewardship is central to who we are, and they are doing just fine financially. Under all three pastors there were certainly other factors at play, but this church is one example of where faithful, consistent teaching on stewardship as a mark of discipleship and not as a season made a world of difference.
Thanks for the post, Dan. It may be the most healing thing we do in our teaching: help people on a path of stewardship that reduces debt, worry, and fear. I appreciate the piece about knowing what people give. How do we pastor families with addictive secrets? We trust God will walk with us as we open the secret. Why don’t we practice the same way with our stewardship?
I was going to disagree with point #3…but reread. Giving does include time, talents, and resources, doesn’t it? How we apply the truth of your observation, however, is a matter of context and fervent prayer.
“I don’t want people telling me that I am overweight and that I should exercise more. However, my dislike doesn’t mean the observations aren’t true. See, there is no true discipleship separate from faithful stewardship, and what we do with our money is a spiritual as well as practical matter.” That is a very true observation. Often we do not like to hear what is true and what embarasses us, but we certainly need to hear it. Tonight is my night to weigh in for the week. I hate to do it because we had excellent food at my retreat this weekend, and I was not very disciplined in my eating. But week in and week out, the accountability of weighing myself at a set time and sharing results with my group helps me. Sometimes, it is just good for us to hear things–even when we are not wanting to hear them.