Talk Is Cheap (Not Talking Is Costly)

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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 –
  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.
  4. 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.

14 replies

  1. Why should pastors know who gives how much? As as pastor, I am more interested in knowing who tithes or who is trying to grow in that area than who specifically gives what. Leading people to practice a spiritual discipline of giving in faith that God will provide for your needs to me is of much greater importance than knowing what the rich people in my congregation are giving.

    • Where trust is good, people know. Where trust is absent people don’t know. As a pastor, I was able to minister to families in need when their economic situations changed. I knew there were issues before anyone had to tell me. I would hopeyou would care about more than just the rich people. Giving is a very clear outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual health of the individual.

      • Knowing if people’s job situation changes or other circumstance that affects them financially – yes – and minister to them appropriately. I ask my financial secretary to inform me if she see changes in giving patterns in any family/individual, whether up or down. Still, knowing the dollars and cents that any family gives or does not give is none of my business; I rejoice greatly when people share with me that they are choosing to tithe for the first time, but I would never want to know how much that added up to. I don’t see what trust has to do with it. I do have a rule that nobody is nominated for leadership in the local church without a track record of consistent giving, so it isn’t that I advocate knowing nothing about people’s giving habits. My experience with people wanting me to know what they give have ALWAYS been from people with major political agendas.

  2. I think that sometimes pastors shortchange the people by not sharing needs. As a pastor, you did not get into the pastors salary. I think many pastors are underpaid because they don’t give the people a chance to think about the needs. When I was pastoring, I would annually give the church board a chance to look at how they supported me. There was no pressure. I did not cry and beg. More often than not they had the love and faith to stretch a little more. Don’t be afraid to let the people be obedient.

  3. Stewardship is indeed a Balance — Gifts of money, service, prayer, presence, witness — all when given sacrifically and joyfully — come back in multi-fold ways to the giver.

    A wise person, who of course was a Methodist, and was a colleague of mine on a Stewardship/Pledge Campaign authored this phrase:
    “The Lord loves a cheerful giver — Lord, make us both”

    Soli Deo Gloria

  4. I’m in a small church that was facing decline. Against the reservations of some, we did a “Consecration Sunday.” Promised support was tremendous and giving is up about 20% for the year after sliding that direction over 2-3 years.

    I make giving part of the conversation whenever I do New Member Orientation w/ people curious about church membership. I send them the same “Estimate of Giving Card” that members completed during the Consecration Sunday. Talking about giving as a positive thing in the context of our Christian discipleship and impact on the world have made all the difference.

  5. I wouldn’t be a part of a church that won’t talk about money, and where people hide what they give. If the trust is so bad that people can’t be honest about the way they keep their vows to God and the church, then it isn’t much of a church. I mean, if the relationships are solid, this is a non-issue. The only reason people wouldn’t care to be honest is if they are feeling guilty about something. LAck of honesty is a clear sign that relationships are in trouble.

  6. Well, I feel ashamed that I don’t have my own money to give. I give what I do have….time and talents, but I don’t have actual cash.
    In actual money, I come up short.
    I’ve been on staff with no pay for years.
    My pastor knows, and doesn’t discount my service in leiu of cash.
    But a lot of the congregation has no idea that I am not so rich in money. I give of what I have.

    • That’s what it’s all about — managing wisely and well what we DO have and not worrying so much about what we lack. If more people would focus on the generosity of what they have to share instead of reducing everything to money, we would all be a lot better off.

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