Talking about Faith and Money

Some pastors have difficulty talking about money, either in sermons, in a finance committee meeting, or with individual members.  Why?  

Some pastors have heard things like, “All the church ever talks about is money.”  Unfortunately, some clergy have attempted to solve that perceived problem by never talking about money! 

Pastors are sometimes encouraged to focus on spiritual things, not material things like money.  This approach slips into the early church heresy of gnosticism — a worldview that separates reality into the spiritual and the material (or fleshly) realms.  Jesus — true to his Hebrew roots — understood that God is sovereign over all things.  Thus, the exclusion of material things from the spiritual is decidedly not Jesus-like!

A related issue is that many clergy do not feel that money issues are within their realm of expertise.  They took classes in seminary about sermon-building, but not many classes about church budget-building or issues of church finance. 

Many seminaries do not teach their students to tithe, to practice the ancient biblical discipline of giving ten percent for God’s work.  This, coupled with the reality that many seminarians graduate heavily in debt, makes it difficult for some young pastors to speak with confidence about faith and money.

Whether the speaker is clergy or lay, the best words spoken about giving are always confessional:  spoken from the heart and from personal experience.  The old saying is especially true about church and money:  One cannot lead where one has not been.  It is difficult for a pastor or lay leader to encourage others to tithe if he or she is not already practicing the discipline.  However, someone who is not yet a tither may give a helpful public witness about he or she is taking steps toward a tithe.

It helps congregations to hear a speaker express his or her beliefs and experience about giving within the context of practical, everyday decisions regarding money.  For example, a “beginner” can say how he or she has recently taken a first step, such as committing to give regularly.  It helps to hear how people have adjusted their lifestyles in order to increase their percentage giving.  If a listener is giving at a 1% or 2% level, the idea of giving 10%, beginning next month, may be intimidating.  But, if a listener hears someone say he or she has cut back in sports outings, for example, in order to increase giving from 4% of one’s income to 5%, it helps a listener begin to figure out how he or she, too, can move toward, or beyond, a tithe. 

Paradoxically, one way to bring the topic of giving into the realm of the spiritual life is to de-mystify it, to approach giving in a very matter-of-fact manner.  God has given us the gift of Christian community so we can encourage one another and, in an atmosphere of grace, to be accountable to one another for the spiritual disciplines of prayer, attendance, giving, mission, and witness.

- Ted Leach