As a young pastor entering the ordained ministry in 1985, I had several personal convictions I was confident would prove to be true over the years. One of my convictions was that if I preached really well and made sure the church was meeting the spiritual needs of the congregation, I would never have to talk about money. My reasoning was that when people appreciate the preaching of the pastor, and when they see how the ministries of the church are helping them grow deeper in faith, they would naturally give generously to support the church financially.
I also believed people did not want to hear the pastor talk about money. Sermons about money and conversations about financial giving to the church were awkward and unpleasant for everybody. So for the first few years of ministry I avoided talk of money and financial giving. That proved to be a foolish mistake. Now, after 28 years of ministry experience, here is what I have discovered.
Most people don’t mind hearing sermons and teachings about money, if those are done appropriately. Teaching about God’s wisdom as it relates to financial management is important. Financial giving is a part of that wisdom, but so is learning how to avoid excessive consumer debt, live below your means, save for the inevitable rainy day, and find personal contentment in the midst of a culture that tries to convince us that happiness is found in the next big purchase. It makes no sense to talk to people about honoring God through financial generosity if people are not already honoring God in every other financial decision.
At Ebenezer Church, we have been offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University on a regular basis. I have heard from many people who appreciate the practical, biblically-based wisdom that is applied to all the financial issues of life. I typically preach a 3-4 week sermon series on money each year. Although a very small part of that series has to do with tithing or financially giving to the church, the majority of the series is usually focused on what the Bible has to say about other issues related to personal finance. Money is such an important part of our lives, and the Bible has so much to say about money, that most people find this type of series helpful and practical.
I’ve also discovered if I don’t talk about money, people will miss out on significant blessings that come from honoring God in this area of their lives. It makes no more sense for me to avoid the topic of money than it makes sense for me to ignore the topics of prayer, forgiveness, and many other important aspects of the Christian faith and life. Jesus spoke more about money and material possessions than any other topic. The Bible has more to say on this issue than on the topics of heaven and hell combined. Apparently, the money issue is a big deal to God, and if it is a big deal to God, it should be a big deal to the pastor and the congregation.
Finally, I’ve discovered no matter how carefully and tactfully I attempt to discuss money management and financial generosity, there will always be a small percentage of folks who get offended or upset. There will always be a small number of people who don’t mind being challenged in some areas of their lives, but not in the money area. There will always be a small number who think the church is only interested in their money and the preacher is just a con-man out to get rich (unfortunately, there are a few well-known pastors and evangelists who seem to fit that description). There will also be a small number of people who are struggling financially and who will interpret any money talk from the pastor as an attempt to induce guilt and shame rather than as a desire to encourage and bless. And yet, the vast majority of folks appreciate the reminder that honoring God with our finances and developing the discipline of generous financial giving is an important part of demonstrating our love, devotion, and sincerity of faith.
I do not share all of this because Ebenezer Church is in financial trouble. The truth is, we are meeting all of our financial obligations and giving to our church has actually increased over the past year. I also do not share all of this because we are about to bombard people with financial requests (we have no plans for anything like that on the horizon). I simply share all of this to apologize to those who get offended by money talk in the church, and to offer an explanation as to why it is so important to talk about money as a part of our ministry.
Money is a huge part of life. Managing finances wisely and practicing financial generosity is essential for Christian maturity. As Jesus pointed out on several occasions, money can often become the biggest barrier to spiritual growth in someone’s life. When managed appropriately, money can be a tool for tremendous good. The church has an obligation to teach about money and to talk about financial giving in a way that is healthy, honest, and tactful. To avoid this subject because we are afraid to offend people would be a dereliction of duty.
What’s your biggest challenge in honoring God with your finances?