Preaching Articles

For years I boasted to our congregation that I only preached on stewardship once annually. When that dreaded sermon came, I apologized at the beginning: “If you’re visiting with us today, please understand that we only preach on giving once a year.” In essence I said, “I’m sorry you’ve chosen to come today—I know this subject is a downer. Please come back anyway, and I promise you’ll not hear another sermon on money for fifty-one weeks!”

It’s easy to understand why we tiptoe around the subject of stewardship. Money is still a god to many church members, and many visitors are skeptical of the church’s motives. Certain spiritual con men have fleeced their congregations and given preachers a bad name, and we don’t want to be identified with them.

Even though preaching on money turns some people off, some are turned off when we preach on adultery or forgiveness, too. But we don’t apologize: “If you’re having an affair, please understand we seldom talk about sexual purity. Come back next week and you’ll be more comfortable.” We don’t print a disclaimer in the bulletin: “The preacher will be talking about releasing resentment today. Please understand this sermon is for our members only. If you’re visiting today, you aren’t expected to forgive. If you’re currently harboring a grudge, earplugs are provided.”

About a decade ago, I changed my philosophy from apologizing for teaching on a touchy subject to making it an essential part of my preaching calendar. Now nearly every January, I preach a series of three or four sermons on stewardship.

The results have surprised me—attendance has been good, the number of people coming to Christ has actually increased during the stewardship month, and offerings have improved as much as 15 percent annually! My transition taught me several lessons about preaching on stewardship without alienating the audience.

The $6,000 Sermon

Many immature believers and visitors are alienated when we preach on stewardship because many preachers speak almost entirely about the need to give to the church. Our sermons are erroneously viewed as self-serving—a necessary evil to generate church income—but not spiritual or helpful.

But when the preacher encourages families to get out of debt, to refrain from extravagant luxuries, to avoid wasting money on credit card interest rates, to be generous with their children, or to learn contentment with less, the congregation regards the message as helpful. It’s not viewed as a fundraiser but as a relevant, biblical, and much-needed challenge. A discussion of giving against the backdrop of total stewardship of resources is much more effective than preaching on giving alone.

Once, in a sermon on hoarding, I pointed out the foolishness of waiting until we die to give our children their inheritance. I explained, “When we die, our children will most likely be in their fifties or sixties. They likely won’t need our money then! And so, until our deaths, we hoard it from our grandchildren.

“The time to help our children is when they’re young and need the money. Our children will actually benefit from it, and we can hear them thank us instead of wondering if they quietly hope we croak early! And since we can transfer as much as $10,000 per child annually without the recipients paying taxes on the gift, it’s wise to transfer resources while we’re living.”

Several weeks after the sermon, I received a thank-you letter from a young couple whose parents happened to be visiting that weekend. The wife explained that, after hearing the sermon, her parents sent her and her brother checks for $6,000. Nothing even close to that had ever happened before! The young woman wrote, “My brother and I call that the $6,000 sermon! Please preach more sermons on stewardship—especially when my parents are in town!”

The Best Time to Teach

The timing of a stewardship sermon dramatically affects how it is received. If people are reconsidering their spending priorities, they’re more likely to welcome biblical teaching on money. But if they’re overwhelmed with charities, events, and school expenses, for example, they’ll likely resent a church asking for more money, too.

For forty years, our church’s fiscal year ran from July 1 to June 30. We voted on the proposed budget and made pledges the third Sunday in May. That was when I preached the dreaded sermon on stewardship.

But few people were interested in reviewing their financial commitments in May. We competed with the Kentucky Derby (which is huge in Louisville), Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day weekend. Other things demanded our people’s time, thoughts, and commitment.

January proved a much better month for us to consider stewardship. During January, people make New Year’s resolutions, they’re chastened by Christmas bills to be wiser money managers, and they feel little pressure from other church and community activities.

And even though we moved our fiscal calendar to begin in January, we stopped asking for pledges toward the budget. We don’t want people to regard the sermons as fundraisers. We want them to consider their attitude toward possessions as a personal and spiritual matter, vital to their relationship with God. For us, the beginning of the year is the best time for that.

People Want to Give

When I stopped asking for pledges, it signaled a change in how I preach on money. Most people aren’t motivated to give their best so that they can meet a church budget. Instead of saying, “We need every member to step up their giving so we can meet our budget,” I now say, “When you give, your money will be used to take the gospel to unreached people in Third World countries; it will buy food and clothing for the poor in our inner city; it will enable our children to learn about Jesus at Christian camp.” I remind people repeatedly that they are giving to the ministry of Christ, not just to meet a budget.

The examples I use are more often about the poor who have sacrificed, not the rich who have given huge amounts. Even the wealthy are moved more by genuine sacrifice than by big gifts from the well-to-do.

Jackie Nelson gave a moving testimony years ago that I’ve often repeated. Jackie said, “I am a single mother of three teenagers. My ex-husband does not help. I barely get by. We really want to do our part in this three-year campaign so our new building can be built. But when we discussed it as a family, we realized that we can’t give any more than a tithe. So we decided that our gift would be to pray every day for the success of this program.

“But in the middle of our discussion, my oldest son said, ‘Mom, we’ve got cable television. We don’t have to have that.’ So we’ve decided to give up our cable TV for three years so we can do our part.”

The congregation realized, “If she can make that kind of sacrifice to give a little, we who are so blessed can do even more.” Like the five loaves and two fish that Jesus used to feed a multitude, God took Jackie’s small gift and multiplied it many times over.

I also seek examples that teach through conviction rather than guilt and obligation. For example, I’ve preached:

When my first son was born, we were blessed to have an excellent babysitter who lived next door. Patty not only babysat, she washed dishes, folded clothes, and looked for ways to help around the house. She was dependable, and my son loved her.

When she first started babysitting, I asked Patty how much she charged, and she said, “Fifty cents an hour.” (Obviously this was a long time ago!) I gladly paid that amount.

A few years later, our second son arrived, and I said, “Patty, your responsibilities have increased significantly now. What do you charge for taking care of two children?”

By this time, we had a good relationship, and she said, “Oh, Mr. Russell, just give me what you want to give.”

Do you think I gave more or less than fifty cents an hour?

In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to tithe—10 percent of their crops and flocks were returned to God. In our era, he has given us Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the church, the privilege of living in the most affluent nation in the world, plus so many personal blessings. Yet when we ask how much we should give, he just says, “Give as you have been prospered. You decide whether that should be more or less than a tithe.”

Most people want to be generous. So I don’t hesitate to use that as a motivation for wise stewardship. When I say, “When you are a wise steward, it honors God, relieves tension, gives you self-confidence, eliminates guilt, enhances your witness, and enables you to give more generously,” people are not offended. They understand I’m not talking about fundraising but about a better stewardship of life.

When They Still Complain

No matter how hard you try to make the subject of stewardship helpful and palatable, some people will still object. Many just love money too much, and when you touch a nerve, you elicit strong emotions. But I often remember an old proverb, “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is usually the one who got hit.”

Criticisms need to be evaluated as objectively as possible, but they should not discourage us from preaching the truth. On the contrary, criticism often illustrates the need for preaching on stewardship more often.

Jesus talked a lot about money, but not everyone responded favorably. When the rich ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus didn’t try to develop a long-term relationship with him before discussing the subject of generosity. He said up front, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). That wasn’t very seeker-friendly, and the rich young ruler turned and walked away because he had great possessions. But the problem was with the young man’s greed, not Jesus’ message.

Jesus made it clear there’s a close tie between people’s pocketbooks and their hearts. He didn’t say, “If a person’s heart is right, they will give.” He said, “When you invest your money in something, your heart will follow.” When we motivate people to give, we’re helping them to put their heart in the right place.

Despite the occasional criticism, some of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in ministry have occurred during times of stewardship emphasis. Jerry Nichter, for example, who now serves as chairman of our elders, points to a sacrificial commitment he and his wife made as the turning point in his walk with Christ. “That was the single most deepening spiritual experience of my life,” he admits. Many others echo his testimony.

After making a sacrificial commitment to a major capital campaign, Bill Beauchamp, another elder, wiped tears from his eyes and said, “I just gave away money I don’t have, for people I’ve never met, for a God I love very much.”

Get Ready: I’m Preaching on Money

Here are five ways to prepare your people for a stewardship sermon:

Don’t apologize. A preacher who subscribed to our tape ministry was disgruntled that I had preached four straight sermons on sacrificial giving. “If you don’t’ stop preaching about money, there won’t be any people left to fill up the new building you’re trying to finance,” he wrote.

My wife replied to him, “Dear sir, during the month Bob preached on giving, enthusiasm was high, and twice as many accepted Christ as do in a regular month. Over half of Jesus’ parables concern use of material possessions. Maybe if you preached more often about money, your church would do better. In Jesus’ love, Judy Russell.”

We are ambassadors of Christ, not negotiators. Have confidence that preaching about money is God’s will and that it will strengthen people’s relationship with Christ.

Gain the support of the church leadership prior to the series. An endorsement from church leadership gives you confidence, support, and credibility with the congregation. It also includes and silences some of your most potentially hurtful critics—the leaders themselves.

Include stewardship examples in non-stewardship sermons. A line or two in a sermon unrelated to stewardship reminds the congregation that faithful living always involves giving.

Last Easter, in a sermon on heaven, I talked about our rewards there: “The young Christian woman who remains pure will receive a greater reward than the young woman who yields to temptation. The husband who cares for his sickly wife receives a greater reward than the husband who takes his healthy wife for granted. And the couple who tithes every paycheck from the beginning of marriage will have more treasure in heaven than the couple who gives God the leftovers.”

No one could say the Easter sermon was about giving. But stewardship is such a vital part of life that it should be naturally included on a regular basis.

Emphasize that church funds are administered with integrity. “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Cor. 8:20–21). During every stewardship series, I explain how donations are administered.

The offering is deposited in a safe. The next morning, it is counted and recorded by a volunteer committee. Then it is taken to the bank by the treasurer, who is accompanied by a policeman. Two people must sign all checks, and the preacher is not one of them. The minister has to go through the same red tape of budget requests, purchase orders, and receipts as others do. Our church is a member of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability, and there is an annual, independent audit of our books. The church staff is reminded to spend church funds more frugally than if they were their own.

People are motivated to give when they are confident they are giving directly to legitimate needs.

Title sermons to communicate they’re about more than giving. Message titles that reflect an emphasis on helping people understand money, instead of giving more of it, takes the dread out of money messages. A sermon series on “Money Matters” could include: “How Can You Make the Most of What You Have?” “When is Enough Enough?”

Taken from The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching by CRAIG BRIAN LARSON; HADDON ROBINSON. Copyright © 2005 by Christianity Today International. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Bob Russell retired as Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in June 2006. During his tenure, the church grew from a few hundred members to a megachurch with an average weekend attendance of over 18,000, becoming one of the largest in America. He now serves as Chairman of the Board of Londen Institute, an organization that enables men and women to pursue a second career in the ministry. Bob also conducts monthly mentoring retreats for active ministers, seeking to encourage them and pass on some of his lessons learned.

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Talk about it...

David Henderson

commented on Aug 23, 2010

Excellent thoughts Bob! Thank you.

Hal Seed

commented on Aug 23, 2010

Excellent article Bob! With the pastors I mentor, money is almost always the pivotal issue that keeps them from taking bold steps for the gospel. I’m going to forward your article to them now!

Scott Weber

commented on Aug 23, 2010

Thank you Bob. When I preached a four week series in the fall of 2007 on "What the Bible Says About Debt," I received a wonderful response. I never mentioned giving to the church. I did not have to. The implications were obvious. Our church reduced its debt and so did many of our people. The timing was wonderful with the economy crashing in 2008. Since then, our giving has not gone down, even with the bad economy. I need to be sure to do a series on generosity at least every two years.

Thomas Cash

commented on Aug 24, 2010

Bob, superb thoughts, as usual! In a previous ministry I was asked to preach sermons on stewardship every November. It set the tone for Thanksgiving (as well as the Holiday spending season) and always resulted in increased offerings and volunteer efforts. Besides the Bible, do you have some suggestions for good resouce material?

Sergio Handal

commented on Aug 24, 2010

Bob thanks!!!! It is good for being sensible to the congregation, but without stopping preaching the Word. Excellent thought!

David Hodgin

commented on Aug 24, 2010

Thank you for a practical applicable message on a delicate subject and the reminder to preach the truth in love.

Saul Dela Cruz

commented on Dec 29, 2010

Bright ideas Brother Bob. More blessings

Vincent Tedesco

commented on Mar 26, 2018

Tithing falls under the Law, The Old Testament Law, Does it not? All you pastors who are following the Old law have no idea what you are doing or talking about or are manipulating the Bible for personal gain, The Bible says, that if you follow even one part of the old law , you are required to follow all of it, you can't Ala cart the things you choose to follow that benefits your lifestyle, ... Obviously you came to this page or found this topic because most likely you are a pastor looking for justification for preaching the old law of tithe, most of you find the $6000 pay day attractive, I stumbled on it by accident, The Bible is clear, If you know someone is doing wrong and you don't bring it to their attention that you are endorsing their sins and will be held accountable for their sins coming from that action, Misled people mislead people, I am not judging you, I am merely giving you my opinion, I am not a graduate from Oral Robert or any Bible college or even a pastor with a certificate from any state, or whatever people think you need to say you know what God wants done, I could be wrong and if you can show me in the Bible where I am wrong please make me aware, that is your job.. Jesus came did not come to condemn the law but to fulfill it, I could be wrong and correct me if I am wrong , but does that mean all of it? and tithe is under the law before He came, right? I am just trying to keep this in perspective, Jesus meant what He said, He did not tell us to make His words fit our agenda.. When he told the disciples to throw out the nets they threw one out and it broke, but when they threw them out they caught more then ever before.. Everything that Jesus spoke of in the New Testament was based on the Spirit and when He spoke on giving, He was speaking on what you have learned of the things of Him, for instance, when He said, do not keep it in the store house, He was speaking on us keeping what we have learned to ourselves, we are the storehouse He is referring to.. (I am not going to add the books and verses, partly because most of you are pastors, some are hirelings of the king of this world, besides that I do not know where it is at in writing, But as God is my witness, it is there) Do you really think that Jesus wanted us to give up everything just so we can fleece the flock to get it back, and do you think it is fair to ask the bodies in the seats to have faith that God will supply all their needs if they believe and pay your bills, But I ask you where is your faith that He will do it for you? Sounds too much to me like the prosperity gospel Jesus never spoke on getting rich in the material world, He cares about our needs not our comfort, If He cared about comfort, don't you think that Jesus would have had a pillow instead of a rock for one? The first church in Antioch was in the side of a mountain and they did not have signs, in fact up until Constantine, Christians were getting slaughtered, as Believers we are supposed to be a family, and as a family we contribute to the commission to bring the Word to the world, Not to fancy cars, houses swimming pools When Aninias and his wife gave up the ghost, it was not for not giving everything but for lying and acting in pride by saying they gave all, they in fact did not have to give all but again, they lied out of pride, the very thing that sent satan to hell, most of the pastors today in fact most believers don't realize envy is enough to keep you out of Heaven, this article is all about envy and comfort and pride, Where is God in this article, If you would bring the real message instead of having rock concerts and playing church and give people the real meat of the Word, people will be on your sidewalks with their piggy banks and you would not have to run that 20 min video on how people can give by check, cash or credit card (by the way is against God, Slave to the lender..) And really if we look at the tithe issue in another way, you have people giving 10% then give them a tax right off so they are really giving 7% and at the end of the year give them a statement , against all things in the Bible, Old and New testament, In fact as I think about it, according to what you are preaching, Jesus owes the woman who gave it all some change, He should have only taken 10% and gotten her address to give her a write off...The Gospel that Jesus and the disciples died for is so far from where all of you are, Bringing people to Christ is not a business, it is not about the numbers of people, it is about the one, the one you do really change..(most of you) you are not teaching people how to live for the things of God, but in fact teaching them how to live in today's world, I tell you this and God is my witness, He is putting a Spirit on the earth, one of Faith, and power and love, not the love any of you speak of, but the love Jesus spoke of, compassionate love, To love your neighbor is not to put his trash out or mow his lawn, but is to have the mind of Christ and see inside of his heart and feel his pain, Satan has this world right where he wants it, you all might say I am judging.. Nope the judging verse(plank in the eye) all of you like to throw out on the pulpit is so wrong, if you read it in full context, it clearly means that do not judge if you are doing the same things.. and besides we are called to judge angels and if we can't judge here we won't do it there, just please wake up, this calling is not about money of material gain, it is about Faith prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit and bringing people to Christ through truth, God is putting a Spirit on the earth that will force you to raise the bar or close your doors..He is returning very soon and my prayer for all of you is that you open your eyes and realize that God can use a jawbone of an ass to slay many, but when you throw it on the ground, someone can pick it up and kill a righteous believer.. in closing this out let me say this, I do not want to be a christian, a christian is the guy down the street that is robbing the bank with the cross around his neck.. I want to be a follower of Christ, Do you remember being a kid growing up and you lost your ball in the sticker bush and you were either the one who went in the bushes to get it, by stepping cautiously or like me you let someone go first so you can step in their footsteps and not get stuck or you were the one reaching in with the stick trying to get it out, churches today are the ones with the stick. After Jesus just fed thousands with a little boys lunchbox, The disciples were in the boat and it was storming, they were scared and huddled together, they forgot all about the things He had just done, be the one who remembered and get out of the boat. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, some of the disciples went back to their boats and other things, the ones who gave up everything had nowhere else to go, because they gave up everything, some left families, kids.. This is not a business they did not have a 501c3 tax exempt status, that is man's plan, you have to ask yourself in the big picture, why would they decide to offer that status, you are no longer under God's law you are under the worlds law, Satan was a legalist, you figure it out, and just an FYi, there is no such thing as a music ministry, again man's idea, satan was the chief musician in heaven and in the Bible it tells you that in the end all violins, music and will cease, it also says to sing hymns and melodies in your heart, for the things of God None of this is new, we have been here before, Satan has been here since before Genesis 1.. I am not judging for things you do not know, I am making you aware, The judge will be here later, it would really not be good if when you die and you are in front of God and you look over and you and satan are in the same room, even he will bow before God and he knows it..God and satan got into a battle because he wanted to be like God and have free will, God cast him down and then created us and gave us free mad do you think satan is? Jesus by the way was not a wood carpenter he worked as a mason, with stone, how much wood did they have in the wilderness? wilderness meant desert, everything was sand and stone, everything He speaks of has to do with stonework.. cornerstone, plumb line, foundation chief stone...and Paul did not make tents as in dwelling place he made prayer shawls, he was very educated and got that way by being around the scholars making shawls.. Talit means tent or covering in Hebrew, all you pastors need to stop preaching the Word with western eyes and for this region of the world, you are unaware that you are misleading your flock..The power of the Holy Spirit is here and it only gets unlocked through faith, prayer and preaching the truth, unless you are scared to preach the truth for a lack of getting money, you do what you want, but God is tired of leaders that have not learned to follow, trying to lead people who really want the truth, Then again what do I know, I quit school at 15, I am 50 now and woke up one day 2 years ago with all this information.. I prayed for God to send me where nobody else will go, my family left me saying I was crazy, my pastor said I needed professional help, my family are christians and we went to the same church for 10 years, who preached on the Holy Spirit.. let me just say, EVERYTHING in the Bible is true, my prayer is that God does what He does with me to you, walk you through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations and stops to speak to you at the well or sits next to you on a hill watching David slay Goliath, By the way... Goliath did not come to kill David , He came to make him Great, I pray that God gives you all the backbone of Christ, David had it.. Someone was speaking bad about David's God, David stepped out in faith... Anyway, I come to preach God and that the miracles of healing can and do happen, cancer cured, broken bones restored, and even people getting up and walking out of wheelchairs, It is in no way me, it is God and all is required is Faith.. your congregation needs to know the power of God, can you deliver it? put the works of the world away, go deeper then any church around and I promise you that God will honour it.. I am a nobody, not a pastor or even a learned student, in fact I could be sitting in your church this sunday, which should be saturday.. Constantine was slick.. all I know is that, let's say there will be a round up of christians, the govenment know who you are and where you will be on what day.. be wise and gain knowledge in everything, go deeper and learn the hidden thins in this spiritual balttle, the two worlds will collide soon, it is starting already, the spiritual and natural, pray for spiritual eyes and the mind of Christ, don't get distracted by to shiny sword, put the armour on.. One last thing, did you know that back when the armour of God was written and Paul speaks of the shield of Faith...Above all things: means what is next is important.. back then they used to soak the shields in water to put out the fiery darts of the enemy.. In pauls case here the shield is the Faith but it is soaked with the water , which represents the Holy Spirit, which does not come unless you have faith and healing does not come without prayer and fasting, when Jesus woke up early and went into the world to pray, when He came back down He did all kinds of miracles... Prayer and fasting is like a bank account and the miracles are the withdraws... I like to think I have a savings account... What we do on earth will mirror what we will do in heaven, money does not matter, there will not be people to convince to give anything to you, the defiled Gospel will have no place there.. all I know is I do not want to be cutting the grass in heaven.. all of this is said in love and do not take it the wrong way, if you feel disrespected, that is your pride being hurt, satan is in hell because of pride,.... Read the word with the right eyes and for the time it was written, Gods ministry will gain souls Nothing in the New Testament of the Bible is about material gain, Jesus came for the poor, downtrodden and the ones for the heart of God,not the high minded and the people worshipping Baal.. sorry so long, not even sure what was written, not even going to proof read, if anything is not Biblical let me know.. 5 min of you sermon should be you and then let the Holy Spirit take over, take no script or papers, if your agenda is God then let Him drive..your only agenda should be God and your only position should be God.. If you are one that sweats when preaching, slow down you are working too hard, the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, but He is also a person, He can be grieved and has emotions, He is not sitting on a deli line with a number, for some of you you have placed Him on the unemployment line, the Disciples are up there not believing they died for this....

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