Church leaders can find it difficult to talk about money. Pastors list many reasons why: they don’t want to offend people by talking about it too much; they are reluctant or uncomfortable because giving pays their salary; they know that people are struggling in recessionary times. But leadership is essential to fund the ministry of the church (not simply our salaries). We have a pastoral responsibility to address an issue which touches people’s lives every single day; helping people grow in generosity is critical to their spiritual development.
If you struggle with preaching, teaching, and talking about money at church, here are some reminders to ease the way:
1. Remember to lighten up.
Money, like all anxious topics, causes people to get serious. If you can cultivate your sense of humor about it, you’ll find it easier. When I was a pastor, I started making a file of money humor and cartoons. I took a look at it before money-related meetings. (My favorite was the cartoon about the church treasurer running off to Las Vegas with the endowment.) Sometimes I shared one of the cartoons, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, it helped me lower my anxiety (and made the meeting more fun for me and others).
2. Remember it’s not about money, it’s about leadership.
To live out God’s purpose as a church requires resources. To become reality, a vision needs not only energy and creativity, but also money. Remember why you are challenging people to grow in financial stewardship. In your own thinking and speaking about giving, keep the vision in the forefront. (It doesn’t have to be a big vision to start—if you’re stuck, keep it small.)
3. Remember it’s not just about money, it’s about ministry.
People need a spiritual context for their financial lives. If you talk about money more often, you can help them develop a way to think about their resources, apart from funding the church budget. In today’s money-minded world, this is an essential part of our pastoral ministry.
4. Remember it is about you.
It’s not about your salary or your personality, but your own presence in the congregation, courageously addressing these difficult questions about money. Take the time to figure out what you think about money, and little by little, tell your people what that is. You are not responsible for what everyone else thinks or does—but you are responsible for yourself. Learn more about your family story regarding money, and little by little, share that with people—and give them the opportunity to tell their stories in return.
5. Remember it takes time.
Increasing your comfort level with these conversations won’t happen overnight. Seeing a shift in your congregation’s relationship to money won’t happen in a week, or even a year. But, over time, you can look back and say, "See how far I’ve come—see how far we’ve come. We handle money better. We give more. We are more faithful in our lives and our ministry together." That’s a reason to celebrate.
6. Do it more often.
If all our financial teaching takes place during three weeks of the year, it's not enough for people who deal with money every day. If you preach and teach about faith and financial life at a time when you are not asking people to give, people won't say, "They are always asking for money." At the same time, you can talk about financial stewardship at points throughout the year. When I was a pastor, I found when we implemented a year-round stewardship program, doing something related to stewardship every month of the year, it was much easier to launch the fall campaign, and we had better results.
7. Tell your own story.
Rather than trying to get people to give more, tell them why and how much you give. You can share your own challenges in making these decisions. Joe Clifford, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, spoke in a stewardship sermon about his journey toward giving: "I talked about a time in my life when I was giving $500 to the church. I felt like I was doing pretty well, I'd never given $500 a year to anything in my life. But I realized I was giving basically 1% of what I was earning, and that really wasn't a big deal. We got on the journey toward tithing. We couldn't start at 10% but we started at 2% and we worked our way up and over time we got to 10%. I was very honest about the fact that we set a personal goal to be at a tithe, but there are years we make it and years we don't. I spoke very openly about it, and I had so many people who came to me and said, 'Thank you so much for being that honest.'" Telling your story helps you stand alongside your people as they make these decisions for themselves.
8. Enlist others.
Recruit leaders who are generous financially and otherwise, and who are a calm presence in the congregation and on the board. A treasurer with a sense of humor is a gift from God!
9. Limit media exposure.
The more anxious you are, the harder it will be to have conversations about money. The media intentionally tries to raise anxiety to get attention—about everything, and these last few years especially about money. You might want to know in general what's going on in the world at large and to have a sense of what your people are taking in. But consider whether it's necessary to spend hours watching CNN or reading news online.
10. Read the gospels.
Jesus' words about money again and again challenge me to grow and help me manage my anxiety. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and wealth" and "Seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
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