By Jeff Matas
In my experience, not many pastors intentionally teach, preach and disciple their church in generosity. Talking about money is awkward. We don’t want to alienate or anger people inside the church, and we certainly don’t want to add unnecessary barriers to Jesus for those that are unsaved. So, we don’t talk about it. We trust that people will see the value in supporting the church financially. They will know how important it is to be a generous giver and will continue to give, and somehow new people will be so thrilled by their experience on Sunday that they will start to give. The strategy is to not mention it, don’t teach it, it will all work out. There are a couple of problems with that approach. First, the baby boomer generation that gives the bulk of the finances to church budgets is retiring or dying off and their giving is declining every year. And second, one of the major issues people face (inside and outside of the church) is money. They are maxed out in debt. They don’t budget. They live paycheck to paycheck and are one paycheck away from insolvency. They don’t like the way they handle money. They are not saving. They don’t have enough. They worry about it. They don’t like thinking about retirement because they haven’t planned for it. They want to master their money instead of money being their master. They want to be able to save. They want to have a financial plan that will send their kids to college and allow them to save for retirement. And I really believe that most people want to be generous givers they just don’t know how when they are barely getting by financially. All this results in limited financial resources for the church to do ministry (as church budgets flatline or slowly decrease), while our people are desperate for someone to disciple them on biblical stewardship principles on how to handle their money.
Pastor, the reason you need to talk about money is not your love of the church budget, it’s your love of your people. It’s not what you want from them, it’s what you want for them.
Teaching about money is an important part of discipleship. You are discipling your people in one of the most important areas in their lives. It will improve their marriages, since money and spending are always near the top reasons of marital discord and divorce. It will improve the quality of their lives. They will lower their dependence on debt. They will start having healthy conversations about money, finances, saving and giving. They can be set free to order their lives the way God intended.
How do you do it?
Be intentional, have a plan
You need to have a structure in place—a strategy—to disciple your people regarding their finances. I would suggest doing it in three settings: from the pulpit, in small groups, and one-on-one.
- From the pulpit
Every year, plan on teaching your church about stewardship. Stewardship is the biblical principle that God is Lord (He is the source—the owner—of everything I have), I am the steward (God entrusts his gifts to me and I am accountable to him for my stewardship of those gifts). Stewardship encompasses all of life. Everything you have is a gift from God: time, talents, children, grandchildren, money, job, education, marriage, spiritual gifts, opportunities, the purpose of your life, salvation itself, I could go on and on. There’s a lot of preaching that can be done under this umbrella, because the umbrella covers all of life.
Schedule a stewardship series every year that lasts for three to four weeks, with at least one of those weeks devoted to finances. Every three to five years, you can have a sermon series dedicated solely to finances and teach your folks what the bible says about money, debt, saving, and giving.
The most important part of this sermon series is asking your people to step up, to commit to tithe to the church. If you don’t ask for a commitment, then you are robbing your people of a chance to step up and make a decision to change. It’s here that some pastors push back and argue that the New Testament doesn’t talk about tithing, that tithing is an Old Testament concept meant for people under the law. The New Testament teaches grace, not the law. If that’s you, let me ask you a question. In the Old Testament, if you add up all the giving that is required, the people gave far more than a tithe (10%). Here’s the question: If people under the law gave a minimum of 10%, how is it that we that live under grace—that was purchased by the blood of Christ—should give less? I have never had a conversation with someone that believes tithing is an Old Testament only concept that shouldn’t be taught in the church that gives at a tithing level or above. Never. Not one time. They might be out there; I just haven’t met them. Andy Stanley is often embraced by young pastors as an example of a leader that really understands the Bible and communicates it well in a post-Christian context. He will never be accused of being a legal fundamentalist. Here’s how Andy Stanley talks about money to his church: “Until Jesus is first in your finances, Jesus isn’t first. You’re not a follower. You’re a user. And Judas tried that.” (from the sermon series, “Money Talks,” February 2019)
When I was a lead pastor, here’s how I would give the church the opportunity to commit to tithe. At the end of the final sermon in the series, I would have commitment cards in the seats or in the bulletin. The cards had two places to indicate their commitment by checking one of two options:
- I will trust God in the area of my finances by…
- Continuing to tithe (10%) of my income to First Church of God
- I will take the step of faith and trust God by beginning to tithe (10%) of my income to First Church of God
- The cards had a place on the bottom where the person would sign their name
Each year, the cards would be slightly different depending on the theme of the sermon series, but they always included those two options to select. As I led this at the conclusion of the final sermon, I would hold my card up and say that Carla and I are pledging to our church family that we will be faithful. We love this church; we believe in its mission and will not miss a tithe. I also tell them that the only person that will see their cards will be me. I promise to pray for them every day as they trust God, especially to those that are deciding to tithe for the first time. I then address the people that are guests or those that simply can’t commit and fill out the card by telling them that the point of this is not to shame people or call them out. If you are a guest, leave the card blank. In fact, as the ushers come to collect the cards, I want everyone to turn their cards face-down and put them in the baskets so that everyone’s decision is confidential and private. I have never had someone complain about how we approached that time of commitment because it was always bathed in transparency and grace.
That week, I would personally write everyone that checked one of those two options for commitment to encourage and thank them. The cards also resulted in many conversations with individuals and couples that took that first step of tithing where I could answer questions, pray for them, encourage them, and most importantly celebrate with them. The following Sunday, I would announce how many people stepped up for the first time and trusted God in the area of their finances and before I could finish, the church would erupt in celebration with applause and shouts of praise.
The stewardship series became an annual spiritual highwater mark for the church. People looked forward to it. They would hear real life stories from the congregation of folks that wanted to tell their faith story of how they trusted God and what a difference that made in their lives. As a pastor, I saw more spiritual growth occur during the stewardship series than at any other time of the year. There really is powerful truth in Jesus’ statement that “where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.” Teaching that stewardship is lordship can be transformative.
- In a small group setting
After you teach on stewardship (or any time in the year), offer financial training in a small group setting. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace is an excellent resource and there are others available that can give your people the tools they need to address their spending, saving, and giving. Small groups are perfect for this and will foster relationships and community. They are safe places for conversations and questions that can occur in the group or one-on-one. People will leave the teaching with key information, biblical principles, support, and a plan for the future.
Talk about stewardship in your new members class or your welcome to First Church class. Use that time to cast vision, to talk about stewardship and the freedom that can come when we trust God with our finances and put Him first. Invite them to specific training opportunities that the church offers such as Financial Freedom. Some churches frame their new members class as a “partner” level of commitment in the church. It is there that they teach stewardship and ask for a commitment to tithe, along with time and talents.
Pastor, teach stewardship to your people. Do it, not because the church needs the money, do it because you love your people.