“Beware of preaching on money.”
That’s not in the Bible, but it ought to be.
And somewhere in the Proverbs we could insert this one:
“He who preaches on money to a new congregation should expect the honeymoon to end abruptly.”
Few subjects are as fraught with danger for the unsuspecting pastor than preaching on stewardship (money, giving, tithing, contributions to the Lord’s work, greed, materialism, however you want to put it).
As a new pastor of a church that had broken ground for a $5 million sanctuary just before I arrived, I found we were running behind the budget and were facing some hard financial decisions quickly. So, I did what I had always done in previous churches with a fair amount of success: I preached on giving.
It seemed the logical thing to do.
In fairness to myself, I wasn’t harsh or demanding, legalistic or judgmental. I thought my approach was balanced and scriptural.
Almost immediately, I began receiving anonymous notes from longtime members, all saying pretty much the same: “We are not used to our pastor preaching on money all the time. Please stop.”
I got the message.
There is no use in doing something the congregation is rejecting.
Another approach would have to be found. (I never did find it, and my ministry there–which got off to such a rocky start–lasted a very short three years.)
The preacher is in a no-win situation. If the money to support the church program does not come in, he gets blamed. The staff’s ministries grind to a halt (or are seriously curtailed) and the pastor, being the point man, is accused of not inspiring the congregation to give. However, in order to get the money in, he has to talk to the congregation about it, whether in sermons or letters or other means, depending on his creativity.
If the congregation rejects this direct approach, there is nothing more to be done. (At least, nothing I could think of at the time.)
The next church I served had a different kind of financial problems. Eighteen months before I arrived, the previous pastor had split the church and taken away a group to begin a new congregation. I came into a church with millions of dollars in debt but a fraction of the income they had received prior to the upheaval.
Guess what I did.
Right. I preached on money.
I came up with a cute idea–or so I thought.
You’ve heard the expression “put up or shut up.” I had a large banner made for the front of the sanctuary that read: “PUT UP OR SHUT DOWN.” I liked that clever play on words. I built a few sermons around the theme of putting feet to our faith, of getting in or getting out. As our Lord said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46)
I thought the slogan was an appropriate way of summing up that text and spoke clearly to our situation.
I was the only one who thought that. The chairman of deacons advised me that it sounded negative, that instead of inspiring the people the theme made it appear that we were on the brink of bankruptcy. In private conferences with a few other leaders, I found they agreed.
So, I took it down and did what I should have done in the previous church.
I waited on the Lord.
I told the Lord I would not preach on stewardship/giving until He specifically told me how to do it, the texts to use, and when to start.
Two summers later, He provided the answer.
Somewhere at that time I read where a pastor challenged his people to tithe their income to the church for a certain time-period and promised that, if at the end, they had not been blessed financially, the church would refund their money.
Something about that struck a chord within me.
I could not get out of my mind the Lord’s challenge in Malachi 3:10 where He invited Israel to put Him to the test: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse…and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not open the windows of Heaven and pour you out a blessing there will not be room to contain.”
As I laid that before the Lord, a plan began to emerge.
The plan that took shape and which was eventually approved by our key leadership we called “SUMMER BLESSED: Make this a summer blessed of the Lord.” (We made jokes about it: “Summer blessed and summer not.”)
We would challenge our people to tithe their incomes to the Lord through our church for the three months of that summer. Come the first of September, anyone who would write the pastor a letter informing him that he had not been blessed sufficiently–in whatever way he chose to define that, spiritually, financially, whatever–could ask for and receive his tithes back.
Once again we erected a banner in front of the sanctuary and I brought sermons on giving. We had a few testimonies about stewardship and we undergirded this with a great deal of prayer.
The difference this time was that we had waited on the Lord. This one had His blessing.
This turned out to be only the second summer of my entire ministry–which had begun three decades earlier–when the church’s contributions climbed Sunday by Sunday instead of taking a nosedive. The results were stunning.
At the end, one man wrote to ask for his money back. The funny thing about this–which I can tell now, twenty years later–is that this same fellow had written a book on financial stewardship and giving just a year or two earlier.
I informed a couple of key leaders about his request, they approved the refund, and we returned his contributions to him. (I have no memory of how large a sum that involved.)
Not long ago, a pastor told me he never preaches on stewardship and that the very idea makes him physically ill. When I pointed out that by his own admission his congregation was hurting financially–they were having to cut the budget!–and that the solution was to teach his people about stewardship, he was adamant that he would not do so. It was his protest, he said, against the preachers who manipulate their people in order to get their money.
I understand his concern but not his conclusion.
Because some do it wrong does not mean the rest of us should not get it right.
The “right” way to preach on stewardship, to train one’s people to honor God with their income, involves:
1) Knowing all the New Testament’s teachings on the subject. That is not a formidable task for a pastor who is devoted to knowing and teaching all of God’s word anyway. Passages like Matthew 6:19-21, Mark 12:41-44, I Corinthians 16:1-9, and II Corinthians 8-9 are some of the most helpful teachings on this subject.
2) Setting a good example himself. The pastor who would not be willing to invite the entire congregation to look at his giving record is not going to do a good job of preaching on giving. Let him build a reputation as a generous giver.
3) Learning, knowing, and teaching all the reasons God wants His people to give to His work. And how many reasons are there? Probably 500. The first ten reasons are: to honor the Lord, to break the stranglehold of greed and materialism, to lay up treasure in Heaven, to fund laborers who go into distant fields with the Gospel, to encourage other believers to give, to rebuke the devil, to maintain the church’s strong presence in this community, to fund the local ministries and programs, to set a great example for our children, and to force myself to keep my priorities straight.
This is why it is never an adequate reason not to preach on giving when a church is meeting its budget financially. That is indeed one reason we are to teach our people to give (“that there may be provisions in my house”–Malachi 3:10), but it’s only one. There are 499 others!
A pastor who can preach well on stewardship owes it to other preachers to show them how. And all pastors should labor in prayer and in the study until the Lord shows them how He wants it done.
I hope someone invites me to preach on stewardship soon. I love to help people get this thing straight!