As long as I have been in the ministry, September begins the build up to the annual push to meet the church budget. It usually begins with an announcement in the council room that we are behind in our giving. A few conversations begin at this point:
- Strategy: What announcements do we need to make? Do we need to address some particular people? Who will make the announcements from the pulpit? Should we put letters in mailboxes?
- Who is responsible? The finance committee because they deal with the money, the deacons because they deal with stewardship, the elders because these are spiritual matters, or the pastor who should preach a sermon about it all.
- And finally, a conversation begins about giving as an indication of spiritual health. Jesus invited us to be “rich toward God”. And it seems that some are miserly.
Bottom line is that many are seeking to avoid responsibility and at the same time recognize that something significant is as stake. We need to talk about money and at the same time we would rather avoid it.
Our use of money is one place where our spirituality gets incarnated. Spirituality in our imagination is rather high-minded, mystical, and holy. But money matters seem stressful, mundane, practical and –in these days of recession – discouraging. Bills need to be paid or there are consequences. We want to get things cheap. In restaurants, we tip according to what servers deserve. I am interested in the language used when we talk about money. Language reveals values. Often times the language of money contradicts the language of our spirituality. It is an old problem. Read Isaiah 58 on fasting and justice and notice that the very spiritual people were confronted by practices of profound economic injustice. In our day, many people are willing to go into debt to go on vacation, or purchase what they desire but will give only from what remains in their bank account at the end of the month. Because of these contradictions in our own lives, talking about money and giving inevitably makes us uncomfortable. Our claims that Jesus is our Lord and Master are put to the test when we face our own spending habits.
But this is also why pastors and elders need to take responsibility for leading the congregation in this area. We are not solving a budget crisis. We are always engaging the heart - which means we are engaging our own heart. Over the years I have found that those who find it easy to speak about money, giving, and generosity are the ones have learned to face the tension in their own heart. Because they want to follow Jesus they are willing to be disciplined by Jesus in their money management. When faced with the tension and when they feel resistance rise in their hearts, they have examined their own hearts to see how the ‘desires of the flesh’ are interfering with their walk with God. The Stewardship of our money is really just incarnated spirituality.
I don’t know what the best strategy is. You can share yours, it might work for others. But I know who is responsible. You are. I know dealing with our money is a matter of “following Jesus.” It is a sensitive matter. It reveals the core of our heart. What is at stake our willingness to be disciplined by our claim that Jesus is Lord, and that we seek first his kingdom. This is not good to avoid.