Cash Got Your Tongue? Why do pastors wince at money-talk?

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I first met — and was impressed by — the Rev. Karl Travis when he spoke at a stewardship conference, and I’ve been following his stewardship wisdom ever since. In today’s post, Karl calls out several reasons pastors hesitate to address money in our ministry. Not stopping there, however, he then describes how essential it is to move from avoidance to healthy, pastoral stewardship leadership. Preach it, brother!

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

Cash Got Your Tongue? Why do pastors wince at money-talk?

Rev. Karl Travis

I talk with a lot of pastors, and a lot of pastors tell me that they hate preaching about money. The aversion is easy to understand.

Pastors are institutional authority figures in an anti-institutional age. The distrust, even cynicism, felt for American government and corporations can’t help but drip into the Church and onto pastors. Truth told, a seminary degree and a clerical robe don’t carry yesterday’s admiration. Pastors get conflated with other self-promoting, institution-protecting leaders.

And, given ever growing wealth disparity, middle class economic struggles, and the high number of families struggling just to get by, empathetic pastors are cautious about money-talk. Extracting blood from self-perceived turnips hardly seems pastoral.

Next, add to these cultural contexts the ecclesiastical, professional, and personal realities.

Seminaries can only teach so much. Many pastors are woefully ill prepared to think or preach theologically about money. Speaking of seminaries, young pastors often carry educational debt into their first calls and must pinch pennies to make loan payments.

Debt is hardly the only claim on the pastor’s meager income, either. And, managing money isn’t typically the pastor’s forte. We tend to be caring and creative types. Financial acumen isn’t usually a front burner skill. So, what’s true at our kitchen table is also true at the church board’s meeting table. Making budgets and inspiring people to subscribe them, well, I don’t know any pastor whose call to ministry centered on these tasks.

Pastors are often embarrassed at the high percentage of our church’s budgets it takes to pay us, and to provide housing and health insurance and pension plans, so our vision to inspire our parishioners to growing generosity is frequently clouded by our fear that we will appear self-interested. If we ask for an increase in giving, we worry, they’ll think that we’re angling for a raise and an even higher percentage of the budget.

Every pastor knows and teaches the trinity of stewardship: time, talent, and treasure. We’ve taught this triad so long and so well that we shouldn’t be surprised that many of our parishioners — even those with plenty of money — have cut a quid-pro-quo with God. Time and talent will suffice for treasure, they think. A recent Barna survey reveals a jaw dropping delta between pastors and their parishioners on this subject.

I will not minimize any of these realities.

I will nonetheless observe what seems to me an inviolable truth: a congregation’s generosity is built upon its pastor’s generosity. There is no single indicator of a congregation’s financial faith that is not somehow linked to its pastor’s leadership. Especially for Heads of Staff, working with associate pastors, the tone and tenor of the stewardship culture emerges from the pastor’s voice. If pastors — and pastoral staffs — are to lead churches to a vibrant trust in God’s provision, we must understand and confront all of these hurdles, and then, leap them!

Then, can we preach the truth.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” we intone at funerals, “I shall not want.”

Do we actually believe this?

Are we able and willing to stand with a straight back and a clear voice and proclaim our personal conviction that indeed, God will provide, and that built upon this trust we may together risk for the ministries of Christ’s body?

Sometimes pastors ask me how to talk about money with parishioners. My response is simple. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for money-talk with parishioners.

But, I am confident that when pastors dig deeply into our personal resistances to money-talk, and pray God’s inspiration beyond them, our generosity conversations will become authentic, free flowing, and faith filled.

Our congregations will benefit. Our parishioners will grow in trust. God will be glorified.

For More Information

Karl Travis is the Pastor/Head of Staff of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Fascinated and inspired by generosity, he is a frequent preacher, conference speaker, and writer on the subject.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute.

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