Many of us may have been convinced by Pastor Greg Meyer’s convictions about the role of the church in personal finance, but most of us would have no idea where to start. See if there are any people in your congregation or community who hold personal finance credentials (something like the CFP® or teachers of personal finance at the local school). They can help you start to imagine what could work in your context. So much of what we read and watch about personal finance is driven by sales. Be careful to work with people who abide by a fiduciary standard, even if you aren’t giving investment advice.
Catherine Malotky, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Should Churches Teach Personal Finance? (Part 2)
By Greg Meyer
Read Part 1
If you think teaching personal finance isn’t the church’s domain, then you’re missing the fact that money is one of the biggest spiritual challenges facing the people in your church. Money, wealth, and the possessions they provide represent a spiritual crisis separating people from their real values and desire to follow God; and the people in our churches are well aware it is a problem for them. At Fabric we have two openly stated goals to address this:
- Every person connected with our community has a budget they can live on. We provide help to figure it out, stay on it, and get back on track if they fall off it.
- Similarly, if someone has unsecured debt, we help with a plan to figure out how to get out of debt, support to stick with their plan, and help to get back on track if they fall off it. To meet this goal we realized we needed to overcome the shame and isolation that financial problems create so that we can deal with this lifelong challenge openly, not secretly; proactively, not as crisis.
To do this we normalize the conversation several ways:
- First, the money conversation can’t be a program running off on the side but is front and center. We address money as the spiritual obstacle it is regularly in preaching—sometimes as an illustration, as the sermon focus more than once a year, and through a several-week preaching series about every other year.
- When we talk about finances we don’t hide behind religious or indirect language. We talk about money and possessions and the forces behind them the way people experience them in their daily lives. We also don’t preach answers or the right and wrong ways of handling money. We help people understand the messy world of wealth in their lives in order to inspire and empower them in their relationship with it.
- We further normalize the money conversation by leveling the playing field. We make it clear that this is something we all struggle with. The lure of money and possessions affects everyone regardless of income or stage of life. We all have room to grow.
Consequently, finances is one of the most asked-for preaching topics in our community. They don’t associate talking about this difficult topic with being asked for money, but with getting help wrestling with something that is deeply challenging their lives and relationships.
To help people actualize their hopes for financial health we offer free financial coaching, provided by members of the congregation who have some knowledge of personal finance. We also use our small groups to get people comfortable with talking about their financial struggles and as a place for friendly mutual support, learning and accountability. We also ask premarital couples to meet with a financial coach as part of their preparation for marriage.
Fabric is a 13-year-old re-invented congregation of the ELCA. Even though we are relatively small, with a fairly large staff for our size (3 full-time, 3 part-time, 1 stipend) and filled with young people who have little church experience or history of giving to a church, we are self-sustaining financially. Our stewardship program is what you just read about above.
We believed from the beginning that our job was to help people understand their finances from the deepest, fullest perspective, not convince them to give us money. We help people move from drowning (as money and debt make all the decisions in their lives), to getting their heads above water (where money begins to serve them), to soaring (so that every dollar and decision can be an expression of the hopes and values they hold and reflect in their entire lives—including at church).
Should churches teach personal finance? I think the question really is, “Dare we not?”
If you are interested in the resources Fabric uses for preaching about this difficult topic contact Greg Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other personal finance resources include:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ (note the “Consumer Tools” tab)
- Lutheran Social Service Financial Counseling https://www.lssmn.org/financialcounseling/
About the Author
Greg Meyer is lead pastor of Fabric, which was launched in 2006 (as Jacob’s Well) as a congregation deeply woven into the Twin Cities (specifically, South Minneapolis). Greg’s reason for developing Fabric “isn’t to make sure everyone believes the right or the same thing, but to provide a community where people can fully engage the most important questions, keep God out of the box, and do life together.”