Avoiding the connection between faith and money
By the Rev.
William O. Avery
and laity alike seem to find money talk of any sort an embarrassing and
One of our
seniors at Gettysburg Seminary has received a call to a rural parish in
Pennsylvania. She knows as she prepares to be ordained and begin her call
that her salary and benefits package will be 62 percent of the annual
budget of the congregation. It's a struggle for the congregation to meet
minimum synod guidelines for clergy compensation.
she faces an extra difficult task in teaching and preaching about money
because whenever she mentions financial giving, church members will still
interpret that what she is really talking about is her own salary. She
runs the risk of being seen as avaricious or greedy for talking about
money. What is she to do?
This is a
common issue in every synod and most every congregation. A parish where
the pastor's salary makes up more than 50 percent of the annual budget
simply makes the issue more visible. Clergy and laity alike seem to find
money talk of any sort to be a vaguely embarrassing and silence-inducing
topic of conversation.
to the research of Robert Wuthnow in God and Mammon in America,
most laity prefer to keep spirituality in one compartment and money in
another. While they seem to overlook or forgive their own avariciousness
with money, they don't want the church to become materialistic, because
the church is to represent spirituality. Most pastors help parishioners
out here, but don't really want to talk about money either!
In fact, Wuthnow suggests that the lack of teaching in the churches about the
dangers of wanting a lot of money is perhaps one reason why so many people
in an affluent country like the U.S. can also retain strong interest in
course, is a consuming interest of Americans. The editors of Worth
magazine published the results of a survey entitled, "Americans and Their
Money." "We wanted to know," they declared, "how Americans . . . spend,
squabble over, and think about money."
their report this way: "Your money or your life? Not a simple question,
since most people can't seem to differentiate the two. Just read the
dollar signs. Forty percent of Americans think about money more often than
sex. Fights over money are the number one source of marital discord . . .
and 56 percent of us say there comes a point in every marriage when money
becomes more important than sex.”
phrase, used twice in this short quote: "more important than sex," can
summarize the whole article. We Americans are just as confused about the
idea of money as about the idea of sex. Perhaps even more confused…
the churches dealt with this confusion? Says Robert Wood Lynn, "Over the
last half century … churches have at least tried to deal with the mystery
of sexuality. Yet during the same period these Protestants have paid
comparatively little attention to the idea of money." Money remains the
"forgotten" subject. In fact, Wuthnow's research indicates that when
people who attend religious services every week are asked how often they
discuss their personal finances with other church members, they don't! In
fact, the least likely group with whom conversations about personal
finances take place is fellow church members. Ninety-seven percent never
discuss personal finances with other church members! Of course, 89 percent
never or hardly ever discuss family budget with anybody outside the
immediate family. Why?
are so ambivalent about money and possessions. Eighty-nine percent agreed,
"Our society is much too materialistic": 90 percent agree that "children
today want too many material things"; 75 percent agree that "advertising
is corrupting our basic values."
and material possessions are among the things we cherish most deeply.
Money (or its manifestation as power, prestige, or security) seems to be
the ultimate value against which many people measure everything else.
People worry about money a lot.
willing to do almost anything for more money - play the lottery, take a
stressful job, work longer hours, or move away from family and friends. No
matter what their present income, almost every American wants "just a
little more!" Our consumer habits reflect this. We spend huge amounts on
products (many of which we don't need); we are increasingly in debt; and
we see ourselves under enormous financial pressure.
Unfortunately, churchgoers, as a whole, don't differ very much from this
profile of American society. Church-goers maintain their preoccupation
with money and possessions by sharply compartmentalizing their faith. They
seldom think about the connection between faith and money. This leads Wuthnow to conclude: "What religious faith does more clearly than anything
else is to add a dollop of piety to the materialistic amalgam in which
most of us live. We don't feel compelled to give up any of our material
desires, only to put them 'in perspective'."
commentators on the American scene say that the market logic is the
dominant logic of our society and of the church.
not to say that Americans do not give. Total giving in the U.S. to
charitable organizations of all kinds, both in absolute figures and as a
proportion of income, is higher in the U.S. than in virtually any other
advanced industrial society. By the early 1990s, this giving had risen to
more than $100 billion annually. Religious organizations received 64
percent of the giving from private households. More than 50 percent of
Americans gave money to religious organizations. The average gift in 1990
news is that giving to churches is declining. The percentage of gifts to
churches keeps declining. The Empty Tomb, Inc., has published statistics
showing that the average gift among Protestants has declined from $3.09 in
1965 to $2.65 in 1991.
statistics demonstrate that as a group the most generous financial givers
are those who were born in the 1920s and 1930s. Those born after World War
II and especially those born after 1955 are both less likely to be in
church and less likely to give generously. In fact, data suggests that if
an average church member who is in his/her 60s dies or moves, it takes an
average of 14 people in their 20s and 30s to match the financial giving
level of the older person.
is even more severe at the synodical and Churchwide level. In 1962 in the
LCA and ALC, 18 percent of church expenditures were spent outside the
operating budget; almost all of that expenditure was for apportioned
amount spent outside the operating budget has dropped … only 1 percent to
16 percent. However, much more money is kept locally so that the
percentage that goes on to Churchwide is down from 17 percent to 6
percent. Today we support Habitat for Humanity, food pantries, clothing
banks, LSS, camps, seminaries, etc. This trend has been going on for 30
years in every denomination.
history of the American church, whenever there is a funding crisis, the
church has departed from the deeper, richer theological teaching of
stewardship in favor of more simple (simplistic) solutions to the
financial crisis. Christian stewards are people who recognize themselves
as caretakers, not owners, of what belongs to God. Living as a steward
does not only have to do with finances but is a total way of life! It
often takes a lifetime to grow into living as a mature steward.
But when a
financial crisis looms, the church often seeks immediate solutions. One of
the shortcuts that the church falls back upon time and time again is the
tithe. If Lutherans simply tithed, our financial crisis would be over. So,
in the recent financial crisis, the ELCA developed the "Tithers by the
not misunderstand me. I think the tithe is a wonderful guideline for us as
we consider our financial giving. Because of simul justis et peccator
we need such a guideline. However, the tithe is not a magical solution
for our financial crisis because it does not answer the question, "Why
give?" It does not change the heart. It does not conceive of financial
giving the way St. Paul does in II Corinthians 8-9.
pastors begin to address the issue of money and possessions? Dare they
preach on this subject? Why would they want to preach on money and
need to make a distinction between preaching on money and possessions and
preaching on financial giving to the church. While the two are related
they are very different. I once heard an assistant to the bishop say: "I
never speak about money from the pulpit. Whenever we need to speak about
money, I let the laity do the talking."
statement suggests two things to me: 1. The assistant to the bishop is
very uncomfortable preaching on money; and 2. is confusing preaching on
money and possessions with preaching on financial giving to the church.
When we are speaking about giving to the church, it is wonderful if laity
will be the primary communicators. Pastors should encourage it.
preaching on money and possessions is a different matter. The reason to
preach on money and possessions is given in the preaching task itself. The
center of a sermon is the clear and joyous announcement of God's gifts to
us in Jesus Christ. God's gift is always central.
that gift to be fully received, we need to know why it is necessary. What
is it that keeps us so separate from God that only God's gift in Christ
can fully heal that separation?
one of the chief obstacles that keep us separate from God. When the
preacher looks at the human situation, we find money and possessions at
the very heart of our lives because America's deepest obsession is with
money. Preaching is incomplete if the pastor refuses to preach on one of
the greatest idols Americans put in place of God!
preaching and teaching about money and possessions is Biblical. Jesus
taught more about money and possessions than any other subject except the
Kingdom of God. He taught more often about money than about prayer.
as pastor is to be the stewardship leader in the congregation, not the
congregation's chief fundraiser for its budget.
Stewardship is not fund raising and we must always distinguish between the
two. The pastor and lay leaders have roles, which overlap, but are not
identical. The pastor's role is endorsement and encouragement of what lay
leaders are doing. The role of lay leaders in stewardship is essentially
witnessing - being role models. In fund raising, their role is production.
Hale puts it this way: Both in stewardship development and in fund
raising, pastors and lay leaders must help each other. But the question
is: who is helping whom? In stewardship development, lay leaders can help
the pastor in fulfilling her/his responsibility. In fund raising, the
pastor can help lay leaders with their responsibility.
is responsible for the spiritual development of members of the
congregation. Stewardship is essentially a spiritual matter. The pastor is
the primary teacher of stewardship within the congregation, and has the
authority to establish spiritual goals for the congregation. But pastors
do not have unilateral authority to establish a financial goal, or even
the annual operating budget. Pastors are not responsible for the success
of a fund-raising campaign or even for the annual every-member-response
program. However, the pastor is responsible for the congregation's
stewardship understanding and performance.
Hale claims the pastor should accept two restrictions that might not, at
first, come comfortably.
pastor must never plead the financial needs of the church. The church's
needs - in fact, the needs of any receiver -- have nothing to do with
stewardship (a little overstated, but let me continue with his quote.) The
pastor should not, unwittingly, train the members to give to needs. Giving
to needs, praiseworthy though it may be, is not stewardship.
subject of stewardship is limited to the needs of the giver, not the needs
of the receiver. The truth is that it really is better to give than to
receive — better for the giver's own spiritual development. This is
biblical. This is the gospel of good giving. Pastors should not become a
pleader of needs - endorse the proclaimed financial goals of the church,
but do not plead!
the pastor should focus on teaching the lay leaders. Giving is a highly
personal matter, and giving money is an especially personal matter. The
message should be broadcast widely, yes. But, that process is necessarily
more impersonal. Person-to-person or small group communication and witness
are the prime movers here.
in which the pastor is the only passionate, articulate interpreter of good
stewardship — a church without its lay leaders being breathing, walking
examples of the gospel, including good giving - must struggle upstream all
the way. But when lay leaders experience the joy and spiritual dynamics of
stewardship in their own lives, then they may grow into the kind of
leaders to whom the pastor can entrust the financial workings of the
do I, as the professor, say to the student in my class going to a
congregation where the pastor's salary and benefits package accounts for
62 percent of the total budget?
this: "Distinguish always between stewardship and fund raising and know
that your primary task is to teach and model stewardship as a way of life,
including the place of money in living as a steward. Work with the laity
in the preparation and presentation of the program proposal and the need
for resources to support the mission and ministry of the congregation and
the church beyond the parish, boundaries."
© Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Summer 1996 issue of Faith
in Action. Articles in Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA
and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.
Dr. William 0. Avery is the Arthur Larson
Professor of Stewardship and Parish Ministry at the Lutheran Theological
Seminary at Gettysburg, and executive director of the Stewardship of Life
Institute. This article appeared in the Summer 1996 issue of Faith in