Most preachers have a list of things that, given the choice, they’d rather not preach about. There are cultural hot topics, theological danger areas, and biblical books and themes that attract an (ahem) interesting crowd.
And there are more personal issues too. Some parts of the bible have a sharp edge, for private reasons.
But there’s one area that has always scared me. Money. Giving. Ker-ching.
I have no desire to be thought of as one of those after-your-money pastors, desperate, needy, grateful for a tip. There’s pride issue right there.
And I do seriously have qualms. More than once the strength of Jesus teaching on devouring widow’s houses has brought me up short, questioning and challenging my motives.
But with all that, I have changed my mind, or at least my attitudes. So here are eight lessons I’ve learnt.
Teach. Teaching on stewardship and giving is a right and necessary part of our work. The material comes up across the biblical genres, and is a good subject for both biblical theology and a doctrine series. It’s not twisting the bible to teach about money as a discipleship issue.
Teach faithfully. Honestly, I’m scared at how easily and quickly a naive Christian can access dangerous Prosperity twaddle. A couple of searches will take you there. So will the God channel. And you know that the word ‘twaddle’ is an English understatement.
Teach practically. People need help. They need the how, and the what, as well as the why. The what, because everyone will want to hear you on the ‘how much’ question. Now, I’ve been round the houses on this, and I honestly cannot teach tithing as a Christian principle. But I can and do teach generosity, which actually I think is more demanding.
Teach blind. Opinions divide on this, and I know good people who differ from me 180 degrees on this. But for myself, I really don’t want to know who gives what. I don’t want to have a little comment in the back of my mind, telling me if someone awkward is actually a ‘more generous’ donor, and therefore needs some kid gloves. That hinders me, of course, and means I can’t challenge someone who is not giving much. But then I don’t know what they give elsewhere, and in any case the answer will be to warm them with the gospel, rather than warm their inner Pharisee.
Teach intelligently. This is the necessary balance. Without knowing individuals, I need to know patterns. Are a few people giving a lot, or many giving more realistically? Do we have a large number of passengers? How many active, regular donors do we have?
Teach honestly. I can’t expect others to do what I don’t. Not if I’m being open with God, anyway. So even if the only person in the room who knows my giving pattern is the treasurer, there is one person at least who can challenge me and call me out.
Teach in the present tense. By which I mean, what is happening in your church, and in society? First example, we are seeing the impact of the move from cash to card. Passing round a collection basket produces less money than two years ago, because well-meaning people just don’t carry money with them in the same way. How do we respond to that rightly? Obviously not a finger wag. Abandon collections? (I know many have, but for theological rather than practical reasons). We could embrace technology but -and I know I risk a ton of links – I have yet to find the technology that makes giving with a card as simple as it could be. It’s not there yet. So we keep pressing people to set up regular giving online.
Teach in depth Stewardship is a much bigger question than Giving. What about challenging consumerism? What about – and this is the biggie – helping people to get out of debt, sort out the credit cards, and be able to be as generous as God intended them to be? That will take more than a sermon. It will take serious accountability, help, and focussed discipleship.
What have you learnt? What are the pitfalls and the issues?