How to Talk with Your Church about Money
Do you enjoy talking with your church about money? For many pastors, almost anything else would be preferable. Too often, it seems the moment you start talking about money, all the air is sucked out of the room.
“Here goes the pastor again, laying on the guilt. Time to check out.”
How can discussing money with your church become a positive experience for them and for you? Let’s see how the apostle Paul discussed money, and then apply his approach to scenarios you may find yourself in.
THE STRANGEST THANK YOU NOTE
Paul ends his delightfully encouraging letter to the Philippians by thanking them for their recent gift. But this doesn’t look anything like the thank you notes you receive from your favorite charity: “Thank you for your recent gift; we could never do this important work without you; here are 17 more needs we have; could you please give more?”
Instead, Paul bends over backward to make it clear that God’s work is in no way dependent on their generosity. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). “Not that I seek the gift . . . I am well supplied” (4:17-18).
Nonetheless, Paul “rejoices” in their gift (4:10). Why? Not for his sake, but for theirs. “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (4:17). As it turns out, Paul really believed those words of Jesus he quoted in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” According to Paul, giving is for the benefit of the giver.
Here are a few principles we can take from Paul’s example:
- When we talk about money with our congregations, we should exemplify an exuberant confidence that God in his providential care for our churches will provide exactly what is right, whether or not that amount is what we’d hoped for.
- When we talk about money, our primary interest is the eternal good of our sheep, not the plans of their shepherds.
- Talking about money is an opportunity to teach our people how to think about money.
SPEAKING LIKE PAUL
Consider a few scenarios churches face and how we can discuss money like Paul when they occur.
When Asking Your People to Give
Every pastor should teach about giving. It’s a topic that’s covered repeatedly in Scripture. When you do, follow Paul’s example by making it clear that you’re not teaching about giving because your church needs the money; you’re teaching about giving because it’s good for your congregation to give. Giving loosens their heart’s grasp on the things of this world (Matt. 6:21); giving is an investment in an eternal reward (Phil. 4:17).
When You Present the Budget
Paul’s example inclines us to describe the church budget less as spending and more as investment. In that regard, you might describe your church’s budget as a spiritually oriented mutual fund.
In a financial mutual fund, thousands of investors entrust their money to an investment manager, who looks for the best opportunities to invest that money, so that someday people will see a return on their investment. Likewise, your congregation entrusts to your church a significant portion of their wealth each year. Your church “invests” that money in kingdom-oriented work, like paying pastors and funding missionaries. One day, each of these saints will stand before God to give account for how they stewarded what he entrusted to them (2 Cor. 5:10). Let’s pray that on the last day, they are grateful for every bit of money they gave to your church budget.
When Your Church Is Doing Well Financially
We often don’t talk as much about money when the church is doing well financially, but that’s the best time to talk about giving—precisely because it’s when our motives are least likely to be misunderstood. I often say something like, “I’m thankful our church is doing well financially, but frankly, I couldn’t care less whether or not we meet our budget. Instead, what I care about is you: the state of your heart, the opportunity for giving to free you from worldly concerns, and the reward that awaits faithfulness. In fact, the reason I’m mentioning this now is precisely because we are meeting our budget.”
When Your Church Is Behind Budget
When times are tight, make it clear you love your people far more than you love your budget-dependent plans. You will need a healthy dose of faith-filled confidence in the providential care of a good and sovereign God. As David wrote, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Ps. 16:6). That is always true—whether God has provided 110% of your budget or 10%. As you speak from such confidence, not only will you show by example what it looks like to trust God’s good purposes in hard providence, but your people will more easily trust that your desire is not their money, but the good of their souls.
Of course, saying the words “I care much more about your faithfulness than about meeting this budget” can ring hollow if the congregation knows your back is against the wall and you’ll need to lay off staff unless more money comes in. So avoid having your back against the wall! How? By maintaining some flexibility in your budget. For example, if possible, save some lines (say, for discretionary building improvements or one-time missions’ opportunities) that you don’t spend until the end of the fiscal year. Budget flexibility will go a long way toward helping your congregation trust that you care more about their souls than their money.
When You’re in a Time of Financial Emergency
No matter how wise your planning, there will be times when your back is, indeed, against the wall, and you will have to make some painful decisions unless your congregation increases their giving. My advice in these situations? Be honest: “Almost always when I encourage you to give, I’m doing so not because of our budget, but because of your hearts. Like Paul in Philippians 4, I’m seeking the fruit that increases to your credit. But this time is different. I’d hate for us to cut long-term investments in staff and missionaries in order to accommodate what I believe to be a short-term financial crisis. So I’m asking you to give beyond what is faithful. If we can balance our budget, I think it will be a better spiritual investment vehicle over the long run. And if we can’t, that’s OK—we know God will provide exactly what we need.”
Who Talks about Money with Your Church?
Let me close with one final implication of Paul’s example. Given how many opportunities there are to pastor your church when talking about money, why would you not entrust this to a pastor?
When presenting the monthly financial report, encouraging the congregation to give, and discussing the church’s financial needs, don’t just communicate the financial details. Instead, like Paul, put finances into the context of larger matters, like faith in God’s providence and his eternal rewards. Whenever you talk about money, seek to pastor your church.