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Lecture 20: Pastoral Leadership and Finances (Part 1)
One of the areas of leadership that is a very leadership intensive part of ministry is when we talk about money, finances. What I would like to do in this session is talk a little bit about this issue that every church faces and questions get raised, and maybe I can answer some of them.
II. Model Personal Financial Integrity
If we are going to have a church that has a really sound fiduciary process to it, it starts with first of all, how we model. The first thing I have listed here is to say that we need to model personal financial integrity and sound management. Go back to 1 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 5 in terms of the qualifications. If we can’t manage our household, then how can it be assumed we can manage the household of God? If the church looks at us and sees us as kind of in a financial mess, why should they trust us?
Here are a few things I have written down that are important for us to do.
A. Establish and manage a budget
The first one is to put together a budget, if we have not done that. I’m going to be very basic here. Maybe not that we do it all the time, but every now and then we stop to say, Where are we spending our money? What are our assumptions? When was the last time, for example, let’s say you took a VISA statement and looked at all the things you paid through that or what your expenses are over here and add up. At the end of the month typically we baseline spend this much money. Then ask yourself the question, What is my intake? What is my income? Then see how those differ.
B. Know the difference between good debt and bad debt
It is basic things like knowing the difference between good debt and bad debt. People will disagree here, I’m sure, but I don’t have a problem with that, as long as it is good debt. We have a mortgage on our home and it is a debt, but I think it is good debt. Property mortgages can be good debt. Foolish debt would be depreciating debt, things that we use credit cards to buy that are not increasing in value, cars being one of them. So, there is good debt and bad debt. Avoid buying on credit unless you intend to pay without interest. This is a discussion I am having with my daughter, who has painfully learned that wow, this got out of control; and I needed to remind her again of this very basic principle: If you can’t afford it today, you can’t afford it tomorrow with interest. It is just a basic principle of life. You are not a good steward by spending what you don’t have on things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like. There is a fair amount of truth to that. So, knowing the difference between go
od and bad debt, which then the church has to sort out, what is good and bad debt. Is it okay to be in debt?
C. Invest strategically
The third In terms of personal financial integrity, investing strategically, having a good plan that will get you to old age, whatever that looks like. It is more than just saving, it is investing and diversifying. I think everyone should have a good financial planner. A lot of people say, I just don’t have the money to invest. I would say, actually you cannot afford not to invest, even if it is a small amount. Then sitting down with a good financial planner who says, Where do you want to be when you are 40? Where do you want to be when you are 50? And where do you need to be when you are 70? Then let’s work backwards. Let’s sit down when you do turn 35 and say, So how close are you to where you need to be when you are 40? And not just assume it is going to happen.
Pastors especially. I fear for how many pastors are really going to almost be literally on the streets because they have not prepared or they just assume the church is going to take care of them. It is part of their gift to the church not to be a burden to the church as they get older. Too many are burdens to the church because they didn’t do the careful steps of investing or spending wisely.
My two requirements of a good financial planner are
1. Impeccable integrity, would never want to turn my money just so they can make more money.
2. Somebody I can trust so much that I would never have to worry; but on the other side, the smartest money person I know that understands the principles, the economics, the trends, that understands why stock markets, at least to a certain extent, do what they do. Can look at cycles and investments and know where to invest and where not to invest because they are so super smart that way.
I work with a guy who is a Cornell graduate in economics, with whom I went to seminary. You can’t ask for a better combination. He always informs me of what he is going to do and we sit down periodically and he just says, Okay, John, here is where you are, here is where you and Heather need to get to. He has me pretty well prepared, thankfully. I’m not too worried about being a burden on the church because I have had really, really good counsel.
Too many people are in debt and they don’t think about these things. They get themselves in awful turns and places. Maybe not to this extreme, but I always remember this couple in one of my churches. They were spenders. They spent, they got in debt, they maxed out their cards. One day they called me and they said, “Our marriage is a mess. Can you come over and help us?” I said to the husband, “What is going on?” He said, “Well, we’ve maxed out everything. We’ve gotten so depressed; but I went out and bought a set of new speakers and a whole new system because I knew it would pick us up.” This is the mindlessness. This is what people do.
D. Health and life insurance
E. Buying and selling with wisdom
F. Sacrificial kingdom giving
G. Establishing a trust and a will
It is important that we, therefore, can model what will work. Let me tell you what I have learned. Having certain common sense when it comes to health issues, insurance issues, buying and selling with wisdom, modeling sacrificial kingdom investing, establishing a trust, sitting down with an attorney, knowing the plan you are leaving behind. These are just all basic things that every pastor especially needs to stand before the church and the board, and they know that this guy’s pretty smart when it comes to money. Therefore, when you stand in front of a church and say, Let me talk to you about money; or stand before a budget meeting (we don’t call them budget meetings, right?) but to say, Let’s talk about our spending as a church, you at least have some credibility.
III. Teach Your Congregation About Money
So, first requirement is, pay attention to yourself. Secondly, teach the congregation about money, about giving. I’ve been a pastor long enough to know, much as I would like to think otherwise, most people are not very smart when it comes to money. They have no idea, really, how to use it, how to give. How do I know that? Here is a test. Listen to a Christian radio station and listen to the commercials. I don’t listen to Christian radio very much; but when I do and listen to the commercials, almost inevitably I ask myself this question or at least I make this statement: They must think we are idiots. Of course, they do. Because Christians by and large are not known for being really prudent, shrewd investors.
This is probably not too far off in your church, here are some statistics I have read: 40%: the average percentage of people who overspend and are in significant debt are 40% of your congregation; 4 out of 10 people are in average credit card debt of $8,000. To $10,000.
As I recently said to my daughter, It is not just the crazy interest you are spending. This is what happens. It happened with my kids. I bet it happens with a lot of people. She stopped opening her bank statements. She went into denial. Have you looked at what late charges are? I will leave a person nameless that I know quite well who had a $73. item they charged, that by the time they paid it off, it was $450. when you add interest and late fees.
People sometimes mindlessly say, “I have to get it, it is 25% off.” Then they will spend 40% on interest and late charges to buy it. So, teach people 40% overspend, 20% are on the verge of divorce and the largest issue is because of money. According to this one survey, 34% give. But of the 34% who give, 40% of the 34% give less than 3% of their income. So, 34% give, but a significant percentage of those give less than 3%; and 26% of those in the church give virtually nothing.
One of the things that has shocked me over the years is to discover – we talked about this earlier, that a pastor should know – people with whom I was so impressed and their contribution to ministry and commitment to the church, who give zero, absolutely nothing. I think we would be shocked to know. Sometimes I have been afraid to know how many people on my board or on my staff are part of that.
So, teach your congregation. What are some steps? Again, I have alluded to this.
A. Whenever stewardship or wealth appear in Scripture, take the opportunity to preach about it.
Step #1: When you are preaching and whenever the subject comes up in the text, preach it. Don’t run around it. Teach whatever it says. Don’t avoid the text. Take every opportunity to unpack it. Be faithful to the text, don’t ice-igete, don’t milk it, and say things that the text is not saying. Don’t use it to manipulate people. Don’t induce guilt. By the way, I’ve discovered it does not lead to long-term giving. In a series on God, talk about His generosity. A series on seven deadly sins, talk about giving as a remedy to greed. A series on Christ, focus on the parables, many of which talk about money. Look at the core text, Proverbs 3:9 and 10; Luke 19; Matthew 6; Philippians 4: 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. There are these core texts we should understand.
I think one of the most intriguing texts when I think about these texts is Luke 16 where Jesus tells the story, you remember, of the man who was embezzling, was kind of taking money aside and the owner found out. So he went around and sort of did a final with each of the people who owed and he kind of cooked the books a little bit. He shrewdly went around and he got everyone to pay off. The owner found out. You remember, in that story the owner doesn’t go ballistic. The owner steps back and goes, “That was really smart.” Then Jesus makes a most interesting statement in the story. He says the people in a sense of the world are much more shrewd than the people of the light. It is not that Jesus was saying, “Yeh, so do things like that.” I think he was saying, “The children of the light are not so smart when it comes to money.” It is not smart in terms of “Let’s figure out how to be dishonest” but to just be shrewd when it comes to using resources. Why? So that we can do amazing things for the Kingdom of God.
B. Preach confidently, without apology
We need to unashamedly preach the text. We need to preach without apology. We need to reflect the heart of God. Fifteen percent of everything Jesus taught was on money. The statistics that I have read say that he spoke more about money than hell and heaven combined. That is pretty amazing. So when somebody says, “You know, I hate going to church because they talk about money.” So, they should. Money is a really important thing. When people say, “It is all they talk about,” I get that. It should not be all we talk about. But let’s start with this, it should be 15% of what we talk about, we’ll start with that.
We need to help people see that when we talk about it, our motivation is, we are helping them towards obedience. We are enabling them to experience blessing. We are liberating people from greed. We tend to get up in a very apologetic way and say, “We are going to talk today about money and I know we can get offended by this and I know you probably don’t want me to, but I need to.” What about an approach that says unashamedly, “I’m talking about money, not only because it is scriptural, but because I’m doing it for your good. I’m trying to prepare you for heaven and this is an important part of preparation for heaven. I’m preaching this because I fear some of you are into steep idolatry.” That is how Colossian 3 describes money, as an idol. “I’m doing this because I want to deepen your trust in God. I’m doing this because I want you to be rich in heaven.” Matthew 6:19-21. You might say, Hey! You know what? I didn’t do so great, but I did a lot better than other people. I earned like 12% on my investments t
his year. Jesus says, there will be a 10,000 percent return in heaven. So you tell me, where is the better place to invest?
C. Preach the following wealth themes
So we preach on it because it is important that people know some basic wealth themes. Here is the first one:
1. Money is dangerous. Too much can lead to self sufficiency. How do I know? Let’s start with Israel. Let’s start with just looking around us. Look at yourself. When you have more than enough, you begin to become self sufficient. That is deadly.
2. Money has limitations. Secondly, here is what I speak about as a wealth theme. Money has certain limitations. It does not necessarily buy you happiness. I’m not going to go too extreme on that because I think money does buy a certain amount of happiness. When I buy a new car, it makes me kind of happy. There are things that money does do that bring happiness. Obviously, it is not ultimate happiness. It only goes so far.
3. Here is something else to teach about wealth: Wealth’s fragility. Wealth really is fragile. Anybody in the stock market will tell you that. That is what Proverbs 23 says, that wealth makes itself wings like eagles and flies off. Sometimes at my cabin I will sit out on the deck and watch eagles. Sometimes I will see them soar ‘til I can’t see them anymore. The sage in Proverbs says, You know, money is a lot like that. There is a certain here today/gone tomorrow. There is a fragileness. It is not really truly safe, no matter what you do with it: stock market, investments, hide it in a mattress, store it in the bank. Everybody is out for our money, so we need to address that.
4. Ownership of wealth. We need to especially address this – ownership. Wealth ownership, it is not ours. It is not a personal, private issue,as I already talked about. We are not the owners, we are just stewards. We are just managing it for a season. There is only one owner in this world and it is God. So whatever I have, I have to stand before God. Ask this question: Am I aware that it is not mine? Am I investing it?
5. Wealth indicators. Here is another wealth theme I want to talk about. What we do with it reveals our spiritual temperature. Jesus talks about that in Luke 12:34 and Matthew 19:21. What we do with it indicates our loyalty. It reveals the condition of our heart. Some people I know, it is all they think about. That says something about the condition of their heart.
So we need to teach on money. Sometimes I have done things like, We are going to do a four-week seminar using the parables of Jesus because his parables, some of them, talk about money; and we are going to do a kind of mini-financial seminar. We are going to talk about investing. We are going to talk about debts. People are interested in those things. We tend to focus a lot on giving, but we don’t do a lot of teaching on just money itself. So people have crazy ideas about that. For example, they don’t know about leveraging. They don’t know about good debt and bad debt. If I go back to Luke 16, Jesus says that we ought to be the shrewdest. And I think, we should be the shrewdest people on earth when it comes to money. People should look at believers, I think anyway, and go, “Wow, one thing about money, they are really smart with it.” But a lot of times they are really foolish with it.
D. Teach on giving
I’m going to give you a few principles . First rule of thumb is that giving should not be convenient and comfortable. It should not just be, Hey, if I’m at church, which is once a month, I’ll give; or Hey, if I have something in my pocket. I grew up as a kid and my dad didn’t go to church very often. But I remember when he did, in a random way, on occasion he would reach into his wallet and the plate would go by and he’d find something there to give.
When I started giving, giving should not be convenient, should not be comfortable. It should be regular. It should have come out of a lot of careful thinking. This is a debatable issue. I do not think it should be tied to an Old Testament system. If you want to tithe to an Old Testament system, as we talked about, you should then truly tithe at 23%. I think grace has a different standard and we are under that standard, that has moved us off the training wheels of the law, where our giving is not measured by percentage. It can be a guide, not that percentage is wrong. The Old Testament gives us some guidelines. At least it gives us a starting point.
But here are some of the things. We should give to God as we prosper. We should give what is first and what is the best. We give beyond our ability, that pleases God. It is systematic, not erratic. This is something that is a very convicting statement. It is not how much we give. In the end, it is how much we keep. Someone can say, “I make 4 million dollars a year, but I give $400,000.” Yes, but you are keeping 3.6 million dollars. I think that is something that has to be sorted out as a family, as you think about it. But ask yourself, Are we being generous here, even sacrificial?
It is helpful to provide some occasional seminars and there are some good seminars out there, but please think those through. Some would use someone like Dave Ramsey, although Dave Ramsey has some pretty strict views regarding debt. You have to study the seminars and see how much they match up with your convictions.
IV. Develop a Sound Structure for Giving
I will close with this, at least in this part of finances, to talk about a sound structure for giving
A. There are different ways we give and one is general giving. Yes, that pays for the lights and the electric bills and all of that, but this should be treated with dignity. I find that a number of churches today go, You know, we don’t want to be offensive, so we will just put an offering box in the back, we won’t make a big deal about this. We don’t want to be offensive here.
I thought about that until one day I went to Africa and I was speaking in a church in _____(24:41.3) and I discovered an African culture. You know what the highlight of their worship service is, the pinnacle, the peak? It is not the worship music, though it was great; and the preaching, which was extraordinary. The high point was at the end of the service when everybody danced to the altar and gave. Then they went back and they did it again. Not out of guilt. It is not that these people had a lot of money, either. They were over the moon, over the top in terms of the joy of giving, declaring that part of the essential essence of worship is sacrifice. I look at that and I think of American culture. We are almost apologetic. Why don’t we say something like, “Now we come to one of the great moments of worship. We get to give, not because God needs our money. We need to give. It is so healthy to give. And we are going to give to our general budget.” Wow. It doesn’t get much better than that. Can you imagine if
we approached it like that? Most worship services are, Let’s just get through this, so we can get on to the bigger, better things.
I think this is where again, our theology needs to train us and teach us. So, we need to provide a sound structure for giving - general giving and special offerings.
B. Special offerings
There will be special offerings we will need to give here, that are going to arise with crises. It may be even our regular communion offering. We need as leadership to think through how many of those do we do and what are our guidelines and policies for doing them? Because you will have a lot of people say, “We should take an offering for this, and we should take an offering for this.” We better have some general standard here, or you are just going to be reactive.
Let’s stop here for a moment in terms of asking questions about personal use of wealth and then teaching on money and teaching on giving.
A. What does it mean to give sacrificially?
Question: I just kind of imagine what it would be like if Pastor Rich walked into church and he starts his sermon aggressively: “Today I want to liberate you from greed.” What would happen? Other than getting people’s attention.
Dr. Johnson: Actually, even better is to say, “Today I want to tear down one of your idols.” Because that is what Colossians 3 refers to greed as, and covetousness. He calls it out for what it actually is, it is idolatry.
Question: Randy Alcorn, of his many famous sayings, one is something like: “Our giving should prevent us from doing some things that we want to.” That is his handling of sacrificial giving. That is one of the most helpful things I have ever heard. If you give out of your surplus, it is not the widow’s mite; and it does not mean as much to you because it’s your discretionary money. But if you really want to do something, you say, “I think I should give instead of that trip to Maui.” That puts a whole different look on things.
Dr. Johnson: I think a really important start point is to just have worked out, we say it’s the Lord’s money and it is, all of it is, in particular, what we give to the Kingdom here. It is not ever an issue because it’s not mine, so I never look at it like, things are tight this month, so maybe I’d better scale back. I think a healthy approach is to go, That is not ours, we can’t touch it, it is not ours. People get to the end of the month and go, Let’s see what we can give, as opposed to saying, Let’s establish what we need to give and let’s establish that that money is parked over here. There is some benefit of online giving, that you never see it. It is just not yours. Online giving has its own issues, too, with the act itself that you can almost forget because it becomes like a tax or an automatic deduction. We don’t want our giving to descend into that. How about also thinking personally about money.
B. How do you overcome the cynicism of people about giving?
Question: Do you think that maybe the reason it is so difficult to talk about giving is because in The United States everyone is so wealthy, but so much of that has been taken advantage of and there have been so many shady people stealing money? Have we gotten into some sort of cynicism about money and that sort of thing?
Dr. Johnson: Maybe not even theft or those issues. We wake up every morning and I’m suddenly aware, the moment I turn on my computer, that there are a ton of people out there that want my money. I’m battling, right? There is a Best Buy ad, there is Men’s Warehouse, there are ministries. Everybody wants in on the action of what I have. We just get blitzed today. It is a constant barrage.
The advertising. It is absurd how many advertisements we are exposed to now each day. We live in a consumer age that has defined us as “consumers.” That is how we are referred to in culture, we are consumers. We have been trained from almost infancy on consumption.
We live in a culture trained on consumption and everybody wants a piece of the action. It can sometimes therefore feel in the church, when we are asking people to give, that we are just joining the list here, instead of saying, Wait, that is a very different category. I must admit, I start getting cynical this time of year with ministries I’ve never heard of, that suddenly somehow discovered me. I think, the only reason you are interested in me is because you want to get in on the action. So, you can become cynical.
Question: Recently this has been convicting for me because I never think about money. I’m not in debt or anything, but just the aspect of pleasing God and being a steward and how much that matters. It can go over your head and you don’t think about that aspect of your faith.
Dr. Johnson: Maybe we grew up with some wrong kind of preaching on it that has turned us off. I had a guy in my church who was a general manager of Toyota. He would tell me these stories. He would tell me stories of people who would come in. They could barely afford it, but they would buy a brand new Toyota, all on credit, except for maybe a very minimal down. Of course, the moment they drive out, the car is parked out there that is worth less than what they owe on it. If they don’t turn around after the new car smell is gone and the thrill of it, then they will come back the next year and buy a new car. Of course, everybody wants to facilitate that, they want to encourage that. So, they take the debt they had and add it on top of the debt of the new car. They do it about a third time, until they kind of hit this ceiling, whatever it is. He would tell me stories about people that had a car that maybe they owed $21,000. on, but they owed the bank $50,000. That is the culture we are living in.
Let’s say you have a number of people like that in your church and you’re talking about giving; and they are going, “Giving? I can’t even pay off my credit card,” which we talked about. The percentage of people who owe $8,000.-$10,000 – who use their credit card to just survive and rack up $8,000., $10,000, $20,000. All they are paying each month is the interest charges. In other words, imagine how people must feel who are never paying down their debt, they are just paying money on the interest. I had to sit down with my daughter recently and say, “Kate, banks love people like you. They live for people like you. This is how they make their money.” We have to train people.
C. Learning discipline with our finances will make a difference in how we give
Question: You were talking about the relationship between personal finances and church giving. I guess it sums it up in my head by saying it is an issue with discipline. That if we can learn discipline in our own lives, to live within our means; to have the kind of lifestyle where we are free to participate in church; where you are not having to work two jobs to pay off that third car, given there are only two of you in the house, that kind of thing. If you can learn discipline in that area, then that will carry over and free you up to give. Is that a way to kind of sum it up?
Dr. Johnson: I think so. And that is why I started by talking about, let’s teach on money itself. Because I think what we do way too often is, we focus on teaching on giving. But that is going to fall on empty ears if people are in a financial mess. They are going to tune you out. They are going to say, “I can’t even pay all my credit cards, so how could I give to the church?” We might stand up and say, It’s all about faith and God is going to honor you and bless you. I think we have to start over here and say, Let’s go over some basic principles. Then, of course, not turn it into just a financial seminar; but go back to Scripture. Scripture teaches the things I have talked about in terms of understanding how you should view money, how you should invest. If we could get people there; and like you say, in a broader context of learning spiritual discipline and disciplining yourself, which should manifest itself in how we use money, to what we eat, etc., then we have a chance to talk about giving.
Question: When I was in graduate school, none of us had any money. I remember going to the grocery store and I watched a couple. She was picking up the food and he had a calculator, doing a running total. He would pick up some meat, put it back down, take a piece of chicken because it was 50 cents cheaper, kind of thing. I have thought of that quite a bit. It is a bit extreme; but if we could develop that kind of discipline of saying, I’m going to set a budget. I’m going to live within my budget; and I am going to try even to be more generous than my budget allows me to be. That kind of thing is going to pour into the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Question: We face the issue in Biblical Training and almost all online ministries like this. It is like half of one percent of the people who use it, give. You just have to wonder, what kind of discipline is there in your life, spiritually and physically, that would produce that kind of behavior.
Dr. Johnson: If we say the hope of the world Is the church and the hope of the church is its leaders, then the hope of the leaders is training. I’m partial, of course. I work in a seminary. That is part of what we’re talking about here. I think I can safely say, You tell me a better investment. Yet, I think it is reflected. In fact, very few people make Kingdom investments that way. So, we are short changing the leaders of tomorrow, which is a tragedy, I think anyway. I’m speaking to the choir probably. But wouldn’t you agree? It’s true. I don’t know a better Kingdom investment.
It goes into something we might touch on. It is incredible how very, very few people think about estate planning when it comes to ministry. My last church, a 60-year-old church, they had next to no-one that left money to the church in their estate. If they had, our church would have no financial issues. The seminary would have no financial issues. But again, no-one has taught people, or very few have learned what you do with your estate. So a lot of it ends up with the government, a lot of it ends up with kids who maybe have no business having all of that wealth. We told our kids, This is what we are giving to the Kingdom. You are part of it, but not just all of it.