Church, Money, and Ministry

Divinity School is a wonderful thing.  I could go on and on about the benefits and blessings I’ve experienced in pursuing theological education through Divinity School.  Still, no avenue is perfect, and there are serious (maybe unavoidable) limitations.  One such limitation in my education was zero exposure to the financial issues that confront chuches–budgeting, stewardship campaigns, common financial practices, tax structures, etc.  Granted, I could have squeezed in a class on non-profit budget management from another branch of the university, but that wouldn’t have lent itself to theological reflection on the structure, aims, and methods of financial practices in churches (and the class didn’t exactly jive with my schedule).

So, to get a(n introductory) handle on church (and personal, for that matter) finance, I purchased a book that came recommended through the Alban Institute:  Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors by Janet and Philip Jamieson.

Janet Jamieson is an Associate Professor of Accounting at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.  Her husband, Philip, is an Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at the same school.  Together, then argue that pastors need a sense of church finance, and not just because it is “practical” and therefore un-theological.  Rather, the financial practices of a church (and individual) is both profoundly practical and theological.  How we deal with and spend our money is a witness to the God we serve and the faith we profess.

They begin by moving our attention to a “theology of money,” arguing that money matters are not the exclusive purview of the business folks (often men) on the finance committee.   Pastors, they believe, are charged with ensuring and empowering a spiritual vision for the financial life of the church.  In addition, they suggest that money matters–from personal finance to church budgets and spending–should be discussed in numerous forums, including preaching; and, importantly, at times outside the stewardship campaign.  Waiting until the stewardship campaign to talk about money is like getting to the plate after the baseball pitcher has wound up and begun the throw.  We just don’t have the time to say what is needed, and the pressure of the situation can easily un-nerve us.  Instead, a stewardship campaign should draw on and further the theological understanding of money already articulated and circulating in the church.

One major issue in talking about money is framing and presenting “the giver.”  This is a challenge in a world where members might feel like “reluctant stewards.”  I believe attention to who we are when we give (responsible, faithful, joyous–maybe all of these?) is essential in a theology of money.  So, one question, then, is who do you think we are when we give?  What is a spiritual or theological way to frame the giver that will empower and challenge church members to become active participants in the financial life of the church?

I recommend the book.  It offers some helpful info on accounting practices, church budgeting procedures, and personal finance practices.   Still, the “theology of money” piece has stuck with me as I begin to think about speaking boldly, confidently and faithfully about money in the church.

As a second question, then, what “aspects” of “money in the church” do you think churches should address:  personal finance practices?  What it means to give?  How money affects and is important to the life of the church?

Attending that line of questioning is:  How might we go about asking these questions and framing our discussions?  Thoughts?

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