Originally posted February 2, 2010
Money is one of the most taboo topics in our society. We will talk about most things in our lives before we will talk about money. In my second year of working in the area of stewardship campaigns, I had a conversation about major gifts with a pastor I was working with at the time. We were discussing the possibility of him making one on one visits with potential major donors in his church. The pastor sort of chuckled when I suggested he consider this approach and said, “Alan, the people in my church would rather talk to me about their sex lives than their finances.” We both got a good laugh out of that. The sad reality is that he was actually serious.
Why are we so reluctant to talk to someone about our individual financial situations? Why are congregations so reluctant to hear messages from their pastors about stewardship? Why is it that the way married couples handle (or do not handle) their finances is the number one cause of divorce? It is because our finances are private and personal and we take it personally if someone approaches us about the way we handle our money.
- If you were to poll 100 pastors in the U.S. and ask them what their least favorite topic to preach about is, 90 of them would say money, stewardship, giving, generosity or finances.
- If you were to poll 100 pastors and ask them do they think it is their responsibility to teach about giving and stewardship, 100 of them would say yes.
- If you were to poll 100 pastors and ask them do they believe they should tithe (10%) of their income to God, 100 of them would say yes.
- If you were to poll 100 lay leaders and ask them do they believe they should tithe (10%) of their income to God, 100 of them would say yes.
- If you were to poll 100 pastors and lay leaders and ask them do they believe everyone in their church should tithe (10%) of their income to God, 100 of them would say yes.
Recent studies reveal that less than 3% of evangelical Christians tithe (10%) of their income to their local church. If you take this finding along with the results above, it shows a major disconnect in what church leaders feel about giving and what is actually happening in our churches as it pertains to giving. There is a communication problem. Where do we start to increase the 3% of evangelicals tithing to their local church? What do we do? It is apparent that the status quo will not yield the financial and spiritual results we are looking for and desire for each other. We must change the way we approach generosity teaching.
Significant and lasting change in any organization must begin at the top. People will not outrun the pace of their leadership. Leaders must go first. Leaders must lead by example. Leaders must practice what they preach. When it comes to teaching our people to become more generous givers we must be willing to ask ourselves as leaders of the church do I truly believe in what I am communicating? This is a very difficult question to ask ourselves because leaders don’t like talking about their personal finances any more than anyone else in the church does. We don’t always like what the answers reveal about our own generosity and priorities as it pertains to giving. The reality is we are all human. We all have bills to pay. We all have unexpected expenses come up. We all like nice things. We all want our families to be well provided for. We all want our children’s lives to be better than ours. We all struggle with the topic of money.
Staff and lay leadership must be willing to share their own giving story and how important giving back to God is to their spiritual health and relationship with God. Transparency is the key to leading a congregation toward personal generosity and lifestyle stewardship. Pastors should tell their people on a regular basis that they tithe and that they encourage everyone else to tithe or get on the path to tithing. Unfortunately some pastors, staff members, and lay leaders do not tithe (10%) to God.
However, even if the leaders are not tithing they need to be transparent about that. During a 2009 fall stewardship campaign I listened as a pastor told his congregation that for the past two years he had not been tithing. He listed several reasons as to why, but he then said that they were not reasons, but excuses and he would be tithing in 2010. He stood in front of his entire congregation and was completely transparent! He was disappointed in himself and it was obvious. He could have continued to hide what he was doing, but he made the statement “How can I ask you to tithe if I am not tithing myself?” It is no wonder that this church’s fall stewardship campaign went well. Transparent and bold leadership will produce followers every time!
Here are some questions I would encourage you to ask as a leader in your church:
- Should the pastor know if the staff and lay leaders are tithing?
- Should the lay leaders know if their pastor is tithing?
- Should tithing be a prerequisite for leadership in your church? If not, should all leaders at least pledge to get on the path or further their journey toward tithing (10% of their income) to God via their local church?
- Should the pastor tell the congregation his/her giving story?
- Is it okay for the pastor to share his/her family’s giving amount with the church?
No matter your answers to these questions I would encourage you, as a leader, to take a look at your church’s stance on giving as it pertains to leadership. Our leaders must be passionate about giving and must personally take on the responsibility of leading by example. Many say the final area of our lives we give to God is our finances. We will trust God with our marriage, our children’s well being, medical emergencies, and other areas which are precious to us. Why won’t we completely trust God with our finances? Our finances ARE personal, but we should take it personally as leaders to help our people become more generous givers and to strive toward being a lifestyle steward.