This is an article that I wrote for Net Results magazine. It’s a magazine for Pastors and other church leaders. I thought I would share it with you. Again if you like my blog please share it with others. Thanks and may this Lent be the best ever. I will write about Lent in a few days
This is a busy time for me. I’m transitioning out of the role of Lead Pastor of Gainesville Church. My wife and I just bought a house for retirement in South Carolina. I’ve ordered appliances for the house (new construction no fridge, no washer, or dryer) and arranging delivery and am going down for closing in two days. So I apologize if this article isn’t as concise as it might be.
My mind works in strange ways. I’ve often said that it is filled with eclectic trash. Like when I saw the topic for this next issue, my first thoughts were of a movie that came out in 2000. Which starred Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman. It was about a strike in the NFL and how a group of replacement players were called in to play the games. All of these guys were men who couldn’t make in the NFL. It was called coincidentally; The Replacements.
Keanu Reeves character was a little different. He had the skills to be an NFL quarterback, but had lost his confidence and was completely out of football. Maybe I’m giving to much movie detail, but there is a point to all of this.
One day in a meeting the coach (Gene Hackman) asked the team what they were afraid of. At first he got a variety of goofy answers about being afraid of spiders, or bees. Then Keanu said; “quick sand.” Gene Hackman asked him what he meant, and Reeves said it was like when things start to go bad in the game and you feel like your feet are in quick sand so you try something else and you sink deeper into the quick sand, and then you try something else and something else and you just go deeper into the quick sand.
I think that is like most Pastors when it comes to talking about giving with their congregations. We are full of fear. We fear talking about finances because someone has said that all the church cares about is money. When we do talk about money we are fearful that no one will listen and all they will here is blah blah blah. We feel like we are in quick sand as we worry about the finances of our church.
So we try something new, usually it’s something that is less direct. We talk about the needs of the community that we are trying to reach, or the church’s budget, and the people don’t put two and two together that we are asking them to be more generous in their giving. The giving stays the same and we feel like we are sinking deeper into that quick sand.
I’ve been there. I’ve overseen the construction of an almost six million dollar building that took our congregation from no mortgage to a 26k a month mortgage payments. I’ve been there when we went from two part time staffers to six full time staff members and five part time. I’ve been through the “Great Recession” 2008 and then the Pandemic of 2020 where we were under some of the most stringent restrictions of what we could do as a church. Others in the United Methodist denomination had suggestions from their Bishops we had orders, and if we violated them we were told that we could be completely shut down. So I know what it is to be afraid when it comes to money.
I also know the feeling of struggling to make ends meet and how it feels like we are standing in quick sand. We try one new thing and than another and then another and it feels like we are just sinking deeper and deeper into that quick sand. The more we try the deeper we go.
And after a while we are afraid to try anything new and so we resort to the same old things from the past because at least those “old ways” got the bills paid. But it never allowed us to position ourselves for grow new ministries.
I’m not here to offer you any new ideas about “stewardship.” We’ve all read the books. What I do want to offer is a way out of that fear.
We need to overcome our fears about speaking plainly, and even bluntly, about giving. About letting our congregations know what Jesus said about generosity in our giving. We need to remember that Jesus’ words are the authority by which we have the authority talk about money. Too often we resort to a “budget” approach. We tell our congregation that we need to meet our budget and this is how far behind we are. Believe me I’ve done that too. What we need to be talking about is tithing, even generosity above the 10% tithe.
When I’ve talked about tithing and the most common push back I’ve gotten is that Jesus never said anything about tithing. That’s true, but that view of scripture ignores the context of Jesus’. Jesus was speaking, almost exclusively, to a Jewish audience. People who were already obligated to give 10% of their income to the temple. So when Jesus spoke of giving He was talking about giving beyond the 10%. He was talking about extraordinary generosity. Jesus started with the tithe and told His followers to go beyond the tithe.
One thing that helped me get beyond that fear was taking a page out of Stephen Covey’s book; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “Begin with the end in mind.” One Sunday a number of years ago I told the congregation about a dream I had. I didn’t have that dream, rather it was an idea that the Holy Spirit gave me. I used “preachers license” that’s sort of like “poetic license” where you can stretch things for a heightened effect, and called it a dream.
In my “dream” I was standing in line to meet Jesus after my death. In that line, in front of me, I noticed a number of “Gainesville Church” people. As each one stood in front of Jesus He would lean around that person and look back at me. This happened about a dozen times before I got to the head of the line and stood in front of Jesus. His first question to me was; “John what didn’t you understand about what I said about money and being generous in your giving?” My response was; “What do you mean Lord?” Jesus then said; “I’ve had 13 people from Gainesville church here before you, and when I asked them how they used the abundant resources that I gave them to bring more people into my kingdom, and to be my hands and feet in the world, each one said that they didn’t know that they were supposed to be generous with their money. They never heard it from you.”
The point is that even though we might fear standing in front of our congregations and talking about money. And as much as we might fear having one stewardship attempt fail after another, and getting that sinking in quick sand feeling. It’s better to deal with those fears than stand before Jesus and have to explain why we didn’t talk openly and honestly with our congregations about being generous, even extravagantly generous. The stakes are high. There are lost sheep to bring into the kingdom and there are “the least of these His brothers and sisters in need.”
One final thought: I remember back when I was the Associate Pastor of Fairfax UMC, and I got a call from the wealthiest person in the church, and he asked me what we were doing to get people to put the church in their wills. It was a rhetorical question because he knew that we weren’t doing anything.
He told me that he was the President of the Board of Trustees at a small New England college and that they had a lot of alumni who were Methodist who gave large legacy gifts in their wills to this college. He said the difference between this college and most of their Methodist churches these alumni were members of, was the college asked them to make the gift, but the church never did. Don‘t be afraid to ask.
Let’s take the fear out of doing what Jesus was never afraid of doing; Challenging people to be extraordinarily generous in their giving to build His Kingdom.