Preaching on Money

July 29th, 2012

For most pastors, fund-raising is the least rewarding part of our work. And like many of you, I would rather preach on almost anything other than finances and stewardship. But I also know that if I cannot effectively preach and lead our congregation in these areas, we will never become the church God has called us to be. As the preaching pastor, you are the chief development officer for your church. This is part of the job.

In my book Leading Beyond the Walls (Abingdon, 2002), I offer more information on how we design stewardship campaigns. For our present purposes, I want to mention a few principles that I have learned are essential to raising money.

First, people give to visions, not to budgets. At Church of the Resurrection we have three COR visions—what we believe God has called us to focus on for the foreseeable future. The first is to reach nonreligious and nominally religious people whom other churches may not be able to reach, and to help them become committed Christians—something you have already heard in our purpose statement. The second vision is to transform our community. Our belief is that twenty years from now the Kansas City area will be a significantly different place—the values and culture will look more like the kingdom of God—because we were here. The final vision is that God might use us as a catalyst for renewal within the mainline denominations, which were in decline throughout most of the last third of the twentieth century.

In the 2000's, we completed a capital campaign in which we raised $28 million in three-year pledges to construct our next building. This campaign was conducted during the 2002 recession. We raised those funds without even having finalized the architectural drawings. We were still developing these plans during the capital campaign. But what we knew, and what our members knew, was that they were not really giving to a building. People are rarely inspired to make significant sacrifices for a building. But they will make significant sacrifices for a vision that changes the world. In our campaign the building is only a tool to help us achieve these visions—it is not the end, but a means to an end. So our sermons and our fund-raising were focused on ministry and vision, not bricks and mortar.

I remember when one of our members told me that he and his wife were committing over $200,000 to the campaign. He said, “Adam, you know we support a lot of different projects, but what really moved us to make this kind of commitment is the dream that we could actually help other churches be renewed. I attended a Lutheran church before coming to COR, and I so want to see my former denomination, and mainline churches, renewed!” He said nothing about giving to a building—he was giving to a vision.

You, as a preacher, must be able to cast the vision of how the world will be different because of the work your church could do, if only it had the resources. Your people will need to see your conviction, your passion, and your willingness to lead them in sacrifice. You cannot preach on tithing if you are not a tither. You cannot preach on sacrifice to a capital campaign, or a missions campaign, or any other special offering that you yourself are not willing to sacrifice for.

It is in the area of raising funds that stories are so important. It is essential that you be able to tell stories about real people whose lives have been or will be changed as a result of your church’s efforts. Sometimes these are effectively done using video, but sometimes you are the more effective storyteller. I’ve seen people who had powerful stories, but they could not tell their story in a compelling way in front of a camera.

A second important element of preaching on money is humor—it helps if you can introduce a funny story that takes away from, or perhaps recognizes the natural discomfort we all feel about being asked for money.

A third is your conviction that tithing and stewardship are discipleship issues. In this way, the more committed your people are to Christ, and the more they long to follow the will of God, the more open they will be to sermons about giving.

Finally, know that people will complain when you preach about giving and especially when you are asking for a sacrificial commitment to help build buildings. Often those who complain the loudest are those who are uncomfortable because they don’t feel they can contribute, and they feel a measure of guilt. Instead of recognizing this for what it is and accepting it—they seek to oppose the project or cause. You cannot allow these persons to dissuade you from moving forward. You should listen to these folks—if they are your key leaders, this may indicate that you haven’t done your groundwork in getting your leadership on board with the project. Even if they are not your key leaders, you should listen to see if there is something important you’ve missed in their criticism. But once you have listened, and you are still certain you are heading in the right direction, then keep moving forward. There will always be naysayers—most are good-hearted people who lack either the vision, faith, or resources to get behind the project. Accept them and move on.

I once heard a story told by Jim Buskirk, the now retired pastor of First United Methodist Church of Tulsa, that I have enjoyed ever since. Allow me to share it, with apologies to Jim if I have remembered some of the details incorrectly. Jim and some of his pastor friends were on a skiing trip to Colorado. They had a great cabin right at the base of one of the mountains, though the portion of the mountain behind their cabin did not have any lifts leading up it, nor any ski runs. One of the pastors looked up the mountain and said, “Hey guys, let’s take our skis and hike up this mountain. The snow is virgin powder. No one has skied on it before. It won’t be easy, but imagine the experience when we ski down!” Several of them chimed in and said, “Okay! Let’s do it!” But Jim and one of his friends said, “You guys are nuts! Who in their right mind carries skies and boots halfway up a mountain for just a few minutes of pleasure as you ski down? We’ll stay right here by the fire and enjoy our coffee—you go right ahead and ski!”

Well, the other pastors decided they’d take the challenge. Jim and his friend watched over the next thirty minutes as these guys hiked up the side of the mountain, skis, boots, and poles slung over their shoulders. The whole way the two pastors by the fire congratulated themselves on their wisdom and spoke of the stupidity of those fellas hiking the mountain. But then they watched as these guys put on their skis and turned and began skiing where no one else had dared to ski before. As they arrived back at the cabin these other men were shouting and laughing and speaking of their great adventure. Jim said, “My friend and I could only stand there in silence as they talked of the experience with intense satisfaction. And then one of the men looked at me and said, ’Jim, you missed the very best part of our entire vacation!’ ”

I tell you that story, butchered though it no doubt was, because I have shared it with my own congregation on several occasions when we were facing capital campaigns. And I have said to our folks, “I know there are some of you who by nature are the types that want to sit by the fire. This project scares you. It seems too hard. You can think of a million reasons we should not pursue it. But the rest of us feel this is where God is leading. So it’s okay if you don’t want to go along. You can even talk about us while we’re trying to scale this huge mountain. But my fear is that when we’re on the back side, and we cut the ribbon on that new building, and there are thousands of people whose lives are changed as a result—and the rest of us are celebrating—my fear is that you might have missed the best part.”

One more word about fund-raising. It is much easier to raise funds if your church is working toward a clear, compelling, and biblical purpose, and you can demonstrate how the funds you are raising, whether for capital or the annual ministry budget, will support the fulfillment of that purpose.

At Church of the Resurrection I regularly refer to our purpose in the midst of a wide variety of sermons, but at least three times a year I preach a sermon specifically focused on reminding people of our purpose. Offering compelling stories both from the Bible and from our own ministry rekindle the congregation’s passion around our purpose. The last time I preached a sermon on our purpose, one of our leaders came to me and said, “In my ministry area we had become cranky with one another, and we were losing a bit of our joy—we had lost sight of why we were doing this. Your sermon rekindled our passion. I remember now why we’re doing these things. And as a result of this one message I feel ready to go back and get to work!” What this woman expressed is profound in that it describes what happens to your entire congregation in the midst of serving the Lord—people get tired and cranky and tend to forget why they’re doing what they’re doing. It is the job of the leader to remind the people of their purpose, their biblical mandate, and to inspire the people to pursue it. As the preaching pastor of your church, you are that leader.

This article is adapted from Unleashing the Word by Adam Hamilton, Copyright © 2003 by Abingdon Press.

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