Model the finances you preach

October 15th, 2018

"I appeal to you then, be imitators of me." — 1 Corinthians 4:16

Last year while working at my desk I got a call from a finance team chairperson who wanted to talk with me about his pastor. He said that he and others on the team had been frustrated for some time that the pastor never addressed the issue of money from the pulpit. They had encouraged him and he would simply say that he weaves it into various sermons and prefers that to sermons directly on the topic of money in our lives. He went on to share that the pastor reluctantly engaged with the committee and got involved only when it appeared that there would be a shortfall of income. He mostly wanted the budget to balance and for his denominational obligations to be paid so he would not look bad to superiors. He righteously proclaimed quite often that he never looked at anyone's giving and thought that was something just between the giver and God. After all of this the chairperson got to the immediate issue, "Last night he called a committee meeting with us and the pastor's relation committee to share that he had gotten behind with the IRS and they now wanted payment of three years' taxes. We went over the numbers and it appears that he is about $30,000 in the hole. The IRS is pressuring him to square this obligation up. Anyway, he asked us to consider a short-term loan that would be taken from his salary over several years. I am calling you to see what your advice is on what we should do."

It is not important to know what advice I gave, but it is important to consider what position these church members had just been placed in. The teacher was coming to the students for assistance. The teacher was giving no leadership to those under his charge. This would have been like a drill instructor walking his young recruits over to the rappelling wall and saying that the ropes are laying over there, just tie them on, and see how it works while I go sit under this tree. Some of these recruits might die. Some of these church people will not discover what a generous life in Christ truly brings to one's life because their instructor (pastor) could not and would not lead.

Pastors and Disciple Leaders Must Model the Life of a Generous Disciple

The best drill instructors are not the ones who tell the recruit what to do, but model for them what to do. They tell the recruit to shine his shoes while wearing shined shoes. They tell the recruit to run two miles while running with them. They tell the recruit to show up for 5:00 formation while being there at 4:45. They model the life they preach about. This our pastors must do, especially in the areas where our people struggle the most — their dependence on stuff.

"God vs. Money: Winning Strategies in the Combat Zone" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here:

As pastors we have to model how we manage, spend, and give our money. Money is the chief enemy of the disciple-to-be. A pastor lives among the same temptations as his or her flock. He or she watches television and sees the same billboards that seek to influence all to want more and more and more. A pastor hears the same voices that praise those who have lake houses, fancy clothes, shiny cars, and take lavish vacations. Pastors are not immune to temptation, but through Christ they have learned a better way. It is this better way of living and giving that must be seen by the recruits.

I would see the drill instructors around the military installation going to the post exchange or commissary while off duty. Their uniforms looked just like they did when they were with the recruits early in the morning. Often, I would comment about how everything was perfectly put together and would get a reply, "I would have it no other way, sir." They were always teaching by modeling. For pastors this means we model the life of a generous disciple at Walmart, at a restaurant, at deer camp, or the movie theater. Wherever we are, we are called to set an example of what it means to have surrendered control to Jesus.

In my seminars I am frequently asked if a pastor should share his or her amount of giving with the congregation. The answer is a resounding YES! A leader must be seen and heard leading. Too many times I have heard pastors say that they will be supportive with their gifts, and that is all. What does that mean? How does that help me grow? I have heard persons say that they believe all persons should give proportionally. What is that? Is a penny a proportion? What coach, trainer, or drill instructor would use such ambiguous language? Not one who truly wanted to win!

Pastors should, at a minimum, put in print and share in worship exactly how they are trying to live out a Christian life of generosity. A testimony should always include how one came to determine what their giving would be. The pastor needs to share the journey and not just where he or she has arrived. It should be so clear that no one would misunderstand.

One of the most effective sermons I ever heard came from a pastor in an extremely large church. He rose, walked out in front of his people, and began by saying, "I have a confession to make." His confession was that when it came to generosity he had been a phony. He had either misled persons as to how he managed his money and his giving or he had been sure to keep it hidden. He went on to talk about how he got into debt with schooling, compounded that by trying to show a lifestyle like his first congregants had — on much less income — and just wasted one resource after another. Because he absolutely had spent more than what he had, he had been unable to give as he knew Christ would have him do. He was ashamed and embarrassed and on this day he came clean. No one in that audience was sleeping through this. Then he came out and said that beginning the previous week he was now ordering his financial life around the theme of grace and gratitude. He would put God first, not just on his lips but also with his wallet and his actions. He shared exactly what he was going to start giving and how he was going to shift things around to make that work. He shared how he intended to square up his debts and not create any new debt. He shared how thankful he was that God continued to love him even though, in so many ways he, the pastor, had been worshipping money more. He said he was grateful for the chance to be born again.

Now that was leadership!

Excerpted from God vs. Money by J. Clif Christopher. Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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