Earlier this week, my article about pastor’s not giving went live on Ministry Matters. I’ve been browsing through the comments on both Ministry Matters page and on a Facebook’s group page, United Methodist Clergy. It’s been interesting. Tithing seems to be a point of discussion on the comment threads. Forget about tithing for a second. My ire was directed at when pastors don’t give. Period.
I didn’t write this to be a badge of faithfulness by “bragging” about who tithes and doesn’t. And I’m a bit annoyed that’s what some of the comments seemed to have turned to — accusing those who shared that they tithe faithfully of being Pharisaic. That really wasn’t the point I was trying to get at. Nor was it to shame the pastors who don’t give (though this post may end up sounding that way).
Look, I’ve sat through some crummy pledge campaigns and “stewardship” (in quotation marks because it’s more about give us money than about being faithful stewards) campaigns. It’s just someone (rarely the pastor) standing in front of the church almost guilting parishioners to give because the church will close if we don’t. As if survival of this building should be the reason we give. Then they have that poster board with a thermometer telling you how far we’re from our goal. Or (and?) they’ll have a Plinko-esque board in the narthex asking parishioners to drop off their change — literally nickel and dime-ing folks. Then for the rest of 51 Sundays, money is never talked about. Avoided even. And that never felt right to me.
I’ve heard clergy complain about walking on egg shells when preaching the gospel but they don’t even dare tiptoeing around the topic of money. Because people will be offended. And leave. I always thought that that was selling the congregation short. Some will get offended — but some need to be offended by the gospel. What’s that saying? Comfort the afflicted; afflict the comfortable? And Jesus set a great example for us as he always avoided offending people and definitely did all he could to appease the rich and powerful. I mean, after all, didn’t he stop the rich young ruler from walking away and say something like, “Nah, I was just kidding about the selling everything you have. Hang out for a while. Maybe then you can start giving a little away. But please don’t leave. I need you and your money to fund me.”
On a serious note, I understand the fear of upsetting the people and having them leave over something you said. But again, let the congregation rise up to your challenge. Often times, we’ll be surprised just how God works through us and how folks respond to God’s calling. Give a chance for your folks to respond to the words God has placed on your heart. One of our roles standing in the pulpit is to be a prophet. We can’t be cheerleaders all the time.
However, I’ve also noticed that for some of us, there’s a deeper, underlying fear than offending people. A lot of us clergy are afraid to really talk about money and the spiritual of discipline because we can’t put our money where our mouths are. We’re afraid to talk about giving because we’re afraid of giving. Or, we don’t know how to talk about giving because we don’t give. And it’s hard to talk about things we don’t know. Someone once asked Christopher Wallace, AKA Notorious B.I.G. why he rapped about drugs and violence. “I make music about what I know. If I’d work at McDonald’s, I would’ve made rhymes about Big Macs and fries and stuff like that. In Brooklyn, I see hustling, I see killing, I see girls, I see cars — that’s what I rap about, what’s in my environment.”
We can only preach about what we know, right? Or at least, the best sermons we preach are things that we’ve experienced ourselves.
I’m doing a sermon series (based on Granger Church) called “Things I Wish Jesus Never Said.” And I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount extensively. I have to admit, life would be so much easier without Matthew 5-7.
In that sermon, Jesus tells us we can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve both God and money. We can only be loyal to one. We can only depend on one. We can only really trust in one. Isn’t that how loyalty works? You can’t depend on money and depend on God.
That’s not to say God doesn’t want you to live an abundant life filled with worldly riches. But that there’s more to life than money and mammon. That if we measure our wealth and worth by what’s in our checking account, we’ll never know the true richness of life found (only) through the grace of God.
And the idea of “I’ll give more when I make more” is a false line of thinking. That’s the same as the high school slacker who says, “I’ll study more once I get in to college.” It rarely happens. Sometimes, when we make more, it hurts more to part with money.
Without sounding holier-than-thou; without making myself look Pharisaic — I have to ask: what are we saying about our faith if we — as clergy — are not giving? On who or what are dependent on?
And yes, you’re absolutely right. I don’t know what you are going through; I don’t know the hardships that are weighing your spirit and checkbook down.
But if we’re not giving as clergy — I think it’s really important that we wrestle with the words of Jesus and check to see in what treasure our hearts really lie.
Anyway, I can go on and on. And I’m starting to sound like I’m angry. That’s not the vibe I want to give off. And the last thing I want to do is come off as judgmental, which I also worry is how you’ll take this (funnily enough, the last two sermons in this series is: Do Not Worry and Do Not Judge) So I’ll just end with what Wesley said:
Earn all you can.
Save all you can.
Give all you can.