Clergy Confession (69) Embarrassed by Wealth

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In the church, we are embarrassed by money. It is, for many in the Mainline Church, a dirty subject only to be dealt with at Stewardship time.  The reason some churches thrive is that their members are expected to give generously. We easily forget, however, that Jesus taught about money more than heaven or hell, and more than love. These are pretty shocking statements – and they should make us pause.

We don’t like to talk about money – how much we make, what we spend it on, how much we give – money is taboo. I was raised with the idea that you kept your personal information about money to yourself, so as to not embarrass anyone else or yourself. I struggle with this, as do most people I know. How, then, should we deal with this subject?

In seminary, a professor of mine taught us that we should never know  how much anyone in the congregation gives. His belief was this – if the pastor got two calls for help at the same time, the pastor (being a flawed human being) would likely care for the active, giving member first. So as to not show partiality, one must use triage in deciding what to do. This always made sense to me.

Recently, however, church growth experts have been trying to convince us that knowing what people gives would actually help us. If they stopped giving, it might be a sign that something was wrong financially or spiritually, and we could address it before they left the church. This makes sense too, and yet, I am still in the camp of not knowing. 

Shockingly (at least, to me) some churches make you show your 1040 tax form when you join, and then they tell you what to give. This is intrusive and overreaching, and I bristle at the very idea. When someone joins our church, I tell them that they need to decide what it means to be generous, and then they should give accordingly. In money, as in everything else, we have free will.

It is my opinion that the Mainline Churches have suffered, in part, because of a lack of generosity among many of our members. Most congregations have a 1/3 attendance and activity ratio, which means that most of our members have given up on their churches. In every church I have served, using a low base salary for members, I have estimated that if every member gave 5% of their salary (after housing and other essentials), those congregations would have had 50-100% more money coming in. 

So look at it this way – if you spend more on pizza every week than on church, you may have a priorities problem. If your alcohol costs are higher than your regular gift – priority problem. I am not one of those people who believes you should give until it hurts, and I think we should reap the rewards of our hard work, but I also think that if you are spending more on tips in restaurants every week than in giving to your congregation’s ministry, you should probably rethink what you believe. Generosity is necessary to a healthy spiritual life. Stinginess is not. Giving is life affirming and joyful – withholding is not. Get healthy and give. Peace.

Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, Pa since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew University (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).

Author: Pastor Steve Ohnsman