Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Money and Faith

In my last installment, I wrote about the church and budgets and some of the realities of my experience with churches and money. It’s on my mind because every year at this time we work together at Bethel on renewing our common commitments to uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. We ask each other to consider getting better in each of these areas. And, almost all of us know that the five weeks of emphasis will end with a card being used to pledge to each of these commitments. Though church attendance is no longer a given, since there are so many soccer and other challenges that go on while worship is going on, by far the most challenging of the commitments to think about is our gifts, or money. In my first appointment (church), I had three churches. One of the churches was a church in a small town which had split some years earlier over race. The Southern Methodist Church formed and took about half of the members of my church, a United Methodist Congregation. So, my church had struggled over the years to keep afloat, though by many standards they did quite well. On a good Sunday, we would have 50 in worship. On a bad day, we had around 35 or so. In addition to all this, a man in the community, who was not a member of the church, died one day and left a sum of $150,000 or so to this church. No one knew why; he just did. It was a huge gift for such a small church. So, they spent some time wrangling over what to do with the money. Whey they didn’t have this money, they wrangled over other stuff, I guess. (Let me say, I did love these folks). Finally, after some time they formed a fund and invested the money and decided that they would only spend the interest. So, what would the interest be spent on? Well, that wasn’t entirely clear though the intention was that we would do something missionally with it. They build a building for fellowship and program at a district camp. That was a good thing. Many used this for their church’s ministries. But this was the late seventies and run-away inflation. Some years we got as much as 10% interest. I couldn’t get them to give it all away, but I tried. One year I felt like Santa Claus giving out $1,000 checks to charities and colleges and other service groups. It was great, but we couldn’t give it away fast enough. So, the money accumulated. I worked hard to get them to give more away, but the more we talked about it, the more we argued about it. Finally, one night in a Board meeting, I lost my temper (I was very young), and said I’d like to make a motion. I made a motion that we give every cent, including the principal, away. And, you can guess, the motion was not seconded, and it died from lack of support. But, I had made my point. Money is a gift of God, yes, but sometimes money blinds us to our real responsibilities. Sure, I wish that every person who professes faith in Jesus Christ would pledge and give 10% of their income to the church. We would have more money for mission than we would know what to do with. I like to have that problem every now and then. But, more than that, I want a church where we have enough faith to trust God to give us what we need and supply our need, even if we didn’t have a cent in the bank. I wonder what God would do if we could trust him like that. Blessings! Dave Nichols

1 comment:

  1. Stewardship time has always been problematic. We all know it is coming. There is no unique way to handle it. And most of us groan when the moment hits.
    Topping the list of difficulties is that the whole push just comes off as hypocritical, especially if you are an active member and know how hard it is to get any program through the Finance Committee during the year. At my church, one feels the budget is set in stone. It is hard enough to increase an already supported mission during the budget cycle. Asking to do some sort of fundraising for something that presents mid-year is next to impossible. So after watching missed opportunities all year long, the money pitch receives reactions from a yawn to outright indignation.
    Then there are the other four items on that list: prayers, presence, service and witness. They get left hanging like alluring jewelry, but officially ignored. The sense is that prayers are for the clergy to handle. (At my church no laity member has uttered a prayer in a service for over a year.) Our presence makes the clergy feel valuable, but only on Sunday. Ask to use our building on a Saturday, and one knows that presence is not a priority. Our service is desired, but only if it doesn't threaten those in charge. One may do something of note well, but only once. We should empower our congregations, but we are careful to only enable the power of our ministers. Lastly, our witness is completely ignored. If the laity are not allowed the opportunity to ever lead prayer in the worship community, they will certainly not be granted opportunity to testify in church. If we don't allow our members to practice their testimony in church, we can be sure that they won't testify outside it. So the exhortation to tithe is difficult to take seriously. When four out of the five parts of the pledge are ignored, should we be surprised that the fifth is as well?



Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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