Let’s talk about Money

Recently I read an article reflecting on findings in the recently released Special Report on Giving to Religion. This report notes the correlation of religious affiliation and practice to charitable giving in general and to religious organizations in particular. The report seems to indicate that religiously affiliated individuals and families are more open to conversations about money and giving than we might imagine.

The author of the article, Rev. Thad Austin, emphasized two finding in the report; the first I noted above. The second finding implies that our churches would do well to pay attention to the spiritual development of all generations of our members, especially those younger members and seekers. He reflects that commitment to the religious faith, evidenced by attendance at worship, directly correlates to generosity.

Rev. Austin quotes from Daniel Conway’s book, “The Reluctant Steward”, that “At least three studies conducted over the past 25 years have all reached the same conclusion: 1) clergy have a negative attitude towards money and 2) clergy are “reluctant” to discuss financial matters.[3] These words caught me by surprise. I knew that pastors are reluctant to discuss money but not that we have a negative attitude toward it. This gives me pause as I think about how we approach stewardship, giving and generosity in our congregations. How can we talk about money in a positive way if we come with a negative attitude?

Continuing his reflection, Rev. Austin writes, “In fact, Daniel Conway has written that of the dozens of clergy interviews he has done, religious leaders ‘felt that . . . money is incompatible with pastoral ministry and antithetical to . . . spirituality.’[2] Yet, the findings released by Lake Institute and the Giving USA Foundation indicate that persons of faith are significantly more generous than the general population and are willing to give.”

If our people are ready and willing to give, and give generously, we must be ready to engage them in conversation. In a sense, what Rev. Austin writes reflects what I hear in stewardship workshops and conversations with those who lead and study in this area of theology: church people want to give but we seldom ask them to do so.

Our church is called and gathered to be an image of God’s grace and glory in the world. We speak and sing about the wideness of God’s mercy and God’s amazing grace – grace upon grace. Our challenge now is to live and act in ways that show God’s abundance and generosity. We need to have the conversations about money that will open our hearts to become more generous. We need to challenge our fears and anxieties around money and wealth. Most of all, we need to invite each other to give as God has given to us.

You see, stewardship is not really about how much money someone gives to the church, or to God. Stewardship is about God’s giving to us and about our opportunity to share with others. Stewardship is the invitation to join with God in loving the world with our heart, our soul, our mind, and our possessions.

Pastors and other congregational leaders, I beg you, if you are not talking in your congregations about money, if you are not inviting people to give, if you are not already doing what you can to deepen your commitment to faith, start now! Money is not something to be feared, nor is the conversation. We want our members to grow in faith and we want our church to have an impact in the world. Developing generous, committed disciples will accomplish this with God’s help.

Craig Miller, Assistant to the Bishop

[1] Daniel Conway, “The Reluctant Steward” (Indianapolis, IN: Christian Theological Seminary, 1992); Daniel Conway, “The Reluctant Steward Revisited” (St. Meinrad, Indiana: St. Meinrad School of Theology, 2002); Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (Oxford University Press, 2008).
[2] Conway, “The Reluctant Steward Revisited,” 8.