Begging from the Pulpit? A Better Approach to Preaching Stewardship

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When I talk to pastors about their least favorite sermons to preach, I often hear that they dislike preaching sermons on financial stewardship more than any other. In fact, one pastor I know said to me, “Whenever the stewardship campaign comes around, I feel like I am begging from the pulpit.” While these pastors preach reluctantly on the topic of finances, others—who don’t want to be associated with flashy televangelists—take more extreme measures. They refuse to mention finances at all during their sermons. Avoiding the topic altogether, these church leaders justify their actions citing Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). There’s a problem with both of these approaches.

Jesus preached about money—a lot.

Jesus talks more about a person’s connection to his or her resources than most any other topic in the Gospels.  From the sheer volume of sermons that Jesus devotes to finances, we could argue (exegetically) that stewardship was one of Jesus’ favorite sermon topics. So, why isn’t it one of ours? Our reticence to discuss financial matters from the pulpit results from poor training, financial illiteracy, insecurity, our own guilt, and ultimately bad theology.

John Wesley understood the importance of preaching about finances. In his sermon entitled The Use Of Money, Wesley calls financial instruction the “highest concern . . . [for] all who fear God.” Money is powerful, Wesley argued. It can be used as a tool for incredible good and horrific evil. Explaining Paul’s “love of money” passage, Wesley writes: “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill, and what may not. . . . In the hands of [God’s children, however, money] is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. . . .” Therefore, Christians need instruction so that they may become good and faithful stewards of their resources that God has entrusted to them.

Regretfully, many stewardship sermons I hear begin with an apology.

If this describes your preaching (or your pastor’s preaching), I would like to recommend a now beloved text by Henri Nouwen entitled A Spirituality of Fundraising. Offering preachers a different perspective on their task, Nouwen says that fundraising is “the opposite of begging[; it’s] declaring.” A proper stewardship sermon not only instructs believers on the use of their possessions but also inspires them to invest their resources in the Kingdom of God. Like Jesus and Wesley before him, Nouwen saw fundraising not as a burden inflicted upon the laity but as an inspired form of ministry and spiritual formation. As you approach your stewardship series this fall, I encourage you to replace your apology with pride for Christ’s church and to preach with boldness about what God can do when people give.

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Thad Austin is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a Ph.D. student at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the Graduate Assistant at The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. Thad also serves as Editor of the Church Leader Collective for Seedbed. Thad served as Executive Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In his free time, Thad loves to travel (41 countries and all 50 states, thus far), hike (has hiked the 1,100 miles between Pennsylvania and Georgia), sail, and spend time with friends.

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