Why It's Super Annoying When Pastors Talk About Money
Two topics cause perspiration and accelerated heart rates in the pulpit: sex and money.
Yet, these are two topics that the Scriptures address continually. I've written about our culture's obsession with sex elsewhere, so, what about money? Why is money such a touchy topic in churches? Why do stewardship sermons raise the blood pressure of both pastors and people?
When Pastors Are the Problem...
Well, part of the fault could fall on pastors and church leaders. The church's leadership hasn't always done the best job of communicating the joy of generosity.
I mean, why shouldn't people get their guard up when...
- Some clergy care way to much about money. Every week is a constant plea of "We better give or the lights are gonna be turned off!"
- Some churches have misused money, either hoarding it or wasting it on projects that have little to do with the Gospel.
- Some popular preachers take advantage of their member's generosity by living a lax and luxurious lifestyle.
- Sermons utilize guilt rather than grace to prod unwilling congregants into unwillingly parting with their hard earned resources.
- Churches implement stewardship initiatives and capital campaigns that, next to being canned and wonky, use tactics lacking in Gospel-centered theology.
When I Am the Problem...
But... lest this become one of those accusatory "Dear Church, You're Just So Awful and Outdated and Clueless" letters, could it be that part of the reason pastors and their people dread "the money talk" is because money is a huge idol in our culture? I mean, no one likes it when their idols are messed with, and I can't help but wonder if money is such a sensitive topic because money is also an idol - an object of worship - that we guard carefully. And when that idol comes under attack, we respond with all kinds of indignation and excuses. "The church is always talking about money" really means "I love money more than God and it really irks me when the sermon awakens my consciences and lays siege to my idols."
Don't Mess with "My Precious"
An example that comes to mind is Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. Now, lest anyone take offense at being compared to that nasty creature of Tolkien's novels, let me say straight up that I apply this first to myself. I agree with Paul that there's a Gollum creature living inside me (see Romans 7!). There's a part of me and you that loves the gifts of God more than God himself, and whenever anyone challenges that part of us, it gets irked and lashes out.
I bet many of you remember that iconic scene where Gollum is obsessing over the ring - "my precious." To his own harm, Gollum is consumed with love for the object. There's nothing inherently wrong with the ring. But it changes people. Even good people (or, good hobbits, rather). Isn't it the same with money? Money is a good gift of God. But, like so many other gifts of God (like sex, the other off-limits topic), the gift often becomes god.
Letting Go of Gollum and Embracing the Gospel
So, the next time your pastor gives a sermon on money, pay close attention to your reaction. Are you uncomfortable? Are you angry? Maybe your blood pressure goes up a few points? Or you start to tune him out? Sometimes we may harbor these reactions because we've accepted them as normal church behavior. Like the Geico commercials - "When you're a church member, you get annoyed by stewardship sermons - it's just what you do." But I challenge you to ask yourself, honestly, why? Why am I reacting in this way?
If your pastor is using the church's budget to buy mansions and sports cars (and maybe even a jet plane!!!), then chances are you need to find a different church.
If your leadership is obsessing about electric bills more than the advancement of God's kingdom, that calls for continued prayer, and a loving but still honest conversation with your church leadership. Perhaps your concern is the voice of the Spirit gently leading your church leaders back to what they know, but all too often fail to practice because of fear and exhaustion. Assure them that you are committed to the mission and stand behind them, and encourage others to do the same. When we do this, we are doing the opposite of what Satan so often does - accuse and point fingers and fault find until those on the receiving resign to despair or anger.
But... if you find yourself getting all out of sorts, or even just settled in a low-level "meh" attitude toward discussions of stewardship, isn't it time to do a heart check and repent? When we step back and gaze at the utter profundity of who God is and what he has accomplished for us in Christ, as well as the goodness of the Gospel and the grace we've been given in participating in the expansion of God's kingdom, sermons about giving should put us on the edge of our seat in excitement! We ought to ask, "How can I get in on this?"
If you've got the Gospel in your blood, you know what I'm talking about. It's the same reason Paul told the Corinthians that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). The Gospel is just that good. We can't hold it back or keep it to ourselves. The same Gospel that saved us is the same Gospel we're called to advance to the ends of the earth. Now, that takes some funds, does it not? It's also that same Gospel - that same rich, sweet, complete, enthralling Gospel - that gives us the power to put Gollum to flight and let generosity run free.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT