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Authentic Stewardship Preaching

This week’s newsletter wraps up our series on preaching stewardship with a final takeaway. It calls for vulnerability and, well, an approach that might challenge many preachers. Yet, I think it’s high time the church -- and its preachers -- approached stewardship sermons with a posture of openness. Curious what I mean? Read on.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

Authentic Stewardship Preaching

Adam J. Copeland

Something about U.S. church culture and the expectations of clergy often leads to an elevated (and unrealistic) notion of pastors. Yes, we pastors will certainly admit we have our fair share of flaws, but either we’re good at hiding them, or congregational culture is good at looking past them. This phenomenon holds true when it comes to money and personal finance.

Thanks to studies supported by the Lilly Foundation, we know that members of church councils and personnel committees significantly underestimate clergy student loan (as well as consumer debt) levels. Members often assume pastors have their own money situation all figured out-- after all, aren’t they supposed to teach us about values, ethics, and how to live together in love? Yet, we clergy have our struggles too. We have our student loans and sometimes credit card and payday lending payments to make. We wrestle with how to navigate the culture of consumerism just like the Joneses next door. Which leads me to preaching and stewardship.

The past two weeks we’ve enjoyed posts (Preaching Stewardship: Confessions of a Convert and Preaching and Stewardship) tackling how to preach stewardship related sermons well. I’d like to add one more suggestion for preachers: be honest about your own struggles to master financial stewardship.

Nothing hurts a stewardship sermon more than the pastor coming off as holier than thou. Biblical stewardship is complicated. And so too is personal finance (for most of us, at least). So when a preacher up in the pulpit, six feet above contradiction, seems to imply that she or he has it all figured out -- no problem! -- many in the congregation will either call their bluff, or tune out completely.

The word “authenticity” gets tossed around a lot these days when it comes to leadership, but I do think it’s appropriate in this case. Authentic stewardship preachers relate their stewardship struggles in a way that draws hearers in. The preacher becomes relatable, even vulnerable, all in service of the gospel.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting preachers should post their student loan payments on the church door! Like all tough subjects, preaching from one’s scars rather than one’s wounds is most wise.

For example, I know one pastor who told her congregation that she and her husband, early in their marriage, avoided the topic of money at all costs. They were embarrassed by their debt as well as their lack of giving. Not until they fell behind on their car payments and nearly had their vehicle repossessed did they realize they had to take things seriously. Over time, they worked with a financial counselor and got things back on track. Their giving rate is still relatively low, but they have a plan to increase it by a percentage each year until they hit 10% (some of that, interestingly, will include giving beyond the church).

When the preacher shared this story with the congregation, they were only a few years into their journey towards financial wellness. Sharing the story, it turned out, also opened up several unexpected opportunities for pastoral care in the weeks following the sermon.

When it comes to whether pastors should share -- from the pulpit -- how much they give to the church and/or other charities, I come back to the old seminary answer: well…it depends on the context. If all money talk has been taboo for a generation, this Sunday might not be the time. But, what most probably would be helpful is honest, authentic, even vulnerable truth-telling about the power of money for all of us, even the preacher.

For More Information

Adam. J. Copeland is the Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"The Pulpit" image by Bs0u10e0. Creative Commons licensing on Flickr.

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