Every young preacher has their firsts. Today was one for me. We’re in the middle of our annual Stewardship Campaign at the church I serve. In the mix of themes, I drew a theme to preach that I’ve never preached on before — money. You should know that I don’t have a single memory of money being preached on in the church I grew up in. Frankly it was sort of treated like politics or sex — you never talk about it in mixed company. So yesterday I preached on the lectionary text for the day (Mark 10:17-31) and geared toward a message on the importance of financial giving.
In preparing for this sermon, I decided to call a couple of friends. I was really having a hard time with what direction to take with the sermon. The truth is, I was struggling with my own personal discomfort in talking about money. Since this is a growing edge for me as a young pastor, I decided it would be a good idea to seek the counsel of 2 friends who are more seasoned than I am and who also serve larger, more wealthy churches (their contexts mirror the one I preach to in this regard). The advice they gave was invaluable.
Here are a couple of big points of advice I used to guide the construction of the sermon:
- Don’t be too creative. I know this sounds a little counter-intuitive at first, but hear me out. The texts we use to preach on money are penetrating enough. Let the text speak for itself. Money also has very tangible dimensions. But preachers are notorious for “over-fluffing” sermons on money by trying to redefine it as something spiritual, and therefore less physical and more abstract. We say sermons on money aren’t really sermons on money but are actually sermons on other things. As preachers, we run the risk of beating around the bush and never talking about the reality of money itself when we fail to be simple and direct about the place of money in the life of the church and its members. There’s a reason Jesus quite often put a price tag on a person’s generosity. Sure, those encounters had a lot to do with abstract spiritual things. But make no mistake, Jesus put money in simple, physical, and demanding terms.
- Be honest. We live in tough economic times right now in America. Now look, I know that by virtue of being American, we’re largely better off than many in other parts of the world. And as preachers we can harp on that all day to remind our congregations to be grateful for what they have. But I’m a United Methodist preacher which means I have a certain job security and guaranteed benefits. Frankly I have a hard time with my UM colleagues making this point when people in their churches have lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings and we’re sitting pretty comfortable with those things provided for us. A better approach is to simply be honest about the economic constraints. Times are tough for families and they’re tough for churches too. Churches need to do the work of analyzing their financial realities and they ought to be making tough decisions on what they can do without. Likewise, families and individuals should do the same and preachers shouldn’t shy away from making that clear. But be honest. Don’t assume they get your point — come right out and say it.
- Be bold. Financial giving is a statement of generosity on the part of individuals and families. Generosity is as much an expression of our faith as our prayers, presence, service, and witness. And filling out a pledge card is a spiritual act because they’re most often turned in during a worship service. The best line I borrowed from one of my pastor friends was this: Saying “yes” to generosity means saying “no” to something else. The essence of generosity is twofold: 1)Giving must come with a cost; and 2)We give largely for the sake of others. In tough economic times, could we give something up in order to be generous? Are we willing to give so that someone else might be the beneficiary? These are tough but necessary questions to ask in the church. Our faith does not belong to us alone, but it belongs to the community as well. We have a responsibility (note I didn’t say “option”) to give so that others might benefit. And we give to the church because we believe what we can do together is greater than what we can do as individuals. There is a refreshing honesty when a preacher says that.
This sermon was a true learning experience for me. I’m very much a narrative-style preacher who loves stories and creative twists and turns to make a point. But this sermon turned out to be much more practical and straightforward. No stories — just practical talk about money and generosity. It also took a lot of discipline for me because I always want my sermons to be loved by people. The risk you run in this sort of sermon is the “hard truth” might offend someone. However if you’re being true to the text, Jesus is very offensive to our realities. As preachers we spend a good deal of time wanting to be liked, so sermons on money are great opportunities to set that desire aside for a Sunday. The timing also worked well because pledge cards went out in the mail this past week so they were fresh on the minds of the congregation. They also have 2 weeks to consider what that pledge will be before Commitment Sunday. In the future I think I’ll always design a sermon on money a couple weeks before pledge cards are due that way people have some time to think about their pledge before they turn them in. All in all, it was a great learning experience and one I’ll come back to for years to come.
How do you preach on money? What are your “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to preaching on giving?