Tom Arthur: Money is crucial to discipleship. How do I ask about it?

How does a pastor even begin a conversation about money without making people feel like the church just wants theirs?

In the ancient church, a young monk would approach an elder and ask, 'Abba, may I have a word?' Tom Arthur, in his first year out of seminary, seeks advice from elders in these letters. James Martin's reply is here.

Dear Rev. James Martin,

I have the privilege of being appointed right out of seminary to a relatively young church plant. Sycamore Creek Church is nine years old. I am their second pastor. The founding pastor was a grandmother (literally) who planted the church out of another United Methodist Church. There are many things that SCC does differently than other UMCs with a longer history. One of those has to do with the pastor and financial giving records.

When I was appointed to this church I was surprised to find that I was given access to the financial giving records of the church. I was even expected to know what people gave, and to interact with those whose giving patterns had changed. I went to a UMC turn-around conference recently where the speaker suggested that a pastor should know this financial giving information so that he or she can put leadership in place based on giving patterns. This same suggestion was recently made at one of the conference orientation classes I attended for new pastors in the conference: pastors should know what people in the church give so that they can effectively minister to them and attend to the ordering of the leadership of the church.

I like this idea from the spiritual direction side of things. I don’t know how a pastor can effectively guide an individual without knowing anything about what that person is doing with their money. Wesley spoke very clearly and forcefully about what he expected of Methodists in regards to their money. They were to make all they could (honestly), save all they could (by living simply), and then give the rest away! This is a bar much higher than tithing. It is more on the order of a vow of poverty, or perhaps a vow of simplicity.

What I wrestle with is integration of this value with our broader culture. I have never had such a conversation with any of my pastors about my own finances. I don’t even know what a conversation like this would look like. Personal finances are taboo in our culture, and I’d like to be part of a church where these kinds of taboos are broken through and torn down, but how does a pastor even begin this kind of a conversation without making people feel like the church just wants their money and driving them away? Money is essential to discipleship, but our culture’s idolatry of keeping personal finances private seems to get in the way of pastors providing effective pastoral direction to members. How do I navigate these tricky waters?

Peace,

Tom Arthur

Tom Arthur is pastor of Sycamore Creek United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.