A friend who worked in planned giving once told me that people can’t decide what to do for their charitable legacy until they decide how to leave money to their families.
I suspect this is true in year-to-year giving: People will find it hard to give generously if they haven’t figured out how to manage their family finances. Many people are drowning in debt, both credit card debt (now over $700 billion nationally) and educational debt (now up to $1.2 trillion).
It’s essential to do this in a way that helps people extend grace to themselves. The power of shame around past financial decision is enormous. I find I can remember financial mistakes I made ten, twenty or more years ago and think what I could do with that money if I had it now. I’m working hard to let go of the past and move forward with compassion for my past self and hope for the future. Helping others do the same is a huge contribution we can make.
In Money and Your Ministry, I quote Israel Galindo as saying that all too often we give people no help during the year from a faith perspective, to deal with what money represents in their lives. He says, “Then once a year we ask them for more money while they are dealing with all this anxiety about money. So if part of my pastoral responsibility is the spiritual welfare of my congregation, I cannot avoid dealing with this real, critical faith issue in the life of my members. It’s not about the budget; it’s about a Christian response to the resources you have.”
Here are some tips for addressing personal finance in congregational life
- Read a book together. One of the best is Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin. There’s a great study guide downloadable here.
- Offer a program. Many churches of all theological persuasions have benefited from Dave Ramsey’s work. A downloadable program, The Money Course, is offered free by the folks who created Alpha. It’s geared toward a British audience but looks helpful.
- Preach explicitly about personal finance. Focus on grace and moving forward into the future with integrity and hope.
- Use denominational resources. In many denominations, foundation representatives will meet with families to hep them make choices about their estate plan, including their future giving plan.
- Help families and young people think through the financial implications of their college choices. Young people (and sometimes their families) are finding themselves in bondage for years due to educational debt. I’d love to see this be an essential part of youth ministry.
What ideas do you have for helping the people of your congregation bring grace and faith into their personal financial lives?