I’m excited to talk about money…said no church person ever. Well, that’s not entirely true. We imagine that the snake-oil version of preacher is always ready to go there with an appeal for money, which only makes us more hesitant to raise the M-word. In most churches I work with, when we do have a discussion about money it’s with reluctance and with a gathering air of doom. We don’t talk about money because we feel there’s rarely enough of it and our deliberations will be accompanied by financial statements and terms we don’t really understand. But there’s an opportunity cost to our hesitation. Even if we don’t talk about it, we worry about it and our anxieties can keep us from seeing something God wants us to see—abundance.
“Reluctance to talk about money is counter-productive because our fear can accelerate church decline and increase challenges leaders want to avoid,” says Bonnie Ives Marden in her new book, Church Finances for Missional Leaders: Best Practices for Faithful Stewardship.(5) Leadership means being willing to peer behind the curtain most churches erect between their financial situation and the rest of church life and to learn and implement some key practices for financial health. Taking small steps in this area can lead to transformational changes.
Jesus talked about money far more than we care to admit. He challenged those with money to see it as a resource for mission and he helped those who were without means to discern their own agency and worth while revealing new sources of wealth, even from the mouths of fish! When we give attention to finances we learn about ourselves and our emotional attachment to money.
In the midst of an economic crisis, it may seem a strange time to focus on money, but Marden’s book feels particularly useful for these times. She combines a spiritual approach to stewardship with practical advice for setting up healthy financial systems in churches. After laying out a theological framework in a chapter on biblical wisdom, she leads readers through the arcane world of terms like cash flow, fiduciary responsibility, and tithing. Her conviction is that all gifts come from God, God wants to put these gifts at the service of the world, and we are stewards of the gifts.
The book can be used as a handbook to dip into as needed or as a textbook for clergy who are looking to supplement things that seminary didn’t teach while they are on the job. There are helpful charts and forms, all buoyed by Marden’s natural enthusiasm for her subject. She has taken a lifetime of work in the church and with United Methodist Foundations and put it into this invaluable tool.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Bonnie for some time through work we’ve done throughout the United Methodist connection. I’m happy to see this book bringing her skills and insight to a larger audience. Churches that learn how to speak about money in the ways she suggests are going to experience greater freedom and greater faith in the God who provides what we need for mission.