Reprinted from Net Results Magazine

Can I be honest with you? The majority of your church members are financially illiterate. That’s a problem, especially when you consider that Jesus talked more about money than any other topic besides the Kingdom of God. In fact, in my opinion, it’s an untenable situation. Church members should be the savviest money managers on the planet, not some of the worst.

Part of the problem seems to be that pastors and church leaders don’t like talking about money. Why? Because those conversations almost always revolve around stewardship, tithing, and supporting the church. It’s so rare for a sermon to touch on anything financial other than those topics … it’s almost comical. No wonder we’re accused by the unchurched of being only interested in money. When we talk about it from the pulpit, it’s nearly always about “give, give, give.”

In this article, I’m going to turn that around. I’m going to talk about financial literacy. Why? Because a financially literate person not only prospers better, they’re able to give more as well. However, let me be really clear, the ability to give more should never be the motivation for teaching financial literacy. The reason for teaching financial literacy is because when Jesus promised a full and abundant life, he didn’t mean a life enslaved to debt or living hand to mouth.

With that said, let’s dive into the five pillars of financial literacy: banking, budgeting, savings, credit-and-debt, and investing. Obviously, there’s more to financial literacy than this article can cover, but these will get you started.

Pillar One: Banking

Let’s start by talking about banking. It’s one of those topics that’s virtually never spoken about from the pulpit, yet the Bible has some important things to say about it. For one, there’s an expectation that we’re using a bank and making the most of it.

If your congregation is on the younger side, there’s probably some confusion about banking options. For instance, there’s a huge difference between a commercial bank, a consumer bank, a savings and loan bank, and a credit union. But beyond those basics, it’s likely that many of your members don’t know the variety of ways they can make the most of their bank.

Besides shopping around for the best rates, opening multiple accounts for expenses, emergency funds, tax savings, and so on is critical. There’s a good bit of information out there on the internet about banking, and local branch managers would be overjoyed to have a conversation. In fact, this might be an opportunity to do a round table conversation with branch managers of various banking types. This is probably not a pulpit kind of conversation (though that would be interesting), but a class on banking options would definitely be helpful for your congregation.

So, where does the Bible come in? In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents. In this story, a master entrusts his servants with his wealth while he’s away. Two of the servants invest the money and double their value, while the third servant buries his in the ground. The master praises the first two servants for their wise stewardship but chastises the third for his lack of wisdom. But notice – the master was clear that the foolish servant should at least have put the money in the bank. Putting funds under the mattress or under a rock, not okay!

Another passage to consider is Proverbs 13:11, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” This verse emphasizes the importance of steady, honest financial practices – something that good banking habits can facilitate.

Preaching and teaching about banking is a foundational part of helping your congregation become financially literate. By understanding the different types of banks, the services they offer, and how to make the most of them, your members can lay a strong foundation for their financial lives. Encouraging them to shop around for the best rates and open multiple accounts for different purposes such as expenses, emergency funds, tax savings, and so on. Encourage them to seek advice from local branch managers who can help educate them and set them up for success. Let’s help your members start with something easy and rock solid!

Pillar Two: Budgeting

Budgeting. Ugh. I know, I know, it’s not the most exciting topic out there. But the truth is, budgeting is the foundation of financial stability. When we try to wing it, we tend to overestimate our income and underestimate our expenses and that’s a recipe for … well, pretty much where many of our members are now.

There are a variety of budgeting strategies out there. John Wesley famously said, “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” The 50/30/20 plan is also popular: spend 50 percent on needs, 30 percent on wants, and then save 20 percent (“saving” also includes overpaying the minimum balance on any debt). Grant Cardone, the author of the Wealth Creation Formula, suggests the 40/40/20 rule: set aside 40 percent for taxes, save and invest 40 percent, and learn to live on the remaining 20 percent. That’s a great target to shoot for, but probably out of reach for most of us. Nonetheless, there’s wisdom in learning to live minimally and investing liberally.

To start budgeting effectively, it’s helpful to create a spending journal where you document every penny spent over a month. This can be eye-opening, as most of us fritter away significant amounts without realizing it. There are also lots of resources out there to help, like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace or Larry Burkett’s Crown Financial. The key is helping your members get a handle on their spending.

Now, this pillar provides a good opportunity to talk about tithing, offerings, planned giving, and all the rest. But if you make church giving the primary focus, you’ll likely lose your congregation’s interest – they’ve heard versions of that sermon every year. Some time ago, I watched a church explode in conflict when a pastor required every small group to study Financial Peace because, he said, giving was low. Not a good idea! The focus should be on helping members manage their finances, not on freeing up more money for the sake of the church. Make sure the best interests of the individual are paramount and you’ll see giving go up in spite of yourself!

Need a sermon starter or two?  Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” This verse highlights the importance of careful planning in financial matters. Luke 14:28–30 also speaks to this, with Jesus saying, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Two good passages about budget building.

Preaching about budgeting gives your members the tools to manage their money wisely, reduces financial stress, and helps them work towards their goals. By approaching the topic with their best interests in mind, you can encourage them to be good stewards of their resources without making them feel pressured to give more to the church.

Pillar Three: Saving

Let’s talk about saving money, specifically saving funds in the bank. There are a couple of schools of thought on this. Grant Cardone recently wrote that saving money is for losers. In our current culture, he might not be too far off because financial returns on savings are at historic lows. There are better ways to invest that provide much higher returns. However, for most people, starting a savings account is an absolute must, if for no other reason than they probably need to be able to access liquid funds.

As I said earlier, John Wesley suggested that we save all we can. There’s some significant wisdom in that. A simple online search suggests the average American has about $65,000 in savings. That’s great if it were accurate for the average person on the street. Turns out, though, the actual median is $8,000, and in my experience in churches, that’s probably a bit optimistic. Sure, some folks have plenty in savings, but younger adults tend to have very little they can actually get their hands on, and that becomes a BIG problem when some financial crisis looms large.

Using savings as an investment for the future, as Cardone points out, is probably not the best option. On the other hand, every family probably needs various savings accounts. First, learning to put aside money for taxes, especially for those with side hustles or who are self-employed, is a must. Second, having emergency money saved so a car breakdown doesn’t bankrupt the monthly budget is critical. Third, Dave Ramsey suggests that once you’re out of debt, that emergency fund should grow to cover two to three months of income needs. We’ll talk about longer-term saving in the investment pillar in a moment.

Here’s how to get started talking about savings from the pulpit. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” This verse emphasizes the importance of saving for the future. Another relevant passage is Genesis 41, where Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and advises him to store up grain during the seven years of abundance to prepare for the seven years of famine.

Then there’s the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30. This passage provides an interesting perspective on savings (and we’ll speak more about this parable in the investing section below). In the story, the servant who simply buried the master’s money was rebuked for not at least putting the money in the bank to earn interest. In other words, even minimal returns from a savings account are better than nothing. However, the parable also praises the servants who invested their talents wisely and earned greater returns. While a savings account may not provide the highest returns, it’s a safe place to start and can provide a buffer against unexpected expenses. When teaching financial literacy, encourage your members to view their savings as a tool for short-term stability and a foundation for future investments, not as a long-term wealth-building strategy.

Pillar Four: Credit and Debt

In Luke 16:8, Jesus seems to bemoan the fact that the people of darkness are more financially savvy than the people of the light. This absolutely applies to this pillar. The average American seems to be completely ignorant that they are putting themselves into an indentured servant position when they go into debt, especially consumer debt.

The Bible’s got a lot to say about credit and debt, and here we find some of the most stringent rules. As I suggested, those who get into debt have voluntarily put themselves into an indentured slavery position. Recent figures show the average American is over $100,000 in debt, including their mortgages. However, in light of the fact that 35 percent of Americans don’t own homes, the amount of real consumer debt is staggering.

Einstein said, “Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.” The truth is, debt is crippling the US, and our church members don’t understand what a slave master indebtedness is. It’s time you help solve that issue and teaching about compound interest would be a good start.

But there’s another issue. There is a lot of confusion around endebtedness. We treat all debt as if were a great evil, and it can be. Just like the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, money is also the root of all kinds of good. Just so, there are different kinds of debt as well. Consumer debt, buying stuff on credit because we want it now, is not good debt. On the other hand, secured debt, including home ownership, is generally viewed as good debt because land tends to be a good investment – let’s face it, there’s a limited supply! Then there’s investment debt, where borrowed funds are used to gain additional funds. That last one is probably best not utilized by the average person at the start of their financial literacy education, but it can be very powerful.

Helping our members understand the relationship between credit, credit scores, good debt, and bad debt is fundamental. The pillar of credit/debt could fill numerous books – indeed, it already does! The key is helping members understand the virtue and wisdom of not spending money on things we don’t need or don’t need immediately. Understanding interest, compound interest, interest rates, and how debt influences our credit rating (which in turn influences our access to good debt and investment debt) is critical.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bible has a lot to say about debt – most of what it says is: “Stay out of it!” Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” This verse highlights the power dynamic inherent in debt. Romans 13:8 advises, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” In other words, pay your bills and stay out of debt. In contrast, though, there are also a number of passages about standing in the “banker’s shoes.” If the Bible is anything, it’s practical. There is an understanding that those who “have” have an opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to loan funds to those who “don’t have.” But the Bible is clear about the rules regarding that kind of investment. Usury, often defined as unjust interest, is strictly prohibited in scripture. I can remember being raised in Washington State when the law said that interest rates above 12 percent were considered usury and were therefore illegal. Of course, that law went out the window when credit card debt became increasingly plentiful, increasingly lucrative, but also increasingly risky because credit cards were handed out like DumDum suckers by a bank teller to pretty much everyone, including those with questionable ability to repay the debt. Of course, this raised the cost of loaning money, and that cost was spread out among those who held the credit cards and collected by increasing interest rates.

In the Old Testament, the law included a provision for ending long-term debt. Every fifty years, debt, and probably long-term debt especially, was expected to be forgiven or canceled. (In my opinion, that would be a great law to implement when it comes to student loan payments!) In any event, Jesus built on that law and suggested that there were times when debt should be forgiven (Luke 6:34).

Over the years, I can say that I have seen more people get out of debt when a church embraces and promotes Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace than almost any other process. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything Ramsey says, his biblically based and practical practice of getting out of debt, staying out of debt, and then building for the future has been invaluable for many. In my personal opinion, I see his plan as being an excellent tool for beginners who need to become financially stable, coupled with learning the ins and outs of budgets, savings, and dealing with credit and debt. However, it falls short in terms of good advice for investing. For that, we’ll need to turn to other experts and plans.

Pastor, when you preach about credit and debt, emphasize the dangers of consumer debt and the importance of using credit wisely. Encourage your members to see debt in light of their spiritual journey – as something that can hinder their freedom to serve God if misused, but also as a tool that can be leveraged for good if approached with careful wisdom.

Pillar Five: Investing

Finally, let’s talk about investing. It’s surprising how rarely this topic comes up in sermons, given how much it’s covered in scripture. The Parable of the Talents is a prime example. Jesus praises the servants who invested their money wisely, yet I’ve rarely heard this parable linked to a suggestion to invest in the stock market, bonds, real estate, intellectual property, or even in bettering oneself. It’s almost as if the notion of actually investing isn’t what Jesus meant. But clearly, that’s exactly what he meant.

And Jesus isn’t the only one who talks about investments. Ecclesiastes 11:1–2 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” This passage encourages diversifying investments. Proverbs 13:11 states, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” This emphasizes the wisdom of steady, patient investing.

The pulpit may not be the place to delve into all the ins and outs of effective investing, but speaking about investments from the pulpit needs to happen regularly. Every church should have a ministry for investors or potential investors, perhaps an investment club that helps train even neophyte investors in making worthy, wealth-building investments. The problem is that over the years, churches have pushed back against the health and wealth gospel, dismissing any talk of making money as if it were a pyramid scheme. But money isn’t the root of evil – the love of money is. Sure, greed is one of the seven deadly sins, but Jesus spoke about money, investing, wealth, and wealth management throughout his ministry because our relationship with money is important. We cannot serve two masters, but we’d better figure out how to become the master of our finances. Learning to invest effectively and appropriately is part of that education.

Wrapping It Up

Managing our wealth with these five pillars in mind is critical for our members, for the church, and for the Kingdom. As pastors, we‘ve got to stop avoiding preaching, talking, and teaching about money and wealth. I tell the pastors in my Growing Church Network that they should talk about money from the pulpit as often as Jesus did to the crowds and to his disciples – as I said in the opening paragraphs, he talked about that more than anything else besides the kingdom of God. We must go and do likewise. Helping our members become financially literate is an important mandate. Let’s get busy with it.

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