Finances are a taboo subject when it comes to the Church. How much should a pastor make? How should a church’s finances be handled? How much is too much talk about giving? Should pastors talk about money at all?
In this episode of Church InTension, The King’s University President, Dr. Jon Chasteen, talks to Leo Sabo (Christian Stewardship Network) and David Thompson (Gateway Church) from the Getting Money Right podcast. These two pastors have decades of church finance and stewardship experience and offer direct answers to some of the tough questions many pastors ask regarding finances and the Church.
Dr. Jon Chasteen: Today we have some really awesome guests with us. David is the executive pastor of worship at Gateway and Leo is the president of Christian Stewardship Network. And together, they host a podcast called Getting Money Right, where they talk about personal finance with a biblical perspective. I’m so excited you guys are on the show. Thanks so much for coming on today, guys.
David Thompson: Dr. John, it is awesome to see you.
Leo Sabo: Yeah, truly a pleasure. Thank you for having us.
Jon: We’re honored to have you guys. I want to jump right in and get down to business on this because I know we have people that attend church listen to this podcast, but also we have a lot of pastors and other leaders, and both are going to benefit from this. So I wanted to just go right for the jugular, for lack of a better term. I want to talk about this concept of giving and stewardship and even discussing it from the pulpit, what does that look like and why do more pastors not do this? Are we afraid to talk about it? The manner in which we do it. So all of these things are important.
Jon: And then I’m tossing you the ball here, guys with a broad topic, because I’m doing that intentionally. I want you to answer the way that you feel passionate about this situation. So help us become better pastors and leaders.
Leo: Well, we’ll do our best to share just what we’ve learned over the years as we’ve ministered in this space. But also to say that we honestly don’t have all the answers to why pastors don’t talk about it, but we think we have some ideas. We’re actually trying to do more research, talk to more pastors, do more focus groups. So we’re learning what is getting in the way of them speaking on this important topic, because it is an extremely important topic. This is an area of life that every single person deals with on a daily basis. Money touches every area of our life, our relationships, our careers, how we spend money, how we look at our life, whether we feel happy, whether we have what we need, all of that.
Leo: And when a pastor doesn’t talk about it enough or doesn’t talk about it from the perspective that’s actually equipping people to take that information with a biblical foundation and then apply that to every single day life, then it’s really not equipping people to live. We talk so much about marriages, about faith, about how to love others, how to share the gospel, but yet when it comes to money, it’s almost like, “Well, we’ve got to leave that to the experts.”
Jon: So true.
Leo: It’s like, “Wait a minute.” But the Bible is very, very clear on this topic. In fact, Jesus spoke more about this topic than most topics. And that’s surprising to most pastors, but if you look through scriptures, there’s over 2,000 scriptures on money and possessions. And if you go deeper and really look at all the implications as far as work and calling, it just all ties together. So it’s really surprising to me. I grew up in the church. I was 37 years old when I heard my first message on-
Leo: 37 years old when I first heard my first message on giving from a biblical perspective, where I was convicted, “This is what I’m supposed to do.” Now, I was a tither, I grew up in a Christian environment, so I understood the need to support the church, but yet it’s never been, up until that point, it was never presented to me in a way that I understood, this is my God given, not just responsibility, but privilege actually return to God, and then to co-labor with God in what he’s doing.
Jon: That’s so good.
Leo: And he changed everything. It actually changed the trajectory of my life.
Jon: So tell me, and you guys can both answer this however you so choose, but tell us about the Christian Stewardship Network. What’s the vision? What’s the passion? What’s the purpose of it?
Leo: Yeah. So the Christian Stewardship Network was formed a little bit over 20 years ago, and it was just a bunch of stewardship pastors, it was guys who were really focused on teaching others how to manage money from a biblical perspective. So when the organization started, it was really for the focus of just having some others to connect with and learn from, because there weren’t any stewardship pastors back then. This started with just two or three guys and it eventually just spread over the years. And over the years, we’ve trained hundreds of church leaders to talk about the subject from the biblical viewpoint.
Leo: And our mission is to equip and train church leaders so that they themselves are managing money God’s way, but also teaching the congregation to do the same, because that yields the fruit of people being financially free, better marriages, better everything in their lives, because money is no longer the focus, it’s now the tool that they can use to fuel their passion and their purpose.
Jon: I love your vision because you deal with the pastor and their personal finances first.
Leo: Yeah, it’s necessary.
Jon: David, perhaps the reason the more pastors don’t talk about it is because of their own insecurities with the way they manage their own money.
David: Yeah. That’s exactly it.
Jon: And maybe we can’t lead other people to do something that we don’t know how to do ourselves. Talk a little bit about that. What are your thoughts there?
David: Yeah. When I think about this topic and you talk about pastors speaking on money, I actually break it down into two categories where you preach on giving and you preach on stewardship principles, management principles. And so there’s really two major legs to what Pastor Robert would call the blessed life. So, not only is there a lack of teaching on giving and generosity, there’s also a lack of teaching on the biblical principles of being a good manager. And in both cases, a lot of times the reason that it’s not being preached on, taught on, focused on is because the senior pastor doesn’t maybe have the giving illustrations and giving stories because they’ve not walked out that generosity side.
David: But on the flip side, it’s usually because they haven’t walked out the stewardship principles and the management and following what God’s word says about being a good steward. So if you can get the stewardship side right, which is why I love the Christian Stewardship Network, you learn from other pastors how to be a good steward and how to teach those principles to your congregation. If you get the stewardship side right, you’re on your way to having the margin for generosity, and you can walk what Pastor Robert would call the blessed life out.
David: And if you’re only walking in stewardship, you’re walking in circles.
Jon: I like to say this, it’s hard to take somebody to a place on the stage that I first haven’t visited off the stage. So it’s hard to walk up onto a stage, and with deep conviction, preach a message on a topic that I know that myself I’m not living out the way that I should be. And I love that about your organization. And I think pastors struggle to talk to other people about this topic. So if I’m a pastor and I struggle with my own finances and I don’t steward it well, who do I talk to about that? I’m the leader and I can’t go to my staff and talk about that. And if I don’t have pastor friends to talk about that, even that, I’m insecure to talk to my pastoral friends about that because I’m a pastor and I should be doing that well.
Jon: And so your organization provides a safe place for pastors to come and get that help. So what does that look like for a pastor to get connected? And what’s that process and journey look like?
Leo: Yeah, that’s great. So our network is, again, made up of stewardship leaders and church leaders. And the way we equip and train these pastors is we, first of all, just ask them to join our community. And we put our content on a weekly basis. We have blogs, podcasts. We do webinars and video type of training. We also have online courses that will walk these pastors through first, catching a vision for what stewardship and generosity is all about. We want to make sure that the pastors understand this is not the prosperity gospel, it’s not a way to get more money, it’s biblically grounded. So we start with a theology of generosity, the theology of stewardship, so that they understand biblically, where they stand on this topic.
Leo: Because if I’m going to ask a pastor to speak on this topic, I don’t want him to think, “Well, gosh, I got to get slick on how I do this, I got to I learn how to deliver the message so it’s effective.” No, no, no. This is preaching. This is sharing truth. So we always go back to the word and say, “Okay, this is what the word of God says about it.” And then, because there’s a lot of different things in our culture that have caused pastors to feel like they have to be everything to everyone, we let them know, “Your role is not to become the primary person that’s teaching, and the only person that’s teaching on this subject.” Something that Pastor Robert spoke so well on is the fact that when you preach on the weekend, you’re imparting the burden.
Leo: You’re speaking truth from God’s word so that people catch the vision for it and want to go deeper. But in 30 minutes or an hour of a message, you can’t get discipled. You have to sit down with people, you have to work through some of the messages that you might’ve created, financially speaking. So that requires another leader, it requires a team, maybe some volunteers that you train up so that they can then take that and walk people out of that journey. And so it’s both the senior leader, they have a crucial role, and this is why we focus on getting their attention. We want them to catch a vision for it, and we want them to speak on it often enough because it’s an important enough topic.
Leo: But then we also recognize that the stewardship leaders, those leaders that are called, a lot of them are financially minded. They’re good, administratively speaking, so they’re very good at helping people with the, with the nuts and bolts of managing their money with a biblical perspective. So it does require the pastor, the senior pastor, to speak on it, but then a majority of the work is actually done by the stewardship leader. So I want to share that with the senior leader that’s listening to this because they think, “Gosh, I’ve got to be the guy who’s going to teach on this for the rest of my life.” No, you just need to speak God’s word on the topic, but you need to do it more than once a year or once every couple of years.
Leo: It has to be often enough where when you do talk about it, people aren’t wondering, “Why is he talking about it?” Because it becomes a normal part of our conversation.
Jon: It’s part of the culture. Yeah.
Leo: If the pastor got up Sunday morning and said, “I want to talk to you about marriage today.” Nobody’s going to be like, “Why is he doing that?” Nobody questions it. But if he talks about money, because he’s not talked about it enough or detailed enough to make sure that they understand his purpose or his motivation is, they’re going to wonder, “Hmm, he’s going to have an ask or he wants something from me.” So we got to take it to the place where it’s no longer a taboo or a suspicious topic, it’s just normal.
Jon: And I think it’s important, I know sometimes when I’m preaching a message on giving that I think is going to be more of a convicting message, I’ve even done it to where, before I preached the sermon, I’d take up the offering before the sermon, because I don’t want people to think that I’m just trying to milk you. I’m going to preach this message and then I’m going to give this big ask on the backside of this convicting message. It’s not about that. I’m not trying to repair the roof, I’m not trying to raise extra money. I just want you to understand the principle of God’s word. And I’m guessing, and you guys would be able to speak to this more. I’m always just trying to get inside the head of a pastor. What’s their biggest fear? What have you seen in some of these pastors, what are they afraid of to preach God’s word? What do you think that is?
Leo: Well, I think David touched on it briefly, the fact that they don’t feel qualified and sometimes they do believe that it should be left up to the experts. This is a topic that can be somewhat involved, but I want to just remove that fear by saying nobody in your congregation is expecting you to help them with their budget. Nobody wants you to sit down with them and help them choose their stocks and their bonds and their mutual fund. That’s not what we do, as pastors we just teach God’s word. The most important part of it is not that we’re teaching just the God’s word, but that we’re teaching them how to relate to their journey with Jesus.
Leo: This is discipleship. Finances is part of our life and we have to deal with these tough questions. And if you look at the way Jesus interacted with his disciples and with the crowd he was teaching, when he talked about money, he talked to them in the context of the conversation that we’re having. He didn’t pull them off the side, he didn’t say, “Okay, now I’m going to talk about this, so everybody put your financial head on.” No, it wasn’t in the process of doing life with them and educating them God’s kingdom, God’s kingdom principles that he said, “These are issues you deal with. Here’s how God looks at them and how you should look at them.” And I think that’s really important.
David: Another one of the reasons that pastors will struggle to preach on this is because of, honestly, their integrity. They’ve seen it done poorly, they’ve seen people preach the give-to-get message and a hyper prosperity message. And if they’ve seen that modeled and they don’t want to go down that route, they’re wondering, “Where else can I go?” And the truth is, God invented giving to root that selfishness and greed out of our hearts. But the hyper prosperity gospel, this idea that if you give you will get, that actually routes that selfishness and greed back into your hearts. Sometimes it’s just not having the tools and the language and the sermons from healthy, biblically focused…
David: Other senior pastors and leaders that have spoken and taught on this, if you don’t have the right language and you’ve only seen it modeled poorly, it shoes your integrity, “Hey, I’m not going to broach that subject until I know that I can do it with God’s word, the authority of scripture, and know that I’m doing with the right heart behind it.”
Jon: Yeah. I want to go down a bit of a rabbit hole and it may be a lost venture and we can back out of the rabbit hole or Daniel can totally edit this part out. But I’m honestly curious, again, I’m just trying to look inside the life of a pastor, you guys deal with pastors all the time. I wonder if some of these pastors, we always proclaim or preach the word of God many times, based on our own experiences of that truth or our own walk of walking out, whatever it is we’re speaking about, that’s where the stories come from, right? And sometimes I wonder if you guys deal with pastors who are struggling with even what they get paid. These pastors don’t have any money, they’re broke, and maybe they don’t have retirement and the church can’t afford to give them retirement, and the church can’t afford to do this and the church can’t afford to do this.
Jon: And so they begin to operate out of a poverty mentality because of the lack of resources the church has. And so it’s hard to get up and proclaim the truth of giving and the blessings that come from it when you’re a pastor and you don’t feel blessed. Do you guys ever come across pastors that struggle with this dynamic? Probably particularly smaller churches, obviously. And again, you guys may be like, “Nope, that’s not a thing, John.” We’ll keep going and I’ll go back to my list of actual questions.
David: No, this is huge because it really stems back to asceticism and this idea that if you’re spiritual, you shouldn’t have any material objects. The more spiritual you are, the less-
Jon: The poorer you are.
David: The poorer you are.
Jon: The less you have.
David: Right. And I don’t know that there’s a specific route… Honestly, it’s an attack of the enemy, it’s a lie from the enemy. I see a lot of that even stemming from some of the Catholic traditions where the priests literally don’t own anything. And I don’t think that’s wrong per se, but there’s this idea that, well, if they do that, then maybe my pastor should not have a house, should not have-
Jon: Live in the parsonage.
David: Should live in the parsonage. And it should be a rundown parsonage. And I was talking to a friend of mine and he was upset about a salary of a pastor that wasn’t really even shocking, but I was like, “Do you want that pastor to be able to send their kids to college one day? Don’t you want your pastors kids educated? Especially if they end up being called to ministry, don’t you want people who maybe have a higher education?” It just shocked me because the person I was talking to said, “Well, that person, they can’t live in the city where their church is, that’s an expensive city, they should live three cities over.”
David: And I’m like, “You’re now saying that the senior pastor of this church shouldn’t even be in the community where he goes to church because of that poverty mentality.” And that’s something that I’ve seen over and over again. And it’s so important that as a senior leader, that you’ve got the right eldership around you or the right board around you who’s looking in the business world, potentially. And this is how we do it in Gateway, in the business world, somebody who’s leading a group of five employees, how much are they usually paid? Somebody who’s leading a group of 20 employees, how much are they paid? Somebody who’s leading a team of 100 people or a congregation…
David: You begin to look at, “What’s the market value for the preaching, the teaching, the leadership?” If you skip past that and you undercut your senior pastor, it will turn into a poverty mentality. And I think a lot of that comes from that old asceticism and that old poverty mentality, which even personally, I’ve had to escape from.
Jon: Yeah, it’ll change the way you lead. If you’re forced to live in a poverty mentality or a poverty atmosphere, it’ll change the way you preach, it’ll change the way you lead. We talked about both ends of that spectrum, and I think all things in any topic, you can find the pendulum swinging too far either way. We can become too impoverished in our thinking and poverty mentality, or we could swing the pendulum to the other side and say give to get, and we should all have private jets. You can go either way. And it’s trying to find the health, and I think that’s really the heart behind what you guys do, is helping pastors and leaders and boards and congregations and lay people find the healthy position to sit.
Leo: I don’t think it’s that difficult to determine what a pastor should get paid. I think the approach on how we do it needs to be similar to how we do it in the marketplace. So for instance, if you’re running a company that let’s say brings in $2 million worth of revenue and you can afford five employees, a CEO, maybe a CPA, maybe a couple administrative assistants and maybe one other marketing person, or whatever those people are, whatever they’re worth in the marketplace, you’re going to be able to either hire them or not keep them if you don’t pay them enough. And I think it’s interesting to me that in the church, those don’t necessarily apply.
Leo: We will hire a pastor, usually at a lower rate because they’re called, and somehow that’s accepted. And in my mind, that just violates so much of God’s word because Paul very clearly said, “A worker is worthy of his wages.” He didn’t say a pastor is not, and that’s really important. We can find the data to make good decisions, but it also has to be based on, what does the market actually call for and what kind of resources is available to pay these people? You don’t want to start a church and pay the pastor $100,000 a year salary when the church isn’t bringing in more than 110,000 worth of tithes, it does this make any sense. You’re not going to survive long.
Leo: So it can be done, but I think the approach and the heart behind it is really important. What I would say to a senior leader is, if this is unhealthy in your church, have a board meeting or an elders’ meeting, whoever’s leading your organization and say, “Let’s look at God’s work. This is not about me, this is not about me personally, this is about our church and the kind of message we’re putting out to the value of what this church is about, and the people that serve and have given their lives to serve in this role.” I don’t believe anyone at any level in a church should be paid less than a comparable person in the marketplace. In my opinion, actually, we should do better than the marketplace.
Jon: I think it’s an important topic, and I want to linger on it for just a second, because the reason I think it’s important is because nobody ever talks about this. I get up in front of the church that I pastor every year and I tell the church how my salary is set. I don’t tell them what my salary is, but I tell them the process in which it’s set and the journey of that. And so what if there’s a church elder or a board member that’s listening to this podcast or a pastor that they’re in the process right now of trying to figure out what to pay their pastor? Or maybe there’s a layperson listening that’s wondering what their pastor makes or what their pastor should make, what are some healthy processes?
Jon: I know what the church that I pastor, I know what we do, and I can share that. But what are some things that you see or you would advise a church board or a pastor to walk through to set a pastor salary?
Leo: Well, I think the structure of the government of the church is really important. You will definitely want to have either an eldership board or deacon board, or some type of board where there’s a variety of different people from maybe even different walks of life, so to speak, so that they’re coming to this from the right perspective, not too much, not too little and they’re walking this in a way that, one, it’s according to scripture, they’re not going to approach this from a, “Well, this person, this pastor, this person on staff has chosen the ministry, so therefore they’ve chosen a lesser than lifestyle in existence.” No, let’s not go there. Let’s start with the right perspective, “What exactly can we do, financially speaking? And then how do we do that in a way that one, honors God, honors this person and motivates this person to keep doing what they’re called to do?”
Leo: I was in a corporate setting not as an in the management, but in a large, large company for 16 years of my working life, I worked for this organization. And when I left, I took a pay cut to go into ministry, but I understood that I had put in 16 years, I had a very special skillset that paid a higher rate. So when I took the job as a pastor, I recognized that the church wasn’t able to pay me at the same rate, but that was my choice. I was given that choice. And then when I made that choice and felt that God was calling me into ministry, God also provided for us. I was managing my money well so that I can step into that, take a pay cut.
Leo: And then over time, because the church I worked for was, I think well-structured to look at this from the right perspective and treat people generously, I was properly compensated. But I think it is important to start with the right heart, have the right people in place so that the pastor is not making the decision-
Jon: That’s key, right?
Leo: … and it’s not one person or two people, or a family member, because that’s going to make actually the church congregation feel like there’s something not right going on there. So it’s important to have that transparency. But then again, I think it’s really important that we base it on God’s word. This person should not have to live less than because they’ve chosen to serve God. I find that actually quite insulting because I don’t know anyone else that’s more wealthy than God. So if he said, “Do this,” and he’s my employer.
Jon: Yeah, that truly he is.
Leo: Truly he is all our employer. So if that’s true, then there should be no lack. We should in faith trust God and then steward well. And the scripture says that he who manages well being trusted with more. So we should just expect that.
Jon: You know what I’ve seen? I’m not saying this is across the board, and then we can move on to some other topics, it seems like… We talked about those two pendulums where there’s somebody who’s just overly paid and they’re give to get, versus a poverty mentality. Many times, at least in my experience, when somebody is set in a position or a place of authority where they, in some manner set their own salary, it tends to be really big. I’ve seen those happen. And then when there’s situations where it’s only a board, it’s really low, because many times the board members are made up of businessmen, business women who don’t really think the pastors should make this much.
Jon: The organizations that I’ve seen that do it the healthiest way, I know Gateway does it this way, my church does it this way, I know Life Church does it this way. The elders or the board actually hires an outside consultation to go out and do research. They do a compensation study. And based on the person’s age, experience, degrees, geographical, if you’re an LA versus Oklahoma or Texas, then they give a range, low, high, mid range back to, not the board, but the board has a compensation committee. So there’s three layers of accountability. It’s not just one man or a group of people, one woman or one man or a group of people making a decision, it’s layers of accountability.
Jon: And then the board can make a decision based on data and based on facts. So I think there’s some really healthy ways to do that, and I love that you guys are helping churches do that well. We’ve all seen the stats on congregational giving that most churches are only made up of 10 to 25% of the congregation actually tithes. Do you guys find this to be true?
Leo: Yes, quite so.
Jon: In most cases? Quite so. Is that being generous?
Leo: 25% is the max. There’s a few anomalies, I think Gateway is one of those, I know of a couple more that are beyond that. But I’ll tell you, the distinctive differences that the senior pastor understands generosity, understands finances, is a good steward, and talks about it quite often. Not in long series, but maybe, I know what Pastor Robert does is every two years or so, two to three years, he’ll preach specifically about giving so that he lays a biblical foundation. But one of the things that I’ve found so fascinating and really just beneficial for me to work on staff, to have someone like that lead the organization because my role was, I was going to sit down with people in their most difficult situations and walk through hard things, financially speaking, which also of course touched on relationships and other areas.
Leo: But Pastor Robert, what he did so well and continues to do so well is that he weaves this topic into messages, even if it’s not a whole message of a series, it’s a point. It’s one point in a five-part series, but he intentionally does it. I don’t think he does it because he thinks, “Gosh, let me think how I can put something about money in here.” No, it’s an outflow of what he knows is important. And he talks about the things that are affecting him and that he knows affects us. So I think that’s really important, is that we talk about it or the pastors talk about it because it is something that’s touching everyone’s life on an ongoing basis.
Jon: It becomes a part of the culture, and I think that that’s so important. One of the things that Gateway does that I love, and David, you can talk about the heart behind this, is if you attend a Gateway service, you won’t see a bucket pass by your lap. And I remember, even the church that I pastor, at Victory Church, we always had this desire and I would talk to other pastors about it, as maybe one day we can get to be like Gateway and not have to pass a bucket, but there was this fear factor of like, “Oh my gosh, if I do that, and the offerings tank… ” There was this, just being super vulnerable and honest, there was this fear factor.
Jon: And then COVID hit and we couldn’t pass buckets anymore anyways. So we’ve actually stopped and we’ve adopted this, and it’s been amazing to see what God has done through this with seeing giving increase and not passing buckets anymore. But going back to the heart of that, David, you can speak to that from Gateway terms. It was probably one of the first, if not the first churches, at least that I was aware of, that did that. What was the heart behind that?
David: Well, what’s funny is Pastor Robert, he’s a known for the blessed life and the generosity message, but the reason he was able to do that is because he’s a good steward. And so stewardship is one of our cultural values at Gateway. Yeah. And when Pastor Robert was looking at our services early on, he was frustrated with the time stewardship, how are we stewarding our time in this service? And he noticed there’s like a five minute offering plate pass. That’s not a good use of five minutes of our service. He’s like, “I could be praying for people, I could be getting people filled with the Holy Spirit, I could be breaching a burden.” He was like, “I don’t want to waste those five minutes with just a movement of a plate.”
David: And so very early on, we set the boxes at the back because the heart was, let’s steward this time well. So it came from the stewardship principle. Now, the other thing is Pastor Robert does a sermon just like Leo said. If you ask Pastor Robert how often he preaches on giving, he’ll say every weekend. You can’t talk about giving without… You can’t ignore giving when you’re talking about marriage, because you have to give of yourself. When you’re talking about prayer, when you’re preaching on prayer, you’re giving of your time in your prayers to the Lord. So he weaves giving into everything. But then we goes into giving on money, he transfers the burden because he does it to help the congregation.
David: So personally, I went through and began to highlight every verse in the Bible on stewardship and money, and possessions, and giving, and having the right heart. And I started in the New Testament, and I found over 800 verses alone from things that Jesus says about stewardship, and possessions, and management, and putting God first, and having the right heart behind your giving, all of these pieces. And that’s Jesus alone. So when Pastor Robert gets up and transfers the burden, he’s not only transferring his burden, he’s transferring the burden that Jesus had for his people. And so it becomes fairly easy if you do a sermon series where you breathe in God’s word, and then you breathe it out and you transfer that burden to the congregation, and at the end of that series you say, “Look, we’re going to stop passing the plate. We’re going to put it on the back of the wall.”
David: Because we believe that people so deeply want to put God first in their finances. So deeply want to lay down their own lives and recognize God’s ownership and give to the Lord that even if we move the boxes out to the middle of a field on a rainy day, our people would line up to walk through the mud to give. And that’s the burden that you want to impart through that preaching. And it’s there in scripture, 800 verses just from Jesus. And I called the book, Jesus On Money. And it’s literally just all scripture of what Jesus said with a little bit of context around it.
Jon: When people understand the principles of giving and stewardship, I like what you said, they’ll go to the middle of the field to give. And it’s so true, and when you’re passing the plate and a bucket crosses your lap, there’s almost like this guilt trip of, “Well, I guess I’ll give something.” And it just removes that altogether. There’s no gift to get, there’s no pressure. Paul want us to give cheerfully. So I love that concept. Leo in the notes here, there’s some notes about a story, about a man who wanted to tithe, but believed that his little church wasn’t equipped to handle it. There is an idea there that I think is important in sharing. I want you to share that.
Leo: Yeah. I was a staff at Gateway at the time, and I got a call from a gentleman that lives in East Texas. He was a wealthy farmer and he had just sold part of his land. And he said that the tithe was more than a million dollars. And he was part of a church that was about 100 people, maybe just slightly under. And he said, “I believe in the principle of tithing, I’ve been doing it all my life.” He said, “The problem I have is I’ve got this million dollars plus that I have to tithe. It’s not mine, I’m not going to keep it.” He said, “But I’m scared.”
Jon: The church can’t handle it.
Leo: Yeah. He said, “I’m scared of giving this to our church.” And I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of this individual, and also trying to assume what this church is like for 100 people in a small town, and I remember asking several questions. Does the church have a bigger vision than just your small town? And he said, “No.” I said, “Do they have a mission that they’re supporting? “No.” I said, “I hate to tell you this as a pastor, but I would not tithe to that church. I would tithe something, I would give them something. What you think is generous, but not detrimental.” But I said, “The rest, I would just ask the Lord to guide you on how to give.” I believe we should return the tithe to our local church, but in this situation, this was a wealthy man that God had put in a church, and unfortunately, did not have a wealthy vision, didn’t have a God vision.
Leo: And if you were to give those resources, some of those resources would have been wasted. Just let’s face it, if you give somebody who’s never managed a million dollars, they won’t manage it well, they have no experience. So I was grateful that he reached out and actually asked the question. I was also humbled the fact that they would ask us for that, it meant that Gateway was having an influence. So I appreciated that, but I think it’s important to understand that as pastors, sometimes the vision that we have, we don’t believe enough for what God can do. And God says, “Well, if you don’t believe it, I can’t give you the resources because you won’t use it the right way.”
Leo: And I say that not in any way judgmental, but as a call to really believe God for the things he wants to do. He can do incredibly large and amazing things that we can’t even dream up, but we got to believe he will. And then we got to do the right thing so that… And in steward what he gives us, because part of it, as David said, is in the process of being a good steward, we prove that we can be trusted with more. And if we don’t do that, then God won’t, just simply because God loves us too much to destroy what he’s already built. So he will only give us what we can manage. And I don’t know that we’ve ever interpreted that scripture from the financial standpoint, but pastors really need to think that way.
Leo: They need to think, “Am I the kind of steward that if God were to give me more, I would know exactly what to do because I’ve already been seeking him for more.
Jon: And the vision piece, sometimes I think as pastors we feel paralyzed to cast big vision because like it or not, there’s a piece of us inside that doubts that we could ever do it. And so here’s this pastor who had a million dollars waiting at his doorstep and he didn’t even know it. And if he would’ve just had a little bit of vision cast for the future of his church, this gentleman wouldn’t have been like, “I don’t know if I should give it.” If there would have been a vision presented, a big vision, then the person wouldn’t have called you here to wrote the check. And how many pastors out there, we think we have poor congregations, but how many people do we have sitting in our congregations who are capable of writing really big checks and all they’re waiting for is vision?
Leo: Yeah. There’s one other story that I want to share that’s similar to this. I was part of another church many years ago, small church, about 200, 300 people. And I used to work with a friend of mine, unfortunately, his wife and his children died in a car crash that had some liability to a company because it was a truck that hit them. And he ended up getting a settlement for this, and it was in the millions. And I remember his in-laws sitting down with my wife and I and sharing the story. So he didn’t say it to me directly, but I heard it through his in-laws. And the young man who had lost his wife and his two children, took a check, wrote a million dollars check, put it in his pocket and took our pastor to lunch.
Leo: And he said, “At the end of this lunch, God, you tell me whether I need to take this out of my pocket or not.” He had already wrote the check, it wasn’t something he was thinking about doing, he did it. He sat down and just let the pastor talk. At the end of the meeting, he said, “I knew for sure, I knew without a doubt that this check was never going to leave my pocket. And if I did, I would be disobeying God.” And I was part of that church and I can tell you, it was dead on. That church actually, unfortunately, it was in the news, there was financial impropriety. The Assemblies of God actually came in and fired everyone and put in an interim pastor.
Leo: There was just all kinds of things happening there that God knew about, yet you had a faithful steward who was entrusted with more than he had ever thought, not in a way even dreamed that it would come, but yet he was willing to give, but he was also willing to say, “God, you lead this.” We have people like that in our congregation, and we don’t know what we’re either they giving up. And here’s the thing, it’s not just about that church, what hurts the most about that story for me is the person who wanted to be generous with God and could not in that setting, could not. Now, hopefully he found another place and God led, but ultimately, we do a disservice to our congregation when we don’t disciple them to both be good stewards, but also generous.
Leo: Because there’s no greater joy in our lives than doing something that God is up to and getting ourselves involved in that. And a lot of times that comes from time, talent, and treasure, all of it. So that’s stewardship. It’s being involved in doing what God’s wanting to do. And vision is important as pastors, we are the ones who have to hear from God. And I remember this distinctly from Pastor Robert, he set such a great example, because back in 2005, there was a campaign, a capital campaign called the One Life. And that’s when we joined the church. And I remember him sharing this, he said, “The elders and I took some time prayed and God had revealed to us a few initiatives that we’re going to tackle in the next couple of years.”
Leo: And he said, “They’re five of them.” And he just listed them out in his giving card. And he said, “To the degree that God provides, we will accomplish these in this order.” And I love that because he said, “Look, God’s given us a vision, but to the degree that he provides, we will steward and do it. If he says, ‘I’m only going to give you half right now,’ then we’ll only get half of the work done because we’re doing God’s way, not our way.” You don’t see us set the vision, we don’t decide how much to spend, we trust God every step of the way. That’s just what we should do individually, especially as church leaders.
Jon: I think that’s a good word for church leaders to hear is, I don’t have to go out and say, “We need $7 million or we fail.” Maybe there’s a series of initiatives, series of visions that we set out before the people and say, “As God provides the money, we will do these things.” And I think that it inspires people to give, people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And when we’re not casting vision, we’re not giving anybody anything to give to. So maybe that’s a word that a leader needs to hear. Maybe even a business leader that’s listening. What is God’s saying, and what vision is he putting before us?
Jon: What are you guys seeing as you talk to pastors and maybe you do, or haven’t heard, what are some post COVID trends in giving? Are you hearing pastors talk about… I think every pastor had the same fears when COVID hit or the same concerns about giving. Have you talked to pastors that are playing out what that reality is and what is looking like?
Leo: Well, because of my role at CSN, I get to talk to a lot of not just senior pastors, but also those who are working in the ministry. So a lot of the stewardship pastors have a connection to the senior pastor and know the financials of the church. It’s part of their job to see if the ministry is actually effective in moving people toward a place of generosity, freedom, all those things. So what’s been interesting over the last 20 years since I’ve been involved in this ministry is just to watch in down economic cycles how churches who emphasize generosity and stewardship and do a good job of discipleship on an ongoing basis, how they actually thrive in these seasons, and how churches who don’t talk about it, or talk about it very little and have no programs or anything to actually educate people, how they actually struggle.
Leo: And what’s interesting as a group I’m connected with, most of them have seen a significant either an increase or they didn’t have to lay off staff, things just continue to go on like nothing happened. And even though there are churches who weren’t meeting in person, even though there were challenges, we know giving has been going down. But I talked to one church, this was a multi-site church in Ohio, because they took an initiative two years ago to specifically teach tithing, to challenge people to tithe, to trust God, to put God first, they actually saw an increase through the COVID rather than what probably would have been a significant downturn for them as a church.
Leo: And I think that’s an important distinction to understand. When you make this a priority… So here’s the thing, I don’t care how much money I make, tithing for me is a non-negotiable. It’s not mine, it’s the Lord. I honor him with him. It’s a privilege for me to do it. It’s a time where I get to connect with the heart of God and recognize what he’s done for me. Not just that he saved me, thank God for that, but that every day he provides for me. So when a paycheck comes in, I know it might say Christian Stewardship Network on it or whoever I’m working for, but it’s actually, I know it’s coming from the bank of God.
Leo: So because of that, I make that distinction, no one, and no matter how much money I make, that will never change for me. So if the economy’s not doing well, if I’m losing half of my 401(k), it doesn’t matter, that is the Lords. And I know God is going to honor that. If you can get your people to believe like I believe, like David believes with his heart, your giving is not going to be an issue. The biggest issue is going to be, do you have a big enough vision for God to pour that resource so you can accomplish it? I think we have so much. One of the things that we touch on with CSN is talking about the giving trends and how the older generation is actually funding the church today.
Leo: 46% of the giving in churches right now, I’m sorry, 46% is made up of baby boomers and older. So we’re talking about half of the church is older people that 25, 30 years from now won’t be with us. But they’re giving 80% of the resources to the church right now. Millennials make up 30% of the church, yet only 7% of them actually give to the church. Meaning 7% of the givers are millennials in the church. That should be an alarming trend to us because if we don’t do something… Here’s another thing, this is important to understand. It’s not that millennials aren’t generous, is that they’re not generous to the church. They don’t see a reason to give to the church.
Leo: We haven’t been compelling enough to share the vision for what the church is doing. So they’re saying, “Look, I’d rather fund the person that’s going on a mission trip. I’d rather help my neighbor. I’d rather help my friend that’s going through a hard time.” Those are great ways to give, but at the detriment of the church, not because the church isn’t worthwhile, they just don’t know it, we don’t understand it. And so we’re doing a disservice because we’re not passing this vital messages onto them. But coupled with that, Dr. John, is the fact that we’re not teaching them how to manage money either.
Leo: They are hungry for this. They have all the information of the world at their fingertips, yet what they want is mentoring, one-on-one, tough questions, help me to walk this out. We have such an amazing privilege as an older generation. I’m a Gen X-er and I have millennials for kids, but we have such a great, great opportunity to transfer because a lot of wealth is going to be transferred from my generation and my parents’ generation to these kids. And will they support the church or will they not? And that’s a real question we need to ask, because if we don’t answer that right now, we won’t be prepared for it.
Jon: Fellow Gen X-er. I’m Gen X. We’re the middle generation, we’re stuck in the middle of these. That’s so good. Well, as we wrap up here, I want both of you to share your heart. If you could tell pastors one thing, if you had a group of pastors and you were going to tell them, you want talk about one thing about church finance, church stewardship, what would it be?
David: For me, it would just be growing in your own personal finances first so that you can model it well. And that’s actually the heart for Leo and I behind the podcast, Getting Money right. You have to two stewardship pastors, one is the president of the Christian Stewardship Network, the other has been in stewardship ministry for over 10 years at one of the largest churches with the largest stewardship ministry in the country, and they’re hosting a podcast to just teach basic personal finances. And we go through root causes, we go through home buying, investing. We go through saving, budgeting.
David: I’m just saying, get your finances lined up so that when you go to the platform, the stories will flow naturally, because if you’re taking time to hear from the Lord and you’re managing according to his word, he’s going to be speaking to you, he’s going to be opening doors. You’re going to be able to give and see that grow. You’re going to be able to steward well and have margin so that when an emergency comes that you don’t blink twice. Leo and I during COVID had zero fear the whole time. There was nothing that was going to be pump in to our emergency fund or the amount… We’ve already done the down payment on the house. We already have the emergency fund, we’re already saving.
David: And we’re giving actively and nothing was going to shake that, we’re built on that foundation. And so that’s not to say that we are looking at the money as our source, we’re looking at God’s word as the source, we’re following God’s word. And so we’re building on that foundation. So I would just encourage, if you’re going to model it from the platforms, start some personal finance journey today.
Jon: It’s really good.
Leo: Yeah. But then I would add, don’t stop there, don’t stop there. This is such an important topic and one that everyone wants to know more about. So I just encourage you, understand as a senior leader, especially if you’re the teaching pastor on a weekly basis, you do the most of the preaching, your congregation is looking to you.
Jon: And they trust you.
Leo: They trust you. So get over the fear. If you speak from the right heart, you’re not going to get it right 99% of the time, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if your heart’s right, you’re going to say what you need to say, and God will use it, and it’ll hit people’s hearts the way God intends it, because your motive is right. So don’t worry about, “Can I say it the right way?.” All of these fears, I believe there are work of the enemy to make this topic a non-topic in the church. And the problem is the world speaks about it from every angle, we have marketing that’s going to us every single moment of every day almost. And that’s an onslaught that doesn’t stop, in a world that’s full of materialistic goods, we become more and more comfortable.
Leo: And if we’re not careful, what scripture says, what 2 Timothy talks about in chapter three, it says that, in the end times, the love of people will grow cold. That there’ll be lovers of self, lovers of money. And we’re going to not equip people to not be those kinds of people. And if anyone needs to be not selfish in world focus is God’s people, because we know those things will fall apart. And people who are depending on those things will one day be at a loss, and they need to have somewhere to look to. And if God’s people are just as messed up, they won’t have anyone to look to.
Leo: And so it’s important to us to live this way, and it’s important that pastors are the primary communicator, and the one that imparts the burden for this because it’s such an important topic.
Jon: Well, thank you guys for your ministry. Thanks for what you’re doing for the local church and empowering and equipping pastors to then go and do likewise to their congregations. It’s such an important thing. So thank you guys both for being on the show today. It was an honor to have you guys. Hey, those of you that are listening, give us some likes. We’re coming at you from here at The King’s University. We’re so excited to have you be a part of this podcast. And give us some comments, share this podcast on your social media platforms. The more you comment, the more you give us the stars, the more it gets out there.
Jon: So we’re so honored that you’re with us. Keep plugging, keep going. If you’re a church leader, if you’re a lay person leader, whatever God is doing in your life, keep charging, keep casting vision, keep moving forward. We love you guys. Thanks for supporting us so well. We love you. Until next time, we’ll see you.