Preaching, teaching generosity

Pastors don't like to preach on money.

Sermons that ask, encourage and dare we say, beg, are hard, very hard. Whether you call it giving, generosity, tithing, or any other term, contemporary culture says money is not a topic of conversation for polite people.

But, talking money at church is necessary, and pastors do their congregations a disservice if they don't teach about the importance of sharing God-given gifts with the giver. Jesus talked about giving a lot. If he considered it important, it is.

As they educated their churches about the United Methodist approach to giving, pastors reminded their congregations how far their offerings go and that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

The Rev. Dedric Cowser emphasizes to the people of Sweet Home United Methodist Church in Gadsen, Alabama, how their giving is part of a gift that goes beyond their church.

How often to talk about giving is another conundrum. Most seemed to agree that it is best as an ongoing conversation, rather than just a once or twice a year emphasis.

The Rev. Suzanne Calhoun, pastor of Ely United Methodist Church in Nevada, said, "It is not a season of the church year. Generosity should be a part of daily Christian life; therefore it should be something I talk about all the time."

Connecting giving and generosity to discipleship is important for many pastors as well.

"It is important to connect giving and generosity as central to the call of discipleship and service," said the Rev. Piula Alailima, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Honolulu. He organically brings up generosity and giving throughout the year.

Many pastors agree leading by example is important to help congregation learn how to walk a path toward greater generosity.

The Rev. Joel Scheller, pastor of Stoney United Methodist Church in Ponder, Texas, is adamant that it is vital to lead by example when talking about giving. "Sheep don't follow any old shepherd. It is the one that cares for them at the cost of personal sacrifice that earns their trust. Isn't that the very reason we follow Christ?"

And now some advice …

Help is available for pastors and other leaders who struggle with how to preach and teach on giving.

The Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, is author of Defying Gravity: Break Free from the Cullture of More (Abingdon Press). In the new four-week small group study and stewardship campaign. Berlin explores what is required to sustain a vibrant life, needs versus wants and ways to avoid being pulled into the orbit of materialism.

Author of Stewardship in African-American Churches(Upper Room), Rev. Melvin Amerson believes it is entirely possible to create a culture of generosity in a church. To do so, he said, "Pastors must boldly commit to teach giving as an act of worship, while casting a compelling vision for transformative ministry that changes lives and communities." 

Tithing is the tradition of giving ten percent of your income to the church. But, is tithing still a realistic goal for pastors to teach?

Michael Reeves is director of educational services for Horizons Stewardship. The company assists faith-based institutions to make strategic decisions and grow in faith, while securing the necessary capital to accomplish their vision for ministry.

Polly House, freelance editor and writer based in Nashville, Tennessee

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about giving click here.