Courageous Conversations About Money
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 20 in 2018. You can access the full issue here.
For generations the rules of polite company have included “No conversations about religion, politics, or money.” Although our faith should guide us into different conversational norms, we sometimes avoid talking about money.
The Bible addresses the subject of money, wealth, property, and related derivatives so often (perhaps as many as 2,500 times) that it seems a bit strange for some to have such an aversion to the topic. The truth is that despite the many biblical mentions of money, it can be difficult to find our voice on the subject—whether we are mounting the steps to the pulpit or sitting down at the church council meeting. Our knees weaken; we clear our throat, laugh nervously, and most often, look for a way out.
There can be no doubt—it takes courage to talk about money!
To get at the root of the problem, we should identify that there are two very different courageous conversations with regard to our fiscal resources. The first is about our relationship with money; the second is the asking for money. While they are different from each other, both are related to discipleship, both are spiritual health issues, and both are addressed at length in scripture.
When we consider our culture and its intense acquisitiveness, it is not a mystery as to why it takes courage to engage this subject. Our entire Western economy is based on consumption. One cannot be a successful consumer without adequate resources. When we couple this notion with the idea that scarcity is what gives added value to objects, we create a relentless and self- consuming cycle of desire and pursuit which leads only to hoarding and deep levels of anxiety. It elevates money to a god-like status with the mistaken belief that if we have more of it, we will have a sense of greater worth and experience lower stress. This is the prevailing wind of North American existence. Sailing against it is not easy, especially when it blows at hurricane force. It takes courage to speak either to the false relationship between wealth and blessing or to address the responsibility and the burden of wealth.
It is a brave thing indeed to remind people about the promise spoken by the prophet Malachi: God’s blessing of the people when they gave the tithe was not about giving to get but about giving from what they already had. It was about God’s promised provision for enough, not the secret for acquiring more. We tend to live for the next thing instead of the full realization of the moment. People who live only in the expectation of a blessing cannot yet see that they have already received one.
It is no easier when people have abundance. To forget the source of our provision is to lose our own identity and to lose our way. In a world where being self made is the ultimate accomplishment, such news is not terribly welcome. Even the practice of the tithe as described in Deuteronomy 14 holds at the center of the purpose of the ritual “so that you will fear the Lord” (v. 22-23).
The story of the rich young ruler(1) tells both halves of our dilemma. He is both wealthy and intentional about keeping the law—a sure sign of blessing. When he asks Jesus what is truly necessary to experience the realm of heaven, Jesus directly challenges his relationship with his stuff and simultaneously invites him to divest of the concerns of the world in favor of investing in the qualities of the realm. The man is incensed, flabbergasted, and eventually distraught at the reply and its prospect for his life. There is nothing that says we have power over our money greater than our ability to give it away. The converse is also just as certain to bear witness to its power over us. When we already have a god, we are rarely willing to be the disciple of the One who really is.
And there is the audacity of what Jesus asks. Give it away. Give it all away? Really? But not just anywhere. Sell what you have and give it to the poor so that you will have treasure in heaven. Take what you have and do the things that give evidence to the unfolding realm of God in your midst. Where need is absent, God is most surely present. To make provision for the poor is to signal that the old age of brokenness and want is passing away and the new age that Jesus brings— one of wholeness and plenty, is surely coming. To give all away is to be unencumbered by its overt and hidden snares and deceitful claims.
The second conversation place in which our courage is required is that of asking people to give (even when we are not asking for all of their wealth) in order to be a full partner in the realm. It is asking them to take stock of their priorities, their values, and the depth of their faith in what the gospel is really about. It creates a moment of urgency and potential crisis in the hearer. There is the risk they will say no, the risk they might be offended and choose to go elsewhere. It happens. It seemingly happened to the one who went away sad—even when it was Jesus who was doing the asking.
Here courage begins to operate not just in the daring ask to do great things, but in the heart and mind of one being asked. There is courage needed by the ones invited to consider a gift: to believe that something can be generously given and there will still be enough: to embrace the notion that we can move the needle on the scale of poverty, injustice, ecological devastation, or the value of human life in the direction of the good and the godly: to accept the reality that the source of what one possesses is neither the sum of who one is or solely the work of one’s own resourcefulness: to realize that the promise of God’s provision for enough is fulfilled in sharing from what one has. This too, requires courage.
Imagine for a moment the courage to ask without begging or apology because we believe the gospel compels us to give with a purpose. And imagine, just for a moment, the courage to give because we believe that God will provide for our needs, should we have them in the future. Can any greater case be made for finding the courage to teach and preach about stewardship? The world is waiting for a word. Speak it and live it with courage!
1 A composite picture of the man in this story, as told in the three synoptic gospels.
The Rev. Bruce Barkhauer is minister for faith and giving for the Center for Faith and Giving for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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