Stewardship is Emotional (aka- Talking and thinking about money is emotional)

Stewardship can be emotional. I have written a couple things about stewardship over the last few months, including some challenges related to it and being able to navigate those challenges. Today it occurred to me though that I haven’t really mentioned the emotional piece around stewardship. Why is it so emotional?

A common look by someone stressed out about money and finances
A common look by someone stressed out about money and finances

Let’s take a step back. Perhaps you have figured this out by now- one of the most emotional and stressful things to talk about is money.  Think about that for a second. The thing we use, in one form or another- daily to put food on the table, to be able to get from Point A to Point B, etc., is also the thing which can be very emotional and stressful.

Because of this, stewardship, because it involves money, often is emotional.

I could point to any number of Biblical passages which speak about money, but let me just share one. This comes from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, as detailed in the Gospel in Matthew:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV

The perspective of this passage for me that stands out is the profound nature of the last sentence. In that the gathered crowd is told, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is a challenge for everyone- whether they have much or little. There is always this temptation to fixate on what we have, don’t have, or simply don’t have enough of.

To admit this though is hard. It makes one emotional. I saw this again on Monday night at a pilot couples event and experience being offered by brightpeak. But in spite of it being hard, it is important to be able to share one’s thoughts related to money and its usage, particularly with one’s partner/spouse. From hearing from many pastor and counselor friends, they are pretty much unanimous in saying that the number one factor that causes spousal conflict and strife is money.

That’s really not a surprise when it comes down to it. So what can congregations and ministry leaders do about this?

Here are three important ways which I suggest thinking about in concert with any larger stewardship ideas, focuses, or activities:

1) Talk about it

Acknowledge the reality of money and its emotional components in writing, preaching and teaching. Integrate reflections about this aspect of it into any stewardship discernment, drive, and exploration. One of the best ways to start this, is to share stories. We are a people of stories, even if we don’t always read or share them. An easy way to do this is to ask a question about money. For example, one might say, “Tell me what you remember about the first time you paid for something with your own money.” What images and memories come to mind? What emotions? What was the story behind that? What did you learn, or what connections (if any) might you make between your use of money then and now?

I am grateful that my family talked about money growing up with each other. It wasn’t a taboo topic, and I think that has served me well. (I suspect though that my family might have been a minority in this regard.) I am also grateful though that my wife and I spent a decent amount of time discussing this in pre-marriage counseling. I hope all couples have such opportunities and resources.

2) Lead by example

If you are going to ask others to be honest about their feelings about money, you need to be too. So, if you are a pastor, acknowledge your own story in either your preaching or teaching, and also be open to sharing some of your money stories with those in your congregation who may be wrestling with money.

Before you can honestly ask a congregation to give and support through offering, you have to be present with people in their struggles and provide them the space to admit, confess, feel love and grace, and be given hope. Sometimes, the thought of being able to put dinner on a table can be one of the most daunting and stressful things in life. (Other times it can be the mounting of credit card bills or student loans). Whatever it is, share your stories so that others might feel the freedom and courage to open up about their own situations.

An important part of this, is forgiveness.  In order to be freed from the shame and fear of money, we have to let go of the power it can hold on us. Offering hope and words of forgiveness is freeing, and something I believe ministry leaders are called to share. 

3) Provide Resources and Make Connections

Each congregation or faith community is different. If there are counselors or trained financial coaches that are in your midst, reach out to them about possibly creating some kind of ministry within the congregation or larger community. If this might be a stretch, connect with groups already providing this resource. Within Lutheran circles, I recommend two in particular: Thrivent, and brightpeak. Thrivent has been around for decades doing work like this (though under predecessor names). The newer brightpeak is their new and young or “cool” child, who is particularly focused on younger families and especially 20’s and 30’s year olds.  Check out their materials and see who your local representatives might be. Their resources are great, and important to share.  Also, if looking for materials for marriage counseling that incorporate the topic of money, consider Prepare Enrich.

So, what are your thoughts? What have been your experiences- good, bad, and ugly- within congregations related to talking about money? Within your own life, what have been your experiences and emotions regarding money? How do you express them?

Image CreditStressed.

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