Thursday, July 11, 2013

If You Mean Money, Say Money!

Craig Satterlee's recent book Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God's Invitation to Grow is refreshing for any number of reasons. It is well-written, gospel-centered, clear.

But it is refreshing above all for one simple reason: rather than using the word "stewardship" as a euphemism for any number of good things we might preach on, Satterlee limits his focus to preaching on money.

He learned this lesson from a parishioner, who once said, "If you mean money, say money!"

The truth is this. Although clergy are asked to preach on stewardship from a spiritual perspective, especially during the fall appeal, the reason for preaching on stewardship at that time is much more pragmatic than spiritual, and it really is focused on money.

Churches simply can't do the ministry they do without excellent financial support. So, by necessity, they find effective means to fund the ministry. In the North American context, this has (ever since freedom of religion and an end to forms of taxation that supported the work of the church and clergy) meant and means voluntary donations.

Satterlee notes early in the book that outside the church, stewardship means many things, "including 1) the responsibility for taking care of passengers' domestic needs on a cruise ship or train, 2) managint the service provided to diners in an exclusive restaurant, 3) a responsibility to take care of something owned by someone else, 4) an ethic that embodies cooperative planning and management of environmental resources to prevent loss of habitat and facilitate its recovery in the interest of long-term sustainability, and 5) a leadership philosophy of service over self-interest" (4).

But the definition of stewardship most often in use in congregations, the one that keeps pastors up at night with anxiety and fear as they write their sermons, is the one about money.

So Satterlee focuses his book with this definition of stewardship:

At its most basic--or perhaps its most base--stewardship is concerned with 'the necessary matter of meeting (and possibly exceeding) budgets and devising equitable ways for all congregations of a denomination to share in a total budget.

And Satterlee is spot on to focus on this, because the truth is this: although there are many other things that energize Christian ministry, like the sharing of time and talents and so much more, it is truly money that will make or break whether a congregation can move forward in mission in Spirit-filled ways. Budgets matter for the church of Jesus Christ to be in mission in God's world.

I love an early summary Satterlee offers in the book. He writes,

"My study of money and giving to the church, particularly its history in North America, reveals six characteristics of the stewardship of money and giving to the church that shape preaching stewardship in important ways. First, the church invented stewardship. Second, stewardship is more pragmatic than theological; it is a practice born of necessity in search of a theology. Third, at some level, ministers are anxious about preaching about money and giving because of the tension between needing to raise their own salaries and their sincere belief that God and humanity are served through giving to the church. Fourth, stewardship as a discipline was introduced in response to appeals from competing causes as a way of securing a larger portion of what people gave for the local church. Fifth, churchgoers have learned well that the church building is the most worthwhile cause of all [note, Satterlee mentions investment in building, though good on some levels because buildings are durable public goods, is also over-investment and likely also problematic in that it often re-defines church, which is the body of Christ, into a building]. Sixth, preaching about money and giving has been tethered with Christian formation and fund-raising techniques."

Indeed. And that quote alone illustrates what the book as a whole is like. It offers needed perspective, and helps frame reflection on preaching about money in really helpful ways.

Craig Satterlee believes stewardship is, at least primarily, giving money to the church in response to the gospel. So he offers some preliminary guidelines in his second chapter to ensure that when we preach on money, we preach the gospel.

He reminds readers that 1) preaching is not fund-raising, 2) God, not money, is the subject of the sermon, 3) preachers must name the good news in giving, 4) exhortation follows proclamation, 5) Jesus does the talking, 6) the gospel calls for invitation, and 7) the sermon appeals to the best in people, to their identity as God's beloved children.

Craig teaches preaching, and his expertise lies in discovering the continuing joy of living contemporary church life out of ancient church practices. So, for example, a crucial recommendation he makes in his chapter on preaching and the bible is to make use of the lectionary to make space for preaching on money year round rather than concentrated in one topical "stewardship" sermon.

Another key insight, for my money (see what I did there?) one of those most important insights for preaching, period, is when preaching prophetically, "preachers stand with their people under God's Word, rather than with God's Word against their people." "Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann observes that the opposite often happens. When most congregations struggle with biblical interpretation, three voices are operative: the voice of the biblical text, the voice of the preacher, and the voice of the congregation. Far too often, Brueggemann says, pastors team up with the texts to 'triangle' against their congregations in preaching, leaving the congregation 'a hostile, resistant outsider.' Brueggemann contends that it is better for the preacher to stand with the congregation against the text, letting God's Word offend them both" (51).

This quote illustrates to what extent Satterlee's book isn't just about preaching and stewardship, but about preaching, period.

Satterlee adopts a straightforward and helpful structure throughout the book. In each of the remaining chapters, he asks a crucial question, then offers a summary response he outlines in narrative and analytic sections. He warns of hazards in communicating each answer, and celebrates the aspects of each answer that are gospel centered and freeing.

So, why give money to the church? Satterlee suggests we do so a) as an act of worship, b) as a way of participating in God's reign, c) as an act of resistance, d) as a way of bearing witness, and e) to grow in grace. Perhaps also we give in order to receive.

How does the bible say we are to give?  a) Gratefully, b) freely, c) cheerfully, d) generously, e) obediently, and f) intentionally.

How much does the bible say we should give? a) Give God everything. b) give to God first according to a predetermined plan. c) give proportionally. d) give a tithe. e) grow in giving.

Then, Satterlee gets to the crux of the matter, at least for preachers. He says that when he sits down to write a stewardship sermon, it seems simple and safe. All he needs to do is 1) define stewardship, 2) preach the gospel, 3) connect money and giving as a faithful response to the gospel, 4) invite people to grow in giving, 5) give them a plan, and 6) use a tone appropriate to the gospel.

But in the actual preparation of an actual stewardship sermon, what gets in the way, and what makes preachers anxious, is that such sermons 1) messes with the power of mammon, 2) fusses with our own fiscal demons, 3) challenges congregational norms, and 4) stirs up possibilities.

Satterlee's analysis in this section is profoundly liberating for preachers. In fact, if readers are short on time, jump to this chapter and just read it. It is that good.

Satterlee concludes with a chapter that is something like a handbook for various stewardship practices in congregational life beyond the sermon (appeals, letters, classes, etc.). This rounds out the book and makes it an excellent resource not only for preachers but for stewardship committees or other congregational leaders.

Interspersed throughout the book are excellent actual sermons preachers close to Satterlee have preached in the course of their ministry.

Along with Giving to God: The Bible's Good News about Living a Generous Lifeby Mark Allan Powell, Satterlee's book now ranks as the best all around book on money and preaching I have ever read. I can't recommend it highly enough.


  1. Totally agree - we read both of these books with Bishop-Elect Satterlee in a DMin course in June, and it was incredibly freeing to own and name talking about money when you mean money. The book in particular was helpful too in thinking through how you might talk about the principles in particular with your congregation.

  2. I'm glad you noted "Giving to God: The Bible's Good News about Living a Generous Life" by Mark Allan Powell in the end. One of my biggest takeaways from Powell's book, and I'm assuming behind Satterlee's book and this post, is that even before the need of the budget comes our human need to give for the sake of our faith. Where our treasure is there will our hearts go, so let's give to God so that our hearts might trend to God... And then there is this practical reality of budgets and the need to call money, money, etc.