Academy of Faith and Money offers practical, biblical instruction

By Amy Forbus Editor Church leaders from nearly a dozen states and several denominations spent Feb. 3-6 in North Little Rock for the Horizons Academy of Faith and Money. Hosted by Cabot-based Horizons Stewardship, the event covered topics related to stewardship, fundraising and basic finance concepts. The students, most of whom were pastors, spent time focusing on an aspect of ministry that may not have been addressed in their theological education. “As elders in the United Methodist Church, we’re called to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service. One of those areas which is fairly delinquent in seminary is Order,” said the Rev. Matt Rawle, pastor of The Well UMC in Ponchatoula, La. “And it is something that we are called—ordained—to do, is to order the life of the church. Part of that is teaching a congregation how to order mammon, or ‘stuff.’ It’s part of our job.” Whose abundance? Countering a church culture that often shies away from discussing money, the presenters stressed the biblical connections between faith and finances. The Rev. Lisa Greenwood, vice-president of leadership ministry for the Texas Methodist Foundation, sees stewardship as highly integrated with a pastor’s work of making disciples of Jesus Christ. “There is nothing quite like engaging people with their pocketbooks to help them get closer to Jesus,” she said, explaining that stewardship is similar to other aspects of ministry. In all areas, finances included, the pastor is to be a spiritual leader and the primary communicator of the Gospel and God’s call for our lives. While acknowledging that pastors must deal with their own “money demons”—debt load from seminary, for example—Greenwood emphasized that discipleship is the deeper issue. “Our relationship with wealth has the greatest potential to be an obstacle in our relationship with God,” she said, pointing out that the Scriptures mention money about four times as often as prayer, so God knows that we need assurance and accountability surrounding our finances. “When we think of our abundance as for our consumption, then we have absolutely missed the point,” she said. “We’ve become hoarders of a sort…. Is our abundance for our consumption, or is it for God’s use in the world?” Greenwood, as well as other presenters at the academy, declared the tithe (offering 10 percent of income) a minimum starting point for faithful giving. She cited the instructions Jesus gave to the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give the money to the poor. “He’s not talking about giving 10 percent and holding the rest back,” she said. “Jesus is talking to us about going all in.” She spoke of the need to lead others into recognizing the true motivation for generosity. “We don’t give because when we give, God will love us more,” she said. “We give because God has already loved us. God loves us, and therefore, it is our generous response. We are saved because of God’s grace, and we respond with a living faith.” The Rev. Dr. Clif Christopher, president of Horizons Stewardship, stressed the importance of a pastor developing a trusted team in his or her ministry setting. “Preachers isolate themselves way too much,” he told the clergy. “You need care and nurture from other pastors, no question, but in the leading of your church most effectively, it’s not other pastors. It will be that small core… that really becomes your core group of wrestling with what it is God is saying.” Christopher advised the pastors to choose this group from those whose actions are motivated by their relationship with Christ. “These are people who, when you don’t have all the answers, will engage with you in trying to make the best decisions for that church,” he said. “When you have that, it can make all the difference in the world.” Worthwhile resource The United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas provided funding for 12 Arkansas pastors to attend Horizons Academy of Faith and Money, including the Rev. Brittany Richardson Watson, who was preparing for a transition to a senior pastor role. She said the academy provided her with thoughtful and faithful ways to address stewardship that she never encountered while in seminary. “I now understand that money is not just something to begrudgingly address each fall, but instead an important part of living out our faith year-round,” she said. “The academy has changed the way that I will move forward as a leader in matters of stewardship.” The Rev. Don Joiner, Director of Operations and Stewardship for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), attended the academy to determine whether the denominational agency might recommend it as a resource for churches. He appreciated that the presenters shared personal stories from their own real-world experience in local congregations. “People are saying, ‘This is what has worked for me. This is the experience that I’ve had,’” he said. “I think that’s what really stands out about all the leaders that have been in here so far.” Joiner mentioned Horizons staff member Joe Park’s presentation on clergy personal finances as useful for people in all stages of ministry. He said that a number of attendees had concerns about tax-related matters and where to get the appropriate guidance. They received not only practical tips, but also found peers who would be available for further discussion. “So many of us [clergy] feel that we are alone; nobody is experiencing what we’re experiencing,” he said. “Something like this really gives a chance to find other people.” Joiner says he expects GBOD to promote future offerings of the academy in the stewardship resources section of gbod.org. “Frankly, I came because we wanted to see if it was worthwhile,” he said. “And it is extremely worthwhile.”