Wednesday Book Recommendations: Church Finances

Like most pastors I graduated from seminary knowing little to nothing about church finances and stewardship.  Unfortunately, this area is critical to leading people and leading the church.  Many churches are not in good financial shape.  This area is perhaps the most important area for seminary graduates to read about.  So here are a couple of good places to get started.
I was blessed early in my ministry to have gone to a workshop with author and consultant J Clif Christopher.  It was a one day workshop that blew me away.  I have shared what I learned there with many people, pastors, and sessions.  Christopher has written three main books on stewardship.  All three of these books should be required reading for pastors.

Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship– This is Christopher’s dismantling of today’s stewardship practices.   In its place, Christopher paints a picture of church finances that is well thought out, mission oriented, and effective in today’s world.

Whose Offering Plate Is It?: New Strategies for Financial Stewardship– This book is a set of practical answers to questions spurned by the previous books.  He deals with things like how to get stewardship stories, deal with campaigns, and how to make stewardship a more open topic in the church.


The Church Money Manual: Best Practices for Finance and Stewardship
–  This is Christopher’s newest book, just put out a few weeks before this writing.  It is the most compact and accessible resource for all things church finances.  It is now my go-to recommendation to pastors and church dealing with stewardship issues.

 

After reading J. Clif Christopher’s stuff and deciding to take these issues more seriously in
my own ministry, I also decided to talk about stewardship and preach about stewardship more regularly.  Two books have been helpful in this regard.  First, Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow (Vital Worship Healthy Congregations) by Craig Satterlee is a great resource for preaching stewardship sermons.  He gives a lot of examples and even highlights opportunities for stewardship topics throughout the lectionary.  The other resource that I have used is One Minute Stewardship Sermons by Charle Cloughen.  This book is great for taking advantage of the call to the offering.  This is a natural place in the service to shape the congregation’s views about money and stewardship.

For a final recommendation, Developing a Giving Church by Stan Toler and Elmer Towns is a good general overview of developing stewardship in a church.  It covers all the basic elements of healthy church finances and even includes some sermon ideas.

 

Stewardship: What is the big deal about money?

We don’t like to talk about money or stewardship in most churches. This is supposed to be secret and untouchable topic, like sex and what happens in Las Vegas.  When we do talk about it often we do so in the form of a desperate plea to fulfill an annual budget.  We need to rebuild stewardship from the ground up.

treasure-76214_640
Stewardship is about much more than giving to the church.  Stewardship is the acknowledgement that everything we have is from God and that we are merely taking care of it temporarily.  We give to the church because we are acknowledging that all we have comes from God.  We set aside part of our lives to show that God owns all of it.  A tithe (or 10%) is given as a guideline for doing this with our money.

We steward all kinds of things- money, time, gifts, people, jobs, churches…  But there is something different about money.  Jesus said it this way-

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

We normally talk about this verse and say something like, “If I could see your checkbook I could see into your heart.”  While that may be true, that is not what Jesus is saying.  That saying is assuming that your money follows your heart.  But Jesus said that your heart follows your money.

There goes your money, your heart follows.

Of all the things you steward, your heart only follows your money.  You can spend a lot of time on something and never put your heart in it.  You can be very good at something and never love it.  But try to spend money on something without putting your heart in it.  If you buy a new car then suddenly you love driving.  Buy a new house and you want to have everyone over.

Jesus does not need your money.  But he desperately wants your heart.  Jesus knows that the key to having your heart is through your money.

This is why the church cannot ignore stewardship issues.  Much more is at stake then the financial viability of institutional church.  People’s hearts are on the line.

Sentences for Pastors to Finish

I am probably contemplative and analytical to a fault.  Here are some things that I sometimes think about as I try to analyze my life and ministry.  They are sentences to be competed.

I want my legacy as a pastor to be _________

More than anything I want my kids to grow up and know_________

I would describe my relationship with my spouse right now as __________

The people that I am most investing in right now are__________

If my church suddenly get a surge of money, I would immediately _____________

The number 1 strength of my church is _______________

If I had 10 more hours in my week I would ________________

I am being most challenged in my life to ________________

In the last year my theology has grown most in the area of ________________

My personal devotional life right now is ____________________

Favorite Resources for Writing Sermons

Today I am sharing some of my favorite resources for preparing sermons.  First, I should say that I am not a lectionary preacher.  You can check out my sermons at my sermon page or on iTunes and you will see my topics and texts vary widely.  That said, some of my favorite resources are Lectionary based.  I normally used textweek.com listed below to find the text I am looking for.  Second, I should say that I do not make extensive use of commentaries. I do if there is a particular question or if I want to verify something I am seeing in the text. Early on in my preaching I found that I overused the commentaries and they clouded my own wrestling with the text.

Stitched Panorama

I like to begin my study of a text with The ESV Study Bible.  It has the best information on the basics of a text in a way that is not overwhelming.  It gives good introductions to the books and fits the texts within the larger themes of salvation history.

One of my favorite and most used resources for preaching is the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.  I tend to preach images and metaphors and like to connect the threads of scripture with real life.  This book is the best thing on my shelf for doing this.   You look up a word like “water” and it will give you a long entry about water in ancient times, water in prominent Bible stories, and the use of water in Biblical metaphors.  I am in this resource weekly.

I have specific commentaries for specific books of the Bible, especially from the Interpretation Bible Commentary Series and The NIV Application Commentary.  My favorite commentary is Feasting on the Word, Complete 12-Volume Set.  For each text, it gives four columns of commentary- an exegetical, theological, pastoral, and homiletical perspective.  It is an amazing one-stop-shop for a great number of sermon ideas and illustrations.

I have two classic commentary sets that I often work out of.  I love to use Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Super Value Series) and Calvin’s Commentaries (22 Volume Set).  These are timeless resources and often point to the critical questions of the text.

There are also 2 websites that I regularly use for sermon study:

Text Week is a webpage that collects links to sermons, commentaries, ideas, images, and articles.  It is a great place to get a ton of information very quickly.  It is especially helpful on commentaries by the church fathers.  Since I am not a lectionary preacher, I use the scripture index to get to the texts that I want.

Working Preacher is a lectionary resource put out by David Lose and faculty from Luther Seminary.  It gives articles, pastor helps, and a podcast based on the lectionary.  It is always high quality information and helpful for preaching.  Please note that links to these resources are often posted to textweek.com.

 

 

How Religion Can Make You Less Spiritual (and what to do about it)

I read the story of a man who bought a painting for around $170 at a second hand shop. He did not care for the painting but really liked the frame. It sat in his attic for some time. It was only later that he noticed the name Cezanne and the year 1854 in the corner.  If authentic, this painting would be valued at over $68 million dollars.  He only wanted the picture for the frame, when the picture itself was worth millions.

Pictures need frames. They protect pictures from warping and losing their beauty. But the value is not in the frame. The value is in the picture.

frame jesus

Christians have the greatest painting that every existed.  It is a picture of Jesus- God become human being and saving all of humankind from themselves.  It is a picture of grace and mercy.  The early church wrestled with what this story was and how to talk about it.

The early church and Christians throughout the ages understood that the painting needed a frame.  It needed structure so that it did not warp and become a misshaped version of itself.  This structure the Bible, worship practices, theology, and Christian practices. In today’s vernacular we call this “religion.”

Somewhere along the way we fell in love with the frame.  We started to prioritize the frame over the painting.  We lost sight of the beauty of the picture.  Stopped looking at an experiencing Jesus and started living the frame.  Like the man who bought the painting for its frame, we lost the value of what we had.

What is the answer?  The popular one today is to get rid of the frame.  Become “spiritual but not religious.”  I have heard so many people say that they feel closer to God on a run or in their own study than they do in church.  They want to take away the structure so that it does not distract from the picture.

I agree with the sentiment.  I too want to see Jesus become the center.  But the problem with dropping the structure of religion is the same as a picture without a frame.  The picture will get warped and lose its true beauty and in the end cannot be shown to others so that they can appreciate that beauty.

What we need to do in the church is rediscover the picture and rebuild the frame.

We need to focus on Jesus and on the salvation story.  We need to read it, preach it, and think about it so that we can fall in love with Jesus again.

We need to look at our religious systems and reevaluate them.  We need to understand why we do what we do and be open to rewriting those traditions.  We need to do our religion in a way that helps us connect with God.  That is actually why they were created.  They need to function that way again.

So don’t reject religion.  The picture needs the frame.  Rediscover how it can help you connect with God.

Wednesday Book Recommendation: Books on Preaching

I love to preach and read a lot of books about preaching.  I though for this post I would recommend a few of my favorites.

Leonard Sweet’s book Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching is the best preaching book I have read in a long time.  It helps show Len’s exceptional way of using Metaphor to bring Biblical concepts to life.  It has sections on creativity, finding and studying metaphors in scripture, looking at scripture more holistically, and putting yourself into your preaching.  The last section of the book gets very practical.  I especially learned from the chapter on handling criticism.  This book should be required reading for all preachers.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath.  This is a business book about why some ideas stick while other ideas and visions get thrown away or ignored.  It is very practical for understanding how to make sermons more memorable and impactful.  Their other book is also helpful for helping making people and organizations make changes.  It is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

I was forced to read the book The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching by Paul Scott Wilson for a seminary homiletics class. I hated it at first.  Wilson suggests a structure of for sections: the problem in the text, the problem in the world, the answer in the text, and the answer in the world.  I thought this structure was too confining it at first, but over time I have found that it was an excellent format when I had a text and did not know what to do with it.

Eugene Lowry’s work is great on preaching in a narrative form including The Homiletical Plot, Expanded Edition: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form and The Homiletical Beat: Why All Sermons Are Narrative.  Lowry looks at the elements of story and talks about how they are needed for engaging sermons.  There needs to be conflict that is built so that people invest in the story.  At some point there is a turn when a new insight or piece of information is giving to move the story forward.

Fred Craddock has an approach to sermons in the same camp as Eugene Lowry.  He too sees the importance of seeing the sermon as a journey and including the elements of story. Craddock’s basic texts are As One Without Authority: Fourth Edition Revised and with New Sermons and Overhearing the Gospel: Revised and Expanded Edition.  His textbook on preaching is pretty technical and not really accessible.  If you are new to Craddock I suggest Craddock on the Craft of Preaching.  It is a series of lectures and workshops from his career including “Preaching as Storytelling” and “13 Ways to End a Sermon.”  It is a very helpful resource.

My last recommendation is a surprisingly insightful book.  It is called Preaching & The Emerging Church: An Examination of Four Founding Leaders: Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, and Doug Pagitt by John S. Bohannon.  Bohannon is a baptist preacher and professor of preaching who takes a look at the trends in preaching in the emergent church.  Bohannon critiques these four leaders but does so looking at underlying issues such as their view of scripture, perspectives on style, and their sensitivity to the postmodern world.  The book ended up challenging me to think about my own underlying views and to consider how they shine through in my own preaching whether I realize it or not.