Christian leaders have always grappled with tough issues surrounding finances and faith. Their insights still speak to us today.
Some years ago, a survey estimated that 85 percent of clergy are uncomfortable talking about money. My dad was in the 15 percent. Before he was a Methodist pastor, he was a chemist at Union Carbide, supervising the making of Glad bags. As I was preparing to go into the ministry, he used to say to me: “There are two things they don’t teach you in seminary—how to run a finance campaign and how to fire the janitor.”
Eventually, after some years in the local church, my dad ended up in denominational administration. Among his tasks was consulting with clergy around financial issues. He talked to them about how to do their taxes, and he visited their churches and trained them in running finance campaigns. Shortly before he died, when I complained about having to do my taxes, he noted that doing taxes was a wonderful opportunity to take a spiritual inventory of our financial behavior. You learn a lot about yourself by what you do with money.
My dad may have been an outlier in our current moment, but he has a lot of company in church history. I think many pastors assume that if Christian leaders in the past thought about money at all, they thought about it in one of two ways: as hopelessly unspiritual (based on a misreading of 1 Timothy 6:10, among other verses) or as the natural reward of a life lived rightly, in what is sometimes called the “prosperity gospel” (based on a misreading of Malachi 3:10 and John 10:10, as well as other verses). In fact, Christian attitudes toward money and the market varied greatly by time, place, and context. They nuance any temptation we might have to either exalt money or denigrate it. Here are a few examples.
Money as Ministry Support
We can easily picture Jesus—and …