"I hate stewardship, in terms of being the up front guy," one pastor said, "but I like the results."
All the pastors around the table nodded.
The admission came early in our conversation, but it was important to get it out. Most pastors don't like talking about money. We don't like preaching about money, most of us aren't good at handling it, and many people—even Christians—think that's all we're interested in: their money.
Yet, money is what makes our ministries possible.
The pastors we met at this roundtable discussion in Minneapolis have had success because of it, and in spite of it, and they still feel the tension between God and money.
At the table:
Rich Doebler, a former Leadership editor who five years ago returned to the pastorate at Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle in Cloquet, Minnesota.
Michael Foss, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota, for almost ten years.
Knute Larson, for 19 years the pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, which recently pledged $26.5 million to purchase land and plant a second campus.
Keith Meyer, executive pastor of Church of the Open Door, which is relocating to a new facility on 50 acres in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove.
And from Leadership, Marshall Shelley and Eric Reed, who have also helped lead their churches in budgeting, stewardship, and capital campaigns.
It was Knute Larson who first confessed he hates being the face on money issues, but when Knute talked about how he has grown in his leadership and preaching on stewardship, everyone at the table agreed.
Keith Meyer: For years talking about money in our church was taboo. We joke at Church of the Open Door that we can actually talk about the other m-word, masturbation, more easily than this m-word. We have challenged ourselves to re-think money: how we develop people as stewards is a measure of our church and our effectiveness.
Michael Foss: I suspect a lot of pastors have trouble with this issue because of the negative stereotype of churches constantly asking for money.
There's a fear people will reject us. Many of the guys on TV have parked on this so much that many of the rest of us backpedal.
Rich Doebler: When it came out at my 20-year high school reunion that "Doebler is a pastor," one of my old friends scoffed, "Like Jerry Falwell?"
Knute Larson: It's difficult talking about money and asking for money, because I want people to like me, especially magazines (laughter).
So how do you overcome the stereotypes?
Foss: We say over and over at Prince of Peace that we're more interested in your soul than your pocketbook, but because we're interested in your soul, we have to talk about your pocketbook. That's part of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
I want people to become faithful stewards, but it first began with conversion in my own heart.
What kind of conversion did you experience?
Foss: When I graduated from seminary, I was 26, and a first-time associate pastor. I received the appointment to three committees—youth, evangelism, and stewardship. I told the stewardship committee, "I'll never preach a stewardship sermon because I don't believe in that. I don't think what, or if, people give is any of my business."
Ted, the treasurer of the congregation confronted me after a board meeting: "You don't tithe."
"That's right," I said. "I don't believe in it."
"Well, how can you not believe in it when it's so biblical?" he said.
They had never taught me that in seminary. I told Ted that. "It's just not there," I said.
"Let me give you some texts," he replied, "and you and your wife pray about it and see what happens.