Preaching Past the Fear Factor
For years I boasted to our congregation that I only preached on stewardship once annually. When that dreaded sermon came, I apologized at the beginning: "If you're visiting with us today, please understand that we only preach on giving once a year."
In essence I said, "I'm sorry you've chosen to come today—I know this subject is a downer. Please come back anyway, and I promise you'll not hear another sermon on money for 51 weeks!"
It's easy to understand why we tiptoe around the subject of stewardship. Money is still a god to many church members, and many visitors are skeptical of the church's motives. Certain spiritual con men have fleeced their congregations and given preachers a bad name, and we don't want to be identified with them.
Even though preaching on money turns some people off, some are turned off when we preach on adultery or forgiveness, too. But we don't apologize: "If you're having an affair, please understand we seldom talk about sexual purity. Come back next week and you'll be more comfortable." We don't print a disclaimer in the bulletin: "The preacher will be talking about releasing resentment today. Please understand this sermon is for our members only. If you're visiting today you aren't expected to forgive. If you're currently harboring a grudge, earplugs are provided."
About a decade ago I changed my philosophy from apologizing for teaching on a touchy subject to making it an essential part of my preaching calendar. Now nearly every January I preach a series of three or four sermons on stewardship.
The result surprised me—attendance has been good, the number of people coming to Christ has actually increased during the stewardship month, and offerings have improved as much as 15 percent annually!
My transition taught me several lessons about preaching on stewardship without alienating the audience.
The $6,000 sermon
Several years ago I preached an expository series on 1 Corinthians 8-9. I preached verse by verse through these two chapters where Paul wrote about the importance of generosity. I wouldn't do that again. It may have been biblical, but selecting only those two chapters out of the whole book was out of balance.
Many immature believers and visitors are alienated when we preach on stewardship because many preachers speak almost entirely about the need to give to the church. Our sermons are erroneously viewed as self-serving—a necessary evil to generate church income—but not spiritual or helpful.
But when the preacher encourages families to get out of debt, to refrain from extravagant luxuries, to avoid wasting money on credit card interest rates, to be generous with their children, or to learn contentment with less, the congregation regards the message as helpful. It's not viewed as a fundraiser, but as a relevant, biblical, and much-needed challenge.
A discussion of giving against the backdrop of total stewardship of resources is much more effective than preaching on giving alone.
Once, in a sermon on hoarding, I pointed out the ...