Helping Couples Become Financial Soulmates

By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

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Ron Jones was doing pre-marital counseling with a young couple when it became clear they were on very different pages regarding finances.

“He had many years of running his own financial life, and he wasn’t trusting enough to open up his finances,” says Ron, the lead pastor of Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. “I strongly encouraged them to work that out before they got married.

“We all learn about money in different ways, and we bring that into a marriage relationship.”

Ron has seen many married couples struggle in this area over the years. And he’s not alone, as money issues are still cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America—even among Christ-followers.

“My wife and I have learned that you can become financial soulmates or financial inmates,” Ron says. “When I say that in a group, I always get a mixed response of smile, laughter and concern on people’s faces. There’s a lot of financial pain and stress in marriages.”

For that reason, Ron and his wife Cathryn have dedicated part of their ministry to helping married couples talk about money—and more importantly, become “one” financially. Here’s a few principles they apply and teach:

What’s Mine is Yours

The Joneses have developed common language that drives their pursuit of biblical stewardship.

“We just said to each other, ‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine, and what’s ours is God’s,’ Ron says. “That was the starting point when we merged our married lives and our finances together.”

Ron has known many couples who lived separate financial lives, sometimes even with secret bank accounts. “That’s a roommate, that’s not a financial soulmate,” Ron says. “We encourage couples to be transparent, which takes most married couples years to work out.”

This is foundational, as couples move from an “ownership” mentality of it’s mine—to a “stewardship” mentality that says it’s all God’s and we are managers.

“That’s hard for a lot of people,” Ron says. “They are pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps kinds of people who have made their own way in life and then become followers of Christ.”

“It’s a big shift to the biblical perspective that everything I have comes from God and belongs to Him.”

As Ron explains, if you hand me your wallet with your money and your credit cards, I probably will spend those assets very differently as I remember that they are not mine.

Every Financial Decision Is a Spiritual Decision

Ron observes that when married couples grasp this big idea, it changes everything. Viewing every financial decision as a spiritual decision makes us “think twice about how we might spend resources the Lord might give,” Ron says. “It’s also a reminder that I will be accountable to the Lord for how I managed His resources.”

Ron says this also helps couples prioritize their finances. He and his wife have lived a simple plan for 23 years of first giving God 10%, then paying themselves 10% in saving and investing for the future, then living off the rest. Ron encourages couples to give to God as soon as they get paid.

“You can’t say God is first in your life if he’s last in your budget,” Ron says. “People make major financial decisions like houses and cars and other fixed expenses, and they don’t consider God.”

“Make those decisions early in your marriage, and the rest will fall in place as time moves on.”

Finding Financial Freedom

The world defines financial freedom as having money to do whatever you want. But Ron’s study of Scripture has given him a four-fold definition of financial freedom:

  1. Free of debt— Couples will never be financially or spiritually free if they’re in bondage to past financial decisions. “Debt always makes you a prisoner to your past,” Ron says.
  2. Free from the love of money— “A lot of people misunderstand the Scriptures (1 Tim. 6:10) and think that money is the root of all evil,” Ron says. “It’s not. It’s the passion for, the drive to get more of it and more of what it can get for you that’s a dangerous thing.”
  3. Free to give generously— A simple question: Does our giving record reflect a tangible belief that it’s more blessed to give than to receive?
  4. Free to have fun— There’s nothing wrong with enjoying God’s blessings. Provided that financial priorities are in place, it’s okay to be extravagant at times and have fun with money.

Bottom line, Ron says couples need to give themselves permission and patience to reach a place of true financial oneness. “It takes years and years of discussions,” Ron says. “You have to do the hard work together of getting on the same page and thinking God’s thoughts about finances, and then putting it into practice.”

Andy Williams contributed to the writing of this article.

Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.

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Building Generosity In A Financially Challenged Church


By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

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Mobilizing a church toward generosity is a challenge anywhere. But what about in a church where many people struggle financially?

How do you move people towards generous giving when they are living in near-poverty themselves?

My friend Dr. Stacy Spencer, Senior Pastor of New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn., seems to have cracked the code on leading people to be generous givers despite their financial circumstances.

Stacy says it starts by building on the right theology. He reminds his people of the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians who were poor, but were “filled with abundant joy that is overflowing in rich generosity.”

“When we remind people of how good God is in terms of His providence, and when I remind them that prosperity is anything above daily bread, people have a resonating joy and realize there’s always somebody worse off,” Stacy says. “We remind people that although we are struggling financially, we are nowhere in comparison to people in third world countries who don’t have clean water, or don’t have a roof over their head or dirt for floors.”

“We always try to keep a broader view on what real poverty looks like and how blessed they are—even in the midst of their struggle.”

With that foundation, New Direction generates generosity in some practical ways that are changing its people and impacting its community.

The Other 90 Percent

Stacy says New Direction not only focuses on giving 10 percent of tithes and offerings, but also on what to do with the rest. They teach their congregation how to overcome things such as generational poverty and bad financial habits.

The church hosts workshops on credit cleanup, how to save money and creating budgets. They focus especially on avoiding predatory lenders such as check-to-cash, title loans and pawn shops that thrive in low-income neighborhoods.

“We have to teach people how to avoid these predators and other things that would keep them in poverty,” Stacy says. “These things are new to people who come from generational poverty, and nobody has told them how to properly save or think about the future.”

Strategic Partnerships

New Direction leaders determined years ago that tithes and offerings wouldn’t be enough to pull off the economic and community development they wanted to spearhead in under-financed neighborhoods.

In response, the church created a Community Development Corporation (CDC) to help restore the community through government and foundation grants and programs that meet social needs.

Under New Direction’s CDC, the church launched the Eden Square Project, which took over a 43-acre crime-ridden, drug-infested housing project and reclaimed it with initiatives that include:

  • An accredited charter school (elementarymiddlehigh)
  • A performing arts center that doubles as a storm shelter that government agency FEMA helped build
  • A work development program that helps people get living-wage jobs
  • Affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity, with plans to add an assisted living center

“We want to educate and empower people, because an empowered, working person is able to come back and give to his church,” Stacy says. “People can’t overcome poverty if they aren’t empowered.”

To read more details on the Eden Square Project click here.

People are Inspired to Give to Mission

I think the most inspiring thing New Direction does to build generosity is challenge people to give generously to a cause—despite their financial circumstances. Stacy sets the bar high.

“People don’t give to maintenance, they give to mission,” Stacy says. “We try to focus on the mission God has called us to. And I’m reminded of Proverbs that says when you help the poor, God helps you.”

“When you help the poor, God pays you back.”

Stacy saw that play out in an amazing way. Recently, Compassion International brought its mobile experience to New Direction, and Stacy wasn’t sure how people would respond to helping international children with basic needs, when they have so many needs of their own.

Their response was overwhelming.

“When I preached on the need for us to help rescue kids out of poverty, my folks responded by sponsoring over 500 kids,” Stacy says. “Compassion was blown away. I was blown away.”

It all reminds Stacy of another early church in Corinthians that, although in extreme poverty, “begged Paul to help” with his mission. Stacy believes other churches in disadvantaged neighborhoods can do the same with a strong theology and a challenge to meet the needs of others.

“Be inspired with what God is doing here.” Stacy says. “He can do the same thing anywhere”.

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Celebrating One Year of Generosity Podcasts

We are approaching the one year anniversary of my Leadership Network Generosity Podcasts!

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These podcasts have covered a variety of aspects of creating generosity and establishing generosity programs. They have featured church and organizational leaders that are paving the way into new territory and setting innovative precedents when it comes to generosity.

We believe it is worth highlighting this great work with a reminder of the podcasts that are available in case you missed any of them.

To link to the Leadership Network Generosity Podcast page and hear any of the podcasts. 

We also created excerpts from each into a print version of the podcast. The links for the print versions can also be found on the Generosity Podcast webpage linked above.

Want a suggestion of where to start? To read a few of our podcast print versions click on the podcast graphic below.

Stay tuned for more great podcasts on Generosity in the coming year.

Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.

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Webinar: Healthy Financial Leadership in a Growing Church

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As a church grows in its size and scope of ministry, so should its focus on sound financial management and stewardship practices. On Thursday, March 23 at 1pm Eastern, Dave Travis and I will be joining Dan Busby, President of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in a one-hour webinar to explore:

• Financial trends and data from America’s leading and innovative churches – areas of strengths and improvement

• The importance of financial integrity and accountability to a church’s culture as it grows

• Key opportunities for churches to achieve and maintain a healthy financial culture

• Resources that are available to help support churches that embrace the importance of financial integrity

This webinar, hosted by ECFA, is free for Leadership Network churches using promo code LN39WEB(a $39 value). Click here to register.

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Keeping A Generosity Initiative Alive Long-Term

By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

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Growing your church and your people in generosity is important to you—and us. That’s why Leadership Network has developed HUB:Generosity for larger churches who want to accelerate generosity and stewardship. For more information, go to leadnet.org/generosity-hub.

If you’ve ever led a church through a generosity initiative or capital campaign, you have experienced the following scenario. The congregation is fired up. They turn in their commitment cards, and gifts come in strong, for a little while. Over time, the excitement wanes and the campaign may even sputter to the finish line.

So how do you keep the fires burning for a long-term giving initiative of two or three years?

I talked with Phil Taylor, blogger at backstagepastors.org and Executive Pastor of Mosaic Church—a multisite congregation in both west Orlando and at Walt Disney World that went through a campaign that lost steam before it finished, and another initiative with great results to the end.

Phil says Mosaic learned some valuable lessons, and he shares three important nuggets for churches that want to turn up the heat on their generosity.

Report Results Regularly

Churches engaged in a giving initiative may send an occasional update to givers, but it’s usually not the most creative piece ever. “They might be black and white reports from your church management software, and maybe with the church logo on it,” Phil says. “They’re pretty cold and sterile, and they look like a bill.”

So for their second campaign, Mosaic created letterhead for reports with their “Get Loud” initiative logo, and other visually appealing elements. On the flip side was a newsletter that included inspiring giving stories and a short letter to reinforce giving principles.

“Those reports were very important to keeping the initiative in front of people,” says Phil.

Leverage Weekend Services

Mosaic didn’t stop with a report three times a year. Knowing that their most involved givers are in front of them every week in worship gatherings, Mosaic takes the opportunity to regularly celebrate what God is doing through people’s generosity.

“My friends in the parachurch world are jealous that for 52 weekends a year, I get the chance to be on stage and talk to our giving constituency,” Phil says. “But I think we’re afraid sometimes in church to take advantage of this because it’s going to sound like we’re shaking people down all the time.”

Phil took to heart what a consistent giver told him—that churches could better demonstrate the Return on Investment (ROI) of generosity. “He told me, ‘I think you guys could tell us what you’re doing with that money. Help me celebrate the great things that are going on.’”

So regularly during weekend worship services, Mosaic leaders let people know the impact of their giving on local and global efforts.

Phil gives the example of the time that a foreign missionary supported by Mosaic was interviewed during the service. The interviewer closed with a simple message stating “Your generosity paid for this. You chose to give fearlessly, and because of that we’re able to support stories like this.”

On another occasion during a sermon, the lead pastor highlighted new ministry partners and church plants supported by the church’s giving. Phil explains, “He said in his sermon, ‘This is what your generosity is paying for—not just a fancy new building.’”

Be “Relentlessly Obnoxious”

If a long-term giving initiative is going to succeed, somebody has to drive it. A leader has to own it, and it’s probably not the lead pastor. Someone has to constantly fight for a generosity focus.

In weekend service planning meetings at Mosaic, Phil was the person who kept the initiative on everyone’s mind.

“We’re not annoying when we talk about generosity with our people,” Phil says. “But I am annoying with my staff. I keep saying, ‘We have to fit it in here. Let’s fit this in.’”

“At first they joked that I was going to get a tattoo on my back of our initiative logo.”

Mosaic strives to mention generosity on stage once a month, and giving has increased by 50%. Phil thinks that has a lot to do with Mosaic’s focus when they talk about giving. Virtually every time, leaders thank attenders for their generosity.

“There’s an old saying that you get what you celebrate, so we just keep on celebrating generosity with our people,” Phil adds. “A lot of times in church, the only time we talk to people about generosity is when we’re going to spank them for not giving enough. What I like about continually bringing this up in our gatherings is that 80% of the time, all we do is thank people.”

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How to Use the Offering to Create a Culture of Generosity

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By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

There was a time in American church life when conventional wisdom said to downplay the role of “passing the offering plate.”

Scandals involving prominent television evangelists back then had shined a spotlight on the practice of asking people to give money to religious causes. As a result, many pastors chose to eliminate the regular practice in favor of a less-prominent offering box in the back or a low-key invitation to give.

“Evangelists on TV were doing crazy stuff with money, so I understand that reaction,” says Chad Moore, lead pastor of Sun Valley Church in Phoenix.

But the pendulum is swinging back. Many influential churches around the country are leading a trend in seizing the offering time in weekly church services to consistently teach giving principles and build a culture of generosity in their congregations.

Every single week we have an opportunity during our services to inspire people, to teach people, to encourage people, to thank people in the whole area of generosity and stewardship and giving. We’re seeing more and more take advantage of those few minutes every week to do some good in the lives of people.

Chad, whose 7,000-attendance multisite church is growing in generosity toward its community and beyond, offers some practical insights on making the offering an important part of leading people to follow Christ:

Don’t Skip It

For starters, include an offering time in every church service. Chad says Sun Valley has chosen to never shy away from talking about giving, and encouraging people to do it through their regular offerings.

“We believe it’s a really important part of worship, and it’s part of what it means to follow Jesus,” Chad says. “To acknowledge it in every service is important, because you’re saying that giving is important. It’s important in what it means to worship God.”

Chad explains that Sun Valley leads people to meet, know and follow Jesus. Leaders there break down following Jesus as, “you give, you serve and you share your faith.”

“So giving is an important part of who we are as a church,” Chad says. “We want to be known for giving; so of course, we’re going to give you an opportunity to give in all of our services.”

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Worship service at Sun Valley Church’s Gilbert campus during the offering.

 Don’t “Take” It, “Receive” It

It’s a very subtle nuance of the language used when launching into the weekly offering—but a very important one, Chad says. At Sun Valley and other churches that strive to make the most of weekly offerings, leaders “receive” an offering—they don’t “take” it.

“That sounds so nitpicky when it comes to language,” Chad acknowledges. “But it’s really important in the context of what you’re teaching people about giving.

“At Sun Valley, we don’t take anything. What we’re doing is receiving an offering from you to be used for Kingdom purposes. So we’re helping facilitate that part of worship in your life, and we’re receiving it on behalf of God and what He’s doing in and through the local church.”

Raising the Temperature

I believe that as church leaders take these few strategic minutes in weekly services to focus on giving back to God, the generosity culture in churches is being impacted. We’re absolutely seeing an increase in people’s enthusiasm for generosity, stewardship and giving when churches are more intentional about leveraging the weekend experience.

In the past, the trend might have been for leaders to downplay giving to the church and the weekly offering. But I affirm that pastors are starting to see the impact on their congregations—and more importantly, on the hearts of people in their churches—when they capitalize on this key part of a weekly worship experience.

Pastors need to emphasize the offering because it’s a way to teach an essential part of spiritual formation. When we do so, we see a corresponding increase in giving to the church. So you get a good result because you’re doing the right thing for the people of your church.

Look for Part 2 of this article, where we will explore two more practical ideas from Chris and Chad for getting the most out of weekend offerings. Both Part 1 and Part 2 are also covered in this podcast.

Growing your people in generosity and giving is important to you. It’s important to us, too. That’s why Leadership Network has developed HUB:Generosity for larger churches who want to accelerate generosity, stewardship & giving. For more information go to leadnet.org/generosity-hub.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Weekend to Remember Indeed

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Since 1999 the fabulous Susan Willard and I have had the privilege of serving on the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway speaker team.  Over the years we have spoken at dozens of these powerful events in cities all over the country.

We love the fact that we get to do this ministry because we get to do it together. I am always thankful that Susan is such a wise and winsome communicator.  You should see some of the encouraging comments that she receives each time she speaks!

Of course we also love the fact that these conferences provide a getaway for us, too.  We love to travel and have truly had some weekends to remember.  This past weekend was definitely one of those.

We spoke at the Napa conference over Valentine’s Day.  How about that for a getaway?  We enjoyed some great meals and the stunning scenery, but once again the most memorable part of the weekend was the way the Lord powerfully moved in the lives of so many who attended.

IMG_0484We have been on the team long enough to know that it is not about us.  In fact, one of the things that we like best about the FamilyLife model is that it isn’t focused on the speakers at all.  Sure, we help guide the process and tell some personal stories along the way, but because marriage is so important to the heart of God, He shows up and does the real work.

The following are just a few of the comments that attenders submitted this weekend at the conclusion of our time together in Napa.

“This weekend has been amazingly powerful. Our marriage has struggled for over a decade and I feel such a sense of relief and peace. I feel this weekend is the new beginning for me, my husband, and our family. Thank you!”

“We could not have gotten to the place of reconnection and recommitment without this weekend. I really feel like it has put our marriage back on track. We laughed, we cried, we prayed, and we reconnected and recommitted!”

“Actually thought of cancelling because I thought our marriage was too far gone to save. Left the weekend feeling hopeful and looking forward to working with my husband to build a strong relationship using the tools you’ve given us.”

“My marriage was going down a bad, destructive path and now the Lord has broken our hearts of stone and healing and oneness is being restored. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.”

“We recommitted our lives to Christ and for the first time prayed together for our marriage. My husband said to me “This has been the best Valentine’s weekend we have ever spent together.” What a great investment! Thank you.”

It was a great weekend and it is such a blast to be a part of the FamilyLife team.

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