The Financial Way Forward

4/30/2018

GROWING IN GRACE
BEN GOSDEN

 
In this season of our church where we’re seemingly obsessed with finding “a way forward,” I want to share about a different kind of way forward I’ve recently found. I didn’t need to appoint a commission. And, thankfully, I don’t think my church will split over the fact that we’ve offered this opportunity to find a way forward. Is this newfound “way” a solution to our divisions over human sexuality? No. But I do think this way offers a faithful and responsible way to help people manage money and grow to be more generous.
 
This spring we offered Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. My wife and I found Dave’s financial tools during our first year of marriage. We were much younger, in some heavy credit card debt, and early enough in our working lives that we weren’t exactly making headway in overcoming our debt issues. Dave’s “Baby Steps” and “Debt Snowball” became a lifesaver as we struggled to get our footing in what felt like a sea of worry.
 
Over the years we remembered Dave fondly as, “that tough time early in marriage,” but as we made more money over the years our financial bad habits slowly started to resurface — not nearly to the level from before, but enough to be a nagging weight we carried around with us. This past January I announced to my wife that we would be offering Financial Peace University as a church. She quickly reminded me that it might be an opportune time to get back into the discipline of the baby steps again ourselves. The class was great. But even more, it helped me become more well-versed on generosity AND financial management.
 
I should pause here and clarify a bit. For those not familiar with Dave’s “Baby Step” process, they are below in order:
 

  1. Save $1,000 in an emergency fund (do NOT touch this money unless you have a legitimate emergency).
  2. Put all of your debts in order from smallest to largest. Pay the minimum payment on every debt EXCEPT the smallest one. Pour every extra dollar you have in your budget onto that smallest debt until it’s paid off. When that happens, repeat the process for every other debt in line until you are completely debt free.
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses and put it in a money market account or an account you can’t easily access. This will be your safety net for those big emergencies life throws at you.
  4. Put 15% of your household income into your retirement. Saving for the future is essential to financial health.
  5. Save to fund your kids’ college education.
  6. Pay off your house
  7. Build wealth and be incredibly generous
 
There are some nuances to these steps, but you’ll need to read Dave’s book, The Total Money Makeover, to learn them. An important note is that giving is a part of the budget-making process from the very beginning. We always give to God. If we cut back on anything, it’s our own wasteful spending and frivolous enjoyment.
 
It’s become my belief that people do not fail to be generous because they don’t love Jesus and the church. If they’re active, they obviously care. People struggle to be generous when they don’t know how to manage their money well. Money management is a learned practice. And we live in a culture that goes out of its way to help us have what we want, when we want it. Delayed gratification is a lost art (one I’m still trying to learn!). And living on credit and debt has become the recipe to the so-called American Dream.
 
Leading Financial Peace University, and trying to live it, is teaching me that it’s imperative for churches to come alongside our people, talk about money, teach about money, and be very honest about money because Jesus meant what he said about our hearts and our treasures being intimately linked (Matt. 6:21). We pastors need to cultivate the courage to talk openly about money management and generosity. Maybe even more, we need to model it. You can’t wait for that next promotion and pay raise to get a better hold on your finances (that one especially stings for us pastors as we come to the end of appointment season!). You can’t wait for some magical time in your life where you can “afford to think about the future.” And, if you lead a church, you can’t just expect people to give out of some natural inclination or inherited wealth.
 
The “way forward” for financial health for individuals and churches involves more reasonable perspective on what a reasonable cost of living looks like, more intentionality among churches to help people grow in their financial health, and more discipline among us all. We are stewards of God’s good gifts. Let’s make sure we can be faithful with what God has so graciously given us.
 
The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at ben@trinity1848.org