The Church, Money, and Awkwardness

You know what’s awkward? Talking about money. You know what’s really awkward? When the pastor starts talking about money.

Talking about money in the church is awkward because it often feels like self-serving. Of course the pastor is going to tell his people to give more money; it’s where he gets his paycheck! But I think there’s another reason we find money-talk in church so awkward.

In the American church, awkwardness surrounding money-talk often comes from a place of defensiveness. We don’t want to talk about money because we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with it. Not the pastor, not our friends, not God.

Money gets at the heart like nothing else does.

This is one of the reasons Jesus talked about our relationship with money as often as he did. He mentions money more often than he does prayer and faith. Combined. He talks about money more than heaven and hell. In fact, he talks about money more than 40 percent of his parables and teachings on the kingdom.

So maybe we should press through the awkwardness.

Jesus’ most dire warnings are about money. He implies, again and again, that a selfish spirit will keep us out of heaven.

He says, for example, in Luke 14:33, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (NIV). He also says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15).

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story about an accounts manager for a really rich guy who is given his two-week notice. So, he goes home and, in despair, says to his wife, “What am I going to do? I’ve gotten used to drinking $5 lattes every day and sitting in first class, and there is no way I’m going back to Maxwell House and economy class.”

So, he has a brilliant idea: He calls up all the boss’ clients who still owe his boss money, and he says: “I see here that you owe my boss $100,000. I tell you what. If you’ll pay $25,000 right now, I’ll give you an official ‘debt-settled’ certificate, and we’ll just call it even,” because technically he’s still on the job and has the legal authority to do it. So, he cancels their debt and tells them, “Hey, just remember later who took care of you.” After he’s fired, he’s got a bunch of people who feel like they owe him a huge favor.

Keep in mind: This manager has just cheated his master out of a boatload of money.

Then, in a twist that is so surprising it’s nearly offensive, Jesus says, “’The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.’”

That’s right: The master, who has just had a bunch of his money stolen from him, looks at the manager and says, “You know what, that was actually a pretty savvy move.”

And then Jesus explains the lesson: “’For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light’” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus isn’t recommending you cheat people. He’s merely saying that if you know your current reality is coming to an end, it’s wise to use whatever moments you have left to prepare for the next one.

What does that mean, Jesus asks, for the money and resources God has made you the “manager” over?

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

– Luke 16:9–13

God gave you your resources to prepare for eternity, and soon you’re going to give an account to him. You don’t own what you have. You’re managing it. The only question is if you’re managing it for this life or the next.

You see, in the terms of Jesus’ parable, you’ve already been given your two-week notice. Your time on earth is short. It’s running out. Compared to eternity, it’s not even two weeks. It’s a moment, the blink of an eye. Shouldn’t you be thinking more about that eternal life and less about your last two weeks on this earth?

I have prayed Psalm 90:12 every day since college: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Martin Luther translated this verse as simply: “Teach us to think daily about death so that we might learn how to live.”

It may be awkward to talk about money in church, but it’s a fundamental principle we must get right in our hearts. Only when we choose to serve one Master can we really grow as disciples. And only when we grasp how short life is will our priorities come into focus.