He was a long-time church member and a “seasoned citizen” as Rush Limbaugh would say. He came to see me when I’d been at his church for only a short time.
“We have some wealthy members here, and other pastors have cultivated their friendships because we need their money,” he explained. “I hope you’ll do the same.”
I smiled sweetly, but in my heart of hearts I thought, “I hope I never base friendship on someone’s checkbook balance!”
One of those wealthy members did become a good friend. He invited me to tell him privately about special needs he might help with, and I did. He had a heart for children and sent scores of young people to summer camp. No one ever knew about this except me and him. Later I had the sad duty of conducting his funeral and tried to say some kind words about him.
I’ve had other church friends with no money. One called lately to announce there wasn’t a “crumb of food” in his house. We were able to handle this privately and discreetly.
Money is important in the church. Most everything we do requires it and we have to have it.
My tact has been different from some of my fellow pastors. One of them forthrightly told me, “I preach on money all the time. If people get their hearts right about money, everything else will work out.”
I tend to believe money is a byproduct of spiritual growth; that is, if we get our hearts right, then honoring God with our money won’t be an issue. I preached a sermon on money last December after realizing I’d not mentioned money in months.
Churches have different opinions on reporting, too. A current practice is to include all salaries in one budget line item. The stated reason is not to embarrass anyone by publicizing their salary, and also to use money to deal privately with work performance.
My mentor was the late Dotson Nelson of Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham. When his finance team moved to lump salaries into one-line item, he refused to let his salary be included.
“I’m the editor of the Sunday bulletin,” he said. “If you don’t publish my salary, then I’ll print it every Sunday!”
His reasoning was that the pastor’s salary is the first thing people look at in the annual budget and he wanted to be transparent. Our church follows this practice and my salary is known to all.
Money can be an issue of controversy in our churches. I think we must encourage people to grow financially, as well as spiritually, to the glory of God. And churches need to be accountable in spending, too.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.