January 4, 2018

Stewardship: Pope Francis and Money

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When I talk to congregational leaders about stewardship, I like to remind them that money is mission.  I was interested to see that Pope Francis agrees with me.  A recent article by Margaret Marcuson applauds Pope Francis not only for talking about money, but working to align the practices of the Vatican Bank with its intended purpose.

The top official he appointed to oversee the bank said in its annual report that the bank’s “purpose is not to pursue the accumulation of wealth,” but rather to support those engaged in “the universal mission of the Church…to feed, to educate, to heal and to permit the gospel to be known.”  Money is related to mission.

Of course this brings up an important issue as we prepare for our annual congregational meetings.  How does our budget and our congregational financial practices align with our mission?  I encourage congregations to model the generosity that we encourage in our members.  Do we tithe our regular member giving to support the work of the larger church?  Do we exhibit generosity in our community?  Do we link budget figures to our mission to show the impact we make through worship, education, youth work, caring for members and the rest of our ministry?

Younan and Pope

Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation and Pope Francis embrace after signing the Joint Statement at a service in Lund, Sweden in October 2016.

The Pope’s personal involvement also is a reminder that money is a priority for the leader.  So, pastors, you, too, have a role in the financial leadership of your congregation.  Many pastors avoid leadership in the financial arena or feeling like they don’t have a role beyond preaching about stewardship annually. Marcuson says, “It’s important to claim your leadership in this area. You may not feel like you have financial expertise, but you do have an important theological and spiritual perspective to bring to this part of the church’s life.”

Finally, money is related to our spiritual lives.  Pope Francis said to an audience of business leaders, “We cannot understand the new Kingdom offered by Jesus if we do not free ourselves of idols, of which money is one of the most powerful,”  We do need to help our people as they relate to their personal finances, apart from asking them to give money to the church. It’s about trusting God to provide; believing that we will have enough for ourselves and enough to share for the needs of others; and the other financial lessons St. Paul gives us in II Corinthians 8 and 9.

So, as we start a new year and have our annual meetings, let’s align money with mission, use generosity with money as a vehicle to express our faith and embrace our leadership in this important area of life.

Larry Smoose

The Rev. Larry Smoose is chair of the Synod Stewardship Team