I watch an insane amount of youtube videos. From the lion that hugs the people that raised it when reunited in the wild to clips of So You Think You Can Dance and everything in between, I heart short, funny, serious, interesting clips.
So when someone sent me a link to a recent church service that was making the rounds, I was more than happy to oblige. I liked the video. The church did a beautiful job executing a really honest, emotional idea. The whole thing was amazing. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say whole thing because in order to consume as much content as possible, I rarely watch from start to finish. The other day when I mentioned the video in question to a friend he asked me what I thought about the very end. I didn’t have an opinion because I had stopped the video before it completed. He urged me to go back and watch the whole thing, so I did.
It was just as beautiful the second time. The truth and authenticity of the experience had not diminished. I was being invited to share in something special. It was creative, and touching and engaging. And then the minister asked for money.
The entire mood of the video radically changed with this completely unexpected financial discussion. The words the pastor said are not the real issue, and at one point during his brief statement it almost feels like he realizes what’s just happened. But it’s too late, because as a speechwriter once said, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear that matters.” And what my friends and I heard in this situation was “This beautiful thing we just did was our way to talk to you about supporting the church financially.” Was that his intent? Maybe not. Is it impossible to take a few minutes of a sermon that probably touched many lives and pretend you know what was going on that Sunday? Probably. Is the issue of asking people for money at church extremely difficult? Without a doubt.
My dad’s a pastor, so in some ways I am probably uniquely qualified to write this and horribly biased at the same time. I mean if people had given more money to his church perhaps I could have had nicer pants or a fancier, more interesting haircut when I was growing up. But I didn’t. I had a pretty normal haircut and some pretty normal pants. I don’t blame my dad, just like I don’t blame that minister in the video, asking for money at church is really weird but really necessary too in some ways. So today, I thought it might be good to talk about a few ways we can all do a better job at that:
How to ask for money at church:
1. Kill the sentence every pastor says.
Regardless of the denomination, the language or the location, there is one sentence that almost every pastor on the planet has said at some point and here it is: “If this is your first time visiting, I promise we don’t always talk about money.” This is usually said on the one or two Sundays you talk about money every year. And I understand the need, but by saying that you tell the congregation and the visitors, “Here comes something that is going to suck.” You forecast that discussing money is a gross thing. And although it can be, it doesn’t have to be. But by approaching it that way you essentially train us to be unreceptive to what you’re about to say. So let’s kill that sentence.
2. Change the environment.
This one would probably get a pastor fired, but what if they removed all the seats before service? If you have pews this might be impossible, but if you have chairs, take them all out. Tell people that you understand how odd it is to be asked for money in church and so you’ve decided to respect that by cutting costs a few different ways. Tell us we should stand during the entire service and then proceed to preach on the Bible. Not a book, or a chapter or a verse, the entire thing. Then just keep preaching until everyone’s legs eventually give out and we collapse to the floor exhausted. Then come around and take our money out of our purses and wallets while we are too weak to fight back. Wait, I think that just turned into cat burglary. But in all seriousness, I’m pretty entitled when it comes to church. I just expect Kristian Stanfill to show up and lead worship and the lights to work and the Sunday School classrooms to be overflowing with free goldfish for my children. I tend to take church for granted and that is not cool on my part. So take away my chair please until I realize my tithe helps pay for that seat.
3. Put on a musical with dancing nuns.
As my friend Curtis reminded me the other day, that seemed to work pretty well in the Sister Act movies on a number of levels. For one thing, Whoopi Goldberg was able to hide out from the mafia. They were also able to save the orphanage or convent. And they got to sing and dance with Lauryn Hill. Soooo, if your pastor is on the run from the mob, you’ve got a ministry that is struggling and you have access to one of the members of the Fugees, that should work out just fine.
Those are silly, sort of, but money is one of those big issues in Christian culture. And the truth is that I’ll probably write about tithing and giving and offering buckets and how people stare at you when you don’t drop anything in even though I mail my check so I technically don’t have anything to drop in lady, so stop staring and go back to awkwardly rubbing your husband’s neck during the entire service. You are killing me.
But if I ever started a church, here is what I think I might say about money:
“Money is a weird subject to hear about in a church on a Sunday. I agree. I’m a little sweaty too just saying ‘money’ and ‘church’ in the same sentence. But when you look at the Bible, it doesn’t treat money as a weird subject. From the detailed beauty of the resources used to create the temple to the dangers that hide in the weeds like lions when we have too much, the Bible doesn’t whimper quietly when it comes to money. And so I don’t want to either. I don’t want to pretend that one sermon a year is enough to equip you for the more than 5,000 marketing messages you see every day asking you for money. Telling you how to use it and get more of it and worship it. This isn’t going to be about tithing, this going to be about truth. Because I think when we engage with the truth we’ll find that tithing isn’t simply something we have to do, it’s something we’ll want to do.”