Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pastoring and Preaching to the Rich

            So how does one preach to rich people? Years ago I actually gave a workshop on this topic—not that I had any experience with preaching to wealthy people back then. But I now pastor a church that has its fair share of wealthy people. I want all the members of my congregation to hear good news on Sunday. So what about the rich? What do I keep in mind? I’ve come up with a list of ten things:

  1. The most frequently discussed moral issue in scripture isn’t adultery or homosexuality. It is money. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is the root of many evils. But this is so for rich and poor both. While the rich may turn away from the really important things in life to build bigger barns, the poor can spend their lives coveting. Both are great temptations and neither is a good idea.
  2. Well-to-do people need pastoral care just as much as sick people or poor people or Jane Average in the pew. The key here is that ministers must be pastors to the whole church. Get out there and visit everyone. Get to know them apart from their wealth or lack of it. Then, when the pastoral need arises, you will be ready.
  3. Don't generalize about rich or poor people. I've known door-to-door sales people who failed miserably when it came to building wealth but were great church leaders—or not. I’ve also met others who became fabulously rich selling door to door, but who were bullies in the council room and didn’t have an ounce of empathy—or not. Don’t let a person’s wealth or lack of it define who they are, what they can do at church or in the world, or what their values are.
  4. Preach sacrificial giving. Many studies have shown that most wealthy people give a smaller percentage of their income to church causes than poorer people. The widow's mite story is so powerful because it resonates with reality. So I challenge well-to-do people to consider sacrificial giving. Rich or poor your wealth is your budget for being an ambassador of God’s grace.
  5. Remember that many people give sacrificially to other causes than the church. That’s great. All of us live in communities that need the public to support art galleries and cancer centers and symphonies and the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. Preach a generosity that extends far beyond the church’s needs.
  6. Whether people are rich or poor, their whole lives ought to be lived for higher purposes. Preach that. Whether someone is a banker or a poet, a stay-a-home dad or mom, or a carpenter, he or she can make a positive difference for the work colleagues, for the institutions upon which our society depends, for the customer, and for God. Life is worship. Work is worship. Never forget that wealth is a means for loving God and neighbor.
  7. Money is power. People need to hear about how they can and should use the power they wield for good and not merely for selfish or silly ends. Explore how power works in the world, and how it ought to work differently in the church. A key word here is kenosis. Look it up.
  8. Insist that all gifts given to the local church be given without strings. Allow people to respond to the church’s financial gifts and goals as they are able. Feel free, as church leaders, to underline special needs. But once the gift is given, remind givers to really let go and let the church leadership accomplish the goals that were set even before the gift was given.
  9. Don’t preach party politics or economics. Politics, strictly speaking, is a very religious issue. It is bounded by ideals and values, hopes and dreams—the very stuff of religion, and the content of many a sermon. But stick with preaching those hopes, dreams, and values—not party platforms. Churches must remain nonpartisan.
  10. Don’t regularly beat up on the rich, or business people, or those who have inherited great wealth, and then when you need money, go running after them with the big ask. This is really, really shallow and dehumanizing for your parishioners.

 I’m sure that a lot more can be said. What would you add?

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