There are over 2,350 verses in the Bible that relate to managing money, debt, wealth and possessions. Jesus spoke about these issues more than anything else and they represent approximately 8% of the Bible but are rarely taught or preached on. Pastors seem to avoid it for fear of being perceived as self serving and some people excuse themselves by saying ‘I am not good with money’. Can you imagine the reaction of the congregation if the preacher applied this statement to heaven, hell, sanctification or God’s love?
About two years ago, prior to the credit crunch really kicking in but when all the signs were there, a group of us in Carey Baptist Church decided that we should help teach people about how to manage money and started researching the various available options. At the time, we came across various Christian groups that were involved in this area including Credit Action, Christians Against Poverty, Red2Black and many others but we decided that The Money Secret offered us a course that best met our perception of the need. The Money Secret Adult Education Course is developed by Rob Parsons, a Christian author who may be known to some of you for his books The Sixty Minute Father and The Heart of Success.
The Money Secret
The Money Secret novel has been designed as an accompaniment to the course. The novel is an easy and quick read but explains key money management points in an allegorical format and, in my opinion, is very effective at getting the key simpler points across. The course itself consists of ten sections covering areas such as:
- Getting to know your finances
- Credit cards
- Banks and loans
Our first task was to determine when and for how many hours we would run the course. The official recommendation was for ten sessions of ninety-minutes each. We looked at the personal situations of those we believed likely to attend the course (and those likely to lead it!) and decided fifteen hours was not practical for us. In the end we settled for five hours on one single Saturday.
We resolved that not only should we be teaching Christians about money but also, especially in the current economic environment, we should use a money management course as part of Carey’s outreach. However, in order to ensure that the external course was God honouring, we decided to use Carey ‘guinea pigs’ first, although I don’t believe we phrased it in quite that way to the church or the initial participants.
For some time we were uncertain whether we would have two participants or 200 but prayed that God would provide us with enough people to make it worthwhile but not so many we couldn’t deal with individual questions. In the end about twenty people attended and the feedback was that it had been a great success. The feedback also revealed we had two participants who had tackled similar issues when they lived in the United States and volunteered to assist us with any future courses.
During the early part of the summer of 2008, we spoke with the youth team leaders about the needs of those shortly to go to university which resulted in a second round of guinea pigs at the home of my wife and me one Sunday afternoon (lunch and tea included!). Emboldened by perceived successes of these two courses we approached the elders and said we felt it would now be appropriate to reach outside the membership.
A means of outreach
Further meetings ensued and plans were developed for the first external course. Once again, a key issue was when the course would be held. In the end we decided that the best way would be to have two hours midweek on four successive weeks. Over half the attendees on this occasion were from outside Carey and for some this was one of the few occasions they had attended any event organised by a church.
As part of our review, we considered what had worked well and what we should do differently in respect of this particular course. The novel can easily be read in an afternoon and, as I mentioned earlier, explains some key money management points very clearly. Neither that tale nor the course contains much overtly Christian material – indeed we felt the need to add some biblical quotations on occasions to address this shortcoming. We also found that the attendees were equally split between those who found that the simpler bits of the course were the most useful and those who wondered why we bothered with those parts but benefitted greatly from some of the more complex aspects. It is worth noting that this course contains very little information on what to do with money if you have it.
Your money counts
In line with a desire to see how we could better tailor a money course to the needs of both the congregation and the wider community we continued to obtain more information on alternatives. At the time of writing, one which we are in the process of taking to the elders for further consideration is ‘Your Money Counts’ from Crown Financial Ministries UK. Crown was founded in 1976 in the United States but has spread to over forty countries with over eighty million people having been through one of their courses.
Despite also being a ten week course, although with condensed versions available, Your Money Counts is very different from The Money Secret in that it is much more of a Bible course as opposed to one that incorporates Christian principles. Each section includes elements of personal Bible study, corporate Bible Study and memory verses.
Although we have not yet been through this course we know a number of people who have and have reviewed the material. The sections include:
- God’s part – the foundation
- Our part – being good and faithful
To emphasise the biblical nature of the course, Crown Financial Ministries made the point that, one year after attending their course, participants were not only giving 28% more, which might be expected but also spending one third more time reading their Bible and praying a third more. In speaking with Mark Lloydbottom who adapted the Your Money Counts course for the UK, he wants to develop a similar course to be suitable for outreach as opposed to being primarily aimed at Christians. I’m not sure when this is due to be completed.
Which option is best for you and your church?
The key question to ask yourselves is ‘What are we trying to achieve?’. Firstly, you have to determine whether you are primarily trying to reach those inside the church or use it as part of your outreach strategy. Secondly, what end result are you looking for from such a course? Is it merely how best to cope with difficult financial circumstances or is it extensive Bible study on the subject of money and related matters?
One word of warning – financial advice in the UK is regulated by the Financial Services Authority and can only be provided by an authorised person. Make sure that in answering the questions which are bound to arise during any course you avoid breaking the law and giving specific financial advice.
For those wondering about the title, £21,640 is the average amount of unsecured debt per person for those who have unsecured debt. No wonder one person is declared bankrupt every four and a half minutes and £181 million of interest is paid in the UK every day. This is not God’s plan for our lives and both churches and ministers have a responsibility to ensure the whole canon of Scripture is taught.
Graeme Powell is treasurer of Carey Baptist Church, Reading.