Money, the Mind, & Ministry seminar offered by SFTS

February 11, 2019 by Gregg Brekke

Stewardship is not something we have to do, says Maggie Harmon, Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation. It’s something we get to do.

Exploring the psychology of giving, stewardship and generosity can give pastors, church leaders, and non-profit executives a deeper and richer understanding of how to overcome discomfort in discussing money and how to lead a theologically sound discussion of stewardship, Harmon says.

Harmon will be teaching an online seminar Money, the Mind, & Ministry in partnership with the Applied Wisdom Institute at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The four-week, eight-session comprehensive course for pastors, church lay leaders involved in stewardship and non-profit leaders on stewardship and giving begins March 19.

The psychology of giving

One of the things Harmon says is most important about the course is understanding the psychology of giving and how dealing with money effects both giver and receiver.

“We sometimes forget that the church is made up of people who are human,” she says. “So, we function with our human brains and social influences and if we’re not aware of those things, we don’t have the ability to address them intentionally and to act proactively rather than reactively.”

At a base level, Harmon says people respond to giving for two purposes: it brings pleasure or avoids pain. Unfortunately, she believes the history of giving in the church is related to the latter – the avoidance of suffering or punishment in the afterlife. Giving, she says, was theologically misunderstood for far too long as purchasing a ticket into heaven and out of hell.

“Now we’ve really flipped that,” she says. “We say we’re doing this because it’s going to support something good, because we are partners in caring for God’s creation. We have to follow that up with understanding why this is good and the value of participating.”

Course can supplement seminary training

The Rev. Floyd Thompkins, Director of the Applied Wisdom Institute, agrees and wonders, “how can we talk about [money] in a way that is encouraging rather than shaming for people?”

He says one of the goals of the Applied Wisdom Institute, and the partnership with the Foundation, is to offer a platform to educate pastors and non-profit leaders in practical management skills often missing from seminary curriculum.

“We see the need to equip people with more of a theological understanding of giving,” says Thompkins. “The particularities of that, about how you understand scripture, are there, but it’s really open as to how that works in the real world and how to inculcate your values into a stewardship plan. It works no matter who you are.”

Harmon says the ideal candidate for the seminar is someone in their first five years of ministry or leadership at a non-profit, or those who haven’t yet led a stewardship campaign. Lay leaders who are involved in stewardship within their congregation are welcome as well.

“Anyone who, when they see the word stewardship or money and immediately reacts negatively, I want to talk to them as well because we do spend some time thinking about where this discomfort comes from,” she says.

While some of the homework throughout the course leads to sermon writing for pastors, she says the projects can be easily translated into planning or writing church newsletters articles about stewardship and incorporating other means of communication.

Time, Talent and Treasure

In addition to being prepared to define goals and write narrative budgets, Harmon hopes each participant completes the seminar with the ability to better understand the needs of their community and translate that into a plan to engage other in what it will take – from a time, talent, and treasure aspect – to fulfill that mission.

“How do we quantify some of those things like the time and the talent being given so that we can recognize that as a part of stewardship the way we do when someone writes a check?” she asks, noting that the discussion of financial giving has to be included in the conversation if the mission of the church or organization is going to be fulfilled. “We like money or don’t like money, and that impacts our willingness or our fear to talk about it.”

Increasing this willingness and overcoming fear of talking about money is why Harmon says 40 percent of the course will focus on the science of giving. She says some churches worry that talking about money too much excludes talk about how important it is to the mission of the organization. The seminar aims to give leaders tools they need “to move from having a negative reaction on hearing money talked about in the church to a positive reaction.”

Thompkins echoes this talking point, saying the Applied Wisdom Institute is eager to host this seminar and others like it.

“Along with talking about our faith, giving is in fact at the center of our conversation and an expression of knowing who we are, what we believe in, and what we say is important,” he says. “And money is the gift of expression, not necessarily only the measure of success.”