There’s good news about stewardship sermons

November 6, 2022 by Nancy Crowe

Pastors preaching about money tackle both the good news of the Gospel and the brass tacks of money management. There are ways to approach the oft-dreaded stewardship sermon with a little C.I.A. help.

No, not that CIA.

In “The Gospel & Money” at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, Rev. Dr. Brian Coulter of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, discussed what he called the essential characteristics of a stewardship sermon: C.I.A. — clear, inviting, and authentic. Sermons about stewardship should carry a clear cognitive message, invite engagement with intuitive illustration and elicit authentic emotion.

Rev. Dr. Brian Coulter of First Presbyterian Church

Stewardship Kaleidoscope is the annual conference on generosity and stewardship for church leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This year’s conference was held in Savannah, Georgia, from Sept. 26 to 28.

Coulter cited several real-life sermons and the C.I.A. aspects of each, with a sprinkling of his own stories. Here are a few examples.

What Would Jesus Pledge? (Matthew 6:3-4) by Rev. Ben Kane begins with: “We are talking about money — a topic that causes a reaction; maybe it is an eye roll, maybe it is a shifting in your seat as talk of money makes you uncomfortable; maybe you’ve already tuned me out …”

That’s clear, direct talk about money, Coulter said. It names the elephant in the room.

Presbyterians in the Bible Belt: Stewardship (Matthew 25:21) by Rev. Dr. Ryan Baer was part of a sermon series on Reformed theology. “We have reduced the word stewardship and devalued it to the equivalent of the fall fundraising campaign,” Baer said in the sermon.

Clarifying what stewardship is not invites us to think about what it is, Coulter said. He went on to say Baer’s sermon contained a personal story of his own family’s struggle with finances. It also addressed a real estate developer’s offer to buy the church property.

These are authentic explorations of the proper use of God’s gifts, Coulter said. “People don’t give money to your budget. They give to transform lives.”

Know what you value (Matthew 6:21) by Rev. Dr. Tara Bulger began with a quote from Frederick Buechner about looking to your feet — not your words — to see what you value. Which way are they pointing?

Adding authenticity to the message, Bulger noted her own feet had been at a lot of volleyball games to support her daughter and taking her kids to school because she values their education.

But we’re all in charge of our own feet. “I will tell you honestly that it is your decision how you give of your time, talent, and treasure. You decide how you are going to live out the values you have as people of faith,” she said in the sermon — a clear invitation, a workshop participant noted, to make a choice.

Here, Coulter added another real-time real estate illustration. A congregation he served in Alabama had to decide what to do with a house on the church property after its longtime renter died. Should they tear it down for parking? Renovate and rent it out again? They ended up partnering with other organizations to provide a home for a family on the edge of homelessness. It was not the cheapest option, but as often happens with actions are aligned with values, the money showed up, he said.

You are the Letter (2 Corinthians 3:3) by Rev. Matt McCollum talks about what it means to sign important documents and ultimately the letter of Christ. What letter will the church write and sign?, he asked.

That led into an invitation to prayerfully consider percentage-based giving. “It may be 2% or 4% or 8% and next year grow that by a percent or two until you reach your target,” McCollum said in the sermon.

Coulter shared a percentage-based giving chart from his own congregation’s stewardship brochure. Tithing doesn’t work for everyone, he said, so it’s important to invite members to figure out what does.

“I think percentage-based giving encourages thinking beyond a formula,” he said.

Nancy Crowe is a writer, editor, and animal wellness practitioner based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at