Making faithful decisions about money

September 15, 2022 by Serrita Bell

Money can be a tough topic. In the church, even a brief  discussion of money yields all kinds of different perspectives.

In the last two years, I have confirmed my initial conviction: above all, the Presbyterian Foundation is oriented toward serving congregations and their leaders. The focus is relationships and partnering with churches in helpful ways.

Several months ago, I received an email from a seminary friend. She serves two small congregations. She wrote, “A couple of years ago a church I serve received some money in a bequest. The Foundation representative was wonderful – no pressure, common sense, understanding. She understood the church and the varied views regarding investments. The Session invested it all with the Foundation. I believe this decision was probably the most critical one our leaders have made in laying a foundation for the future witness of the church in this community.” She added, “The Foundation staff are relational, knowledgeable, gracious and humble. I would encourage you to learn from them.”

As I listen to pastors across the country, I discover a variety of hopes and concerns. Some are eager to learn about the promise of narrative budgets. Others seek training and resources in financial leadership. Some want to know about planned giving and approaching church leaders about future legacy gifts. Others desire to assess the health of their congregation’s giving and discover ways to evaluate their income and expenses. Still others seek encouragement and resources for their church’s continuing development.

The differences don’t stop there. Some individual Presbyterians have scraped and sacrificed to save $4,700 or $47,000 over the course of their lifetimes, and they desire to invest the funds benefiting the church they cherish in perpetuity. Other dedicated Presbyterians have been touched by the witness of MacKenzie Scott and other Gen X or millennial leaders. They want their savings or estate (whether valued at $32,000, $320,000, or $3.2 million) to be completely distributed in the next few years in impactful ways.

We offer information about very different possibilities, such as the Presbyterian Endowment Fund or a donor advised fund, that can be quite helpful. We have knowledge of various strategies which can honor the social witness values of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Above all else, we strive to be responsive to the specific concerns of faithful congregations.

In this polarized moment, it is sometimes quite hard for churches to reconcile various viewpoints. It is very challenging to make choices about big issues, like money or the future. The congregation at which I interned for a year while in seminary faced some daunting choices. After years of faithful service in the community and after trying a number of initiatives, that very small church finally decided to close. The decision was painful. I will never forget the strong, tough elder who called me one morning to share that he had been up overnight, unable to sleep, crying and praying about it all. Alongside the presbytery, they worked hard and well to discern how the proceeds from the sale of the church could be used in their community in the name of Jesus.

What are your Christ-centered dreams for ministry in your community? What are the choices and decisions you are facing? I hope you will contact your Ministry Relations Officer – or any of us at the Presbyterian Foundation and New Covenant Trust Company. We want to help.

Rev. Dr. Glen Bell is Senior Vice President for Development at the Presbyterian Foundation. He served four congregations before joining the Foundation in 2020. He is a trustee at Louisville Seminary, on the board of the Presbyterian Outlook, and was previously on the strategy team of NEXT Church. You can reach Glen at glen.bell@presbyterianfoundation.org.