It’s Not About Money
The School of Divinity is committed to financial well-being and forming ministers who engage finances responsibly. With support of a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers, we have created a program, Financial Well-Being for Pastoral Leaders, to create a culture that shapes the habits and skills of pastoral leaders by promoting financial well-being for themselves and the communities they serve. One of the foundational elements of our program is formation, which aims at enabling students to focus on building financial competency through annual assessment meetings with the Office of Financial Aid, workshops and seminars, peer mentors, and technological resources. On the last week of every month, the Unfolding blog will feature posts from the student peer mentors. These are current students who have previous experience in the financial industry or who have made financial planning a significant part of their identity as a religious leader.
One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him (Heb. 7:9-10 ESV).
Loins is one of my favorite words to use in a sermon; it is a surefire way to awaken those who are “resting” in the Lord, and to summon social media surfers back into the space. Levi was in the loins of Abraham, and the author of Hebrews makes the point—because Levi resided within Abraham, and because Abraham paid a spoil of war tithe to Melchizedek, the priesthood of Melchizedek (and subsequently that of Jesus) is somehow greater than that of Levi. Levi tithed to Melchizedek, not the other way around. Melchizedek is shown to be greater than Levi; money makes the point.
Preachers are notorious for noting that the bulk of Jesus’s parables are economic in nature (some argue as high as 42%), yet they rarely point out that these parables are not about money. Money is often used as metaphorical material in the Scriptures to get a point across—a point that often has nothing to do with money, but rather with the heart. Preachers who utilize the Levi in the Loins passage to propagate tithing as an economic/stewardship requirement for Christians are doing more than missing the point (while arriving at the wrong conclusion). It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money is pointing to. In this case, the point is priesthood, not tithing, not money.
Sit in any pew for more than an hour and the topic will eventually turn to money. The talk will likely go in one of a few directions: (1) Being a good steward of money means giving (usually a percentage) to the church, or (2) if you do not give, then you do not trust God, or (3) if you will give, God will bless you. One theme threads these approaches—giving is all about the church. While I believe in supporting local communities of faith, I do not believe these are the points worth focusing on. Based on the rate of church foreclosures, this strategy is not working anyhow.
Money is a core component of Christian spiritual formation. In myriad ways, the way a person relates to money mirrors the ways a person relates to God, and therefore to others. Because churches predominantly approach issues of money from a church-centric paradigm, attempting to carry religious operating costs, money is rarely welcomed to the table as a viable entity in the spiritual formation discussion. Hebrews, however, points us in the right direction—money shows us something about the relatedness of humanity and the Divine; money showed the early Christians how to negotiate early issues of priesthood/temple/covenant, etc. Whether you agree with the conclusions that the writer of Hebrews draws is beside the point to some degree. To stand in the Christian tradition is to welcome money into consideration of what it means to do life in light of God, to do life with others who are making faith sense of dollars and cents. More than a resource to fund the church, money is a means to shape the inner life, however much of it one has. It would appear that the way money is handled reveals not only who God is (via the Levi exchange), but can reveal who we are as well.
The preacher often says, “Show me your checkbook and I will show you your priorities.” Well, I haven’t used a checkbook in a few years, but I get the point. Where my money is, there my heart is. Money and the inner life, the desires of the heart, are interconnected. Perhaps watching our money this semester might reveal more than our bottom line. Maybe money and the way we use it will point at some place in our hearts where God wants to grow us, expand our thinking about who God is, and even to help others see God a little more clearly when money is used in compassionate ways.
Tommy Brown, a third year MDiv student, is from Destin, Florida and a 2000 graduate of Southeastern University with a B.A. in Pastoral Ministries. He holds a M.S. from Troy University in Management: Emphasized in Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness. He currently serves as Teaching Pastor at Winston-Salem First Church. He recently led over 600 individuals in a collective $2.2mm personal financial turnaround. He is the author of “Seeds: Grow a Giving Life” and has spoken at leadership conferences for the Dave Ramsey organization, helping church leaders equip their constituents in the area of financial well-being. He regularly hosts financial seminars focused on debt reduction, saving, and investing. Tommy is passionate about helping individuals and organizations awaken to their relatedness to resources in light of God.