April 24, 2020
Rev. Dr. Campbell B. Singleton, III
Associate Executive Minister, ABCMNY
Were you taught practical financial management concepts and principles in church as a child, youth or young adult? This was the curious question I asked adults in my informal survey and the unanimous consensus was a resounding, “No.” I wondered why is it not common for churches to provide sustained stewardship teaching particularly to our vulnerable population? Is it because of shame and guilt of financial mistakes and we don’t feel qualified? Is it because we were not taught in church so we are simply repeating what we experienced with the hope that our children will figure it out through trial and error like we did? Is it because we are comfortable teaching “appealing” subjects that are more “spiritual” and “biblical?” Is it because we learned it is respectful to wait for leadership to initiate program ministry and if they don’t make stewardship training a priority then we silently stay in our lane? Is it because money is personal and explosive and what’s happening in someone’s financial life is none of our business? Well, perhaps the reasons for a lack of financial training in church is all the above. At least that’s what I was told.
Without believing that God owns everything and everything we have belongs to God, we treat money as our possession to do what we want. If we are not taught the value of money and core principles for how to save, invest, budget, spend, and give, we are likely to impulsively waste what has been entrusted into our care. We all need guidance and if tools, guidelines, theology, philosophies and resources don’t come from the church to whom shall we turn? If the church is silent, who can we trust to teach our children lifesaving lessons that can make the difference between bankruptcy and solvency and bondage and freedom?
While a wide preponderance of churches neglect to comprehensively teach about faith and money, countless people in our churches are wallowing in deep debt, overspending and grinding paycheck to paycheck. People in our churches hide in guilt and pain and are afraid to face their complex and delicate situations and be one with their hurt. Every day, church folk fall prey to alluring marketing schemes and purchase what they want and subsequently struggle to secure what they need. An ensuing stressful lifestyle of survival becomes normative without any clear roads leading to deliverance; therefore, God’s people remain broken and powerless.
It seems as though the church is in a reactive and passive posture waiting for adults to trip and fall and then frantically deliberates means to assist drowning parishioners; rather than being preemptive and nurturing children, youth and young adults in developing knowledge and skills for handling money. We need to change the way we think about money so we can be liberated from indebtedness and equipped to wisely use money to accomplish kingdom purposes.
Certainly, the church has a central role to raise consciousness about our consumerist behavior and guide us toward healing and wholeness. As long as we remain fragmented and scattered, we will continue to misappropriate money to make us feel better, look better and live better. And after the mirage is torn down, we discover we are no better but worse.
We cannot leave people unto their own devices and think something good will happen. We need to be taught vision, purpose, discipline, faith, values examples, and emotional intelligence to mature into a good steward. The church has a chief responsibility for this brand of discipleship development. We cannot expect people to faithfully tithe and give offerings without leadership rolling up their sleeves and getting into the messy places where people reside.
Two American Baptist pastors in Metro New York engaged in financial training in their local churches inspired me to rethink ways the church can turn from its ways and enter the money conversation. With a sense of urgency, I discerned the time was now to incorporate a three month comprehensive financial training for all age groups in our Sunday School. The result of this testing by the Spirit evolved into being a part of my Generosity Project.
With conviction and passion, I worked with the Superintendent of Sunday School to identify teachers who could teach: biblical stewardship principles, consumer behavior economics, strategies for saving money and stopping financial leaks, methods for eliminating debt, ways to choose appropriate insurance plans, options for investing in various vehicles, processes for deciding end of life concerns including writing a will, establishing trust funds, prepaying funerals and burials. We prayed, organized, studied, prepared, and wrote and chose curriculum and videos for this bold initiative and launched it in the second week in January, 2020.
Initially, this intervention was not well received. Some teachers wanted to continue teaching well liked curriculum. Some teachers thought it would be best to teach financial lessons on Saturdays – “This doesn’t belong in Sunday School!” Some said, “This is not biblical.”. Some questioned whether members would come. Some thought we had already had enough financial training. Some remained silent and didn’t attend classes.
Nevertheless, leaders lead and led we were. We designed classes and the teaching commenced. It was amazing to watch our attendance increase and witness new persons come to Sunday School over the three months. In our intimate and interactive 10 sessions, vulnerable people courageously confessed mistakes, confronted their fears, availed themselves to fresh perspectives and experienced healing. The restart button was pushed and we walked together on a new quest for liberation.
After our three month experiment ended, I distributed evaluations. One person wrote, “I thought I was a good steward because I tithed but in these classes I discovered I have not been a good steward and I have now been empowered to address my issues.” Children enthusiastically said, “I want to open a savings account.” A college bound youth began to wrestle with how to pay the remaining part of her tuition not covered by her scholarship because she learned about compound interest rates on loans. Youth were excited to write a budget for the first time. Adults began to eliminate unnecessary expenditures and committed to a 52-week savings challenge. Snowball and avalanche methods were employed to get rid of debt. An adult profoundly said, “I thought most of us were struggling to make it day to day and I recognized we can make different choices to change our situation. I don’t have to live like this anymore!” Families were challenged to talk about what would happen in case of the death of a parent. Listening to members talk about their transformation brought joy to my heart. No matter what their situation, students left with hope. I was elated to be on the right side of history and running toward stewardship training for all age groups rather than away.
Rev. Dr. Campbell B. Singleton, III serves as the Associate Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro New York. As Associate Executive, he is responsible for motivating churches to spiritually and financially support ABC ministries through the mission giving program. Dr. Singleton’s academic credentials include a Doctor of Ministry from Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut; a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York; and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, Connecticut. Additionally, Singleton is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc., and avid fan of the New York Knicks. He enjoys the theater, golf, music, and has a wide circle of friends. He is married to his lovely wife, Mrs. Nicola Black-Singleton, who is the joy of his life. They are blessed with a son, Campbell B. Singleton, IV.