Faith and Finances: Churches preach economic responsibility
Marsha Wilson, 44, recently quit her job as a bookkeeper to stay home and help her two teenage sons improve their declining grades.
The west Jackson family is now completely dependent on the income of her husband, Albert, a sheetrock finisher. Clinging to the belief that God will help her family through tough economic times, Wilson still knows there are some things she must do to help herself.
"I sent out a three-page prayer request recently to the church saying I've been struggling this way for years and I need a breakthrough," she said. "It is stressful. You are always taught that God will provide, so when you are in a situation where your bills aren't paid and your needs aren't met, you struggle with your faith. You wonder why he is doing it for certain people, and if there is something you need to do that you are not doing. I know that it's because I'm not managing my money right."
Faith and finances might seem like an unusual correlation, but some Mississippi churches have begun offering biblically based financial courses and sermons. This week, Voice of Calvary Ministries will begin offering a 10-week Crown Financial Ministries course from 5-6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Wilson plans to be there.
Will Brewer, a former youth pastor and member of VOC, said the class encourages financial responsibility.
"We understand that it's important to have faith and obey our commandments, but there is a disconnect when it comes to money and our relationship with God," he said. "I think that's why Jesus spent more time talking about money than he did about prayer."
Church leaders are also discussing the economy at Byram's Harvest Family Church, where the Rev. Chuck Ford began preaching a five-week series in December, "How to be Rich," based on scripture from I Timothy. It asks the question: Have you been chasing the proverbial carrot on a stick in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain wealth, never realizing you were wealthy all along? The message encourages listeners to do good works and be charitable.
"The economy and things we are hearing in the news had a lot to do with the series," said Ford. "I think churches are striving to be relevant, and the economy is on people's minds."
Les Harvey, youth minister of Harvest Family Church, said he hopes young people are paying attention.
"I think many of them are pretty oblivious to what's happening," he said. "I'm not sure what it means to them other than their parents can't give them $20 to go out to dinner like they used to, but they need to pay attention so they can avoid mistakes and won't make them in the future."
The church has also offered financial guru Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course in the past. It teaches participants to "handle God's money God's way." The FPU Web site reports the average family who participates reduces its debt by $5,300 and saves $2,700 in three months, resulting in an increased ability to tithe.
Two years ago, Steven Kean, 48, had a monthly car payment and credit card bills, but he decided to do something about them. His efforts literally paid off. While lifting himself out of debt, he discovered a way to help others.
"The Bible says the borrower is a slave to the lender, and that is so counter to the culture we live in today, but I didn't want to be a slave," he said. "That's the reason my family and I decided to do the Dave Ramsey program."
The Keans enrolled in Ramsey's FPU and led a FPU course at The Church at NorthShore in Brandon.
"Sometimes churches are not known for being practical in their help, but we wanted to offer solutions," he said.
One of those solutions is to budget every dollar at the beginning of the month, putting it all on paper. That idea helped the Keans get out of debt. They have refrained from overspending at Christmas the past two years.
"The course taught us that it's much better to save up for a big purchase and delay the gratification instead of doing it on credit," Kean said. "It's in the Bible, yeah, but it's just common sense. It's stuff that our grandparents didn't think twice about."
Wilson is also hoping to get a step ahead.
"I don't doubt at all that God can and will provide, I just know that there are rules and regulations that you have to abide by," she said. "That's true for everything in life."
Crown Financial Ministries, www.crown.org
Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, www.daveramsey.com