Why do those of us who are entrusted with the sacred task of discipleship often have so much trouble with discipline? Today I want to help you to identify and overcome the top five financial traps, which can damage your ministry and marriage.
“Those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction” 1 Tim. 6:9.
The verb “fall” is in the present tense, which suggests continual, compulsive (normal) action. Is your financial track record normal? If so, you should know that normal is stupid: 90% of Americans admit to buying things they can’t afford, and spend 10% more than they make; 92% of their disposable income is spent on debt payments (coenic.org).
Pastors, decide to be abnormal, smart, and “above reproach” by avoiding these five financial traps.
1. Spending like you are single
Since most pastors are male and married, I am going to write this blog as man to man. My first financial trap was at seminary when I succumbed to my desire for the latest, cutting edge technology – a VCR (go ahead and laugh). I fell for the “only $10 a month” ruse and ended up paying for that dang thing twice over the next few years!
Fortunately, this madness stopped the day I said, “I do” to Janet and “I don’t” to consumer debt, which were the same day. We have avoided the credit card trap for 27 years and counting, and thus have never paid a penny of credit card interest in our marriage.
Set a spending limit for individual purchases and consult with each other on the rest. This won’t alleviate all marital conflict, but it will minimize it.
2. Impulse purchases
“Stupid people spend their money as fast as they can get it” Prov. 21:20b.
Scripture does not dichotomize self-leadership and church-leadership, so neither will I today. As others have said before me, “Every spending decision is a spiritual decision.” The root of this trap can be seen in the tenth commandment.
“Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17).
The Hebrew word for “covet” can also be translated “desire.” Impulse buying is a heart problem that, if left unchecked, will lead to a lifestyle which will entrap you quickly. Today could be that point in your life where you get so sick of financial slavery that you will exit onto the road to financial freedom. You can do this, pastor!
“It is a trap for anyone to dedicate something rashly and later to reconsider his vows” Prov. 20:25.
3. Poor financial planning
Financial discipline involves more than avoiding traps. Long-term success must include a simple, solid financial plan (a.k.a. budget). Before you roll your eyes or delete this post, hear me out. Your financial plan does not have to include envelopes or a 13-part video to succeed. You just need to customize a simple plan with your wife that keeps track of income and expenses. If expenses are exceeding income, the plan needs to be tweaked. Immediately.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. God did not call you to be an expert on everything. He did however call you to “manage your household competently” (1 Tim. 3:4).
4. Stealing from God
I used to assume that all of my staff members tithed. I was wrong. Likely some of you are in this same avoidable trap of disobedience.
“Tithe” means 10%, and is taught in the OT and NT (Mal. 3:8-9; Prov. 3:9; Num. 18:21; Matt. 23:23). Moses taught it, Jesus endorsed it, and your grandparents practiced it (and lived within their means). Jesus didn’t mention it often because it was already an established given. When He did, it was posed as a rare commendation to the Pharisees.
According to Ellison Research, less than 1:10 give 10% or more to a church or charity, although 51% believe in tithing. Only 3-5% of the people who donate to a church actually “tithe”(Barna). Once again, normal is overrated and underblessed.
I have observed way too many ministers struggle in silence for years. They can hide it from their church and family for a season, but eventually the law of sowing and reaping kicks in, and they are in big trouble.
Give your wife the security she deserves by taking the financial bull by the horns today. Manage your house and God’s house wisely by exposing, then overcoming these traps, one day at a time.