I had the pleasure of representing SMI at the recent Christian Stewardship Network (CSN) Forum in Dallas.
CSN is an organization for stewardship pastors and directors, providing opportunities to learn more about creating and leading a church-based stewardship ministry. Members gather once a year at the Forum to share best practices, encourage each other, and simply spend time with kindred spirits. SMI was one of the sponsors of this year’s Forum, making use of the unique opportunity to introduce stewardship leaders to our new Multiply study.
We created Multiply partly to fill a void. It’s been our sense that there are no small group or church workshop resources that focus exclusively on investing. Taking part in this year’s CSN Forum only confirmed that sense. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for what an issue that is.
To the person in the pew, it would be easy to get the impression that stewardship is mostly about giving or getting out of debt. But people who work in full-time stewardship ministry will tell you they’d love to be fostering a more holistic approach to stewardship. I like the way Dan Schilling, president and CEO of Compass – Finances God’s Way, prefers to talk about “financial discipleship” than “stewardship.”
To be sure, financial discipleship is about so much more than how much a person gives or whether they have debt. Jesus described money as no less than His chief rival for our heart (Matthew 6:24)!
But even if we keep the topic grounded in the day-to-day practical aspects of money management, investing is one of the more important aspects that’s typically not addressed in church. In the nearly 30 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve never heard a sermon on investing. Never. And churches that address it through their stewardship ministries — if they even have a stewardship ministry—are much more the exception than the rule.
And yet, the need has never been greater. We’re living longer but still retiring around the typical retirement age of 65. That means most people will need a nest egg that helps support them for 20+ years. This is happening at a time when traditional pensions have all but disappeared and schools are just beginning to bring financial teaching into their curricula.
Churches would be wise to teach their people how to invest so they can fulfill their biblical mandate to provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8) — not just during their working years, but for all of their years.
A good starting point would be for churches to assess their people’s investing literacy. My guess is that if they asked the following questions, they would see a very significant need to teach on the topic of investing.
- Have you prayerfully determined your retirement age and that of your spouse?
- Do you know what “asset allocation” means?
- If so, have you figured out your optimal asset allocation?
- Have you used a retirement planning calculator to estimate how much money you may need by the time you retire and how much you should be investing each month in order to get there?
- Are you investing that much each month?
- Do you know what average annual return you need your portfolio to generate in order to meet your goals?
- How are you choosing investments? On your own? With the help of an investment newsletter? With the help of a financial advisor?
- Are you following a specific investment strategy?
- Is your strategy purely objective? In other words, is it based on rules rather than opinions?
- Do you fully understand your strategy? Could you explain it to a middle school student?
- Does your strategy have a solid track record? In other words, has its long-term average annual return been in line with the return you need in order to achieve your goals?
- Is your strategy emotionally acceptable? In other words, are you willing to do what it takes to execute the strategy, and are you comfortable sticking with the strategy no matter what’s happening in the stock market?
Of course, these questions cover just the practical side of investing. But there are significant spiritual and emotional aspects as well — everything from our motivations for building wealth to our willingness to be patient in doing so, and from overcoming fear to trusting in God’s provision.
I’ve been involved in stewardship ministry almost as long as I’ve been a Christian, and one of the first biblical money management lessons I learned is that because everything belongs to God, every financial decision is a spiritual decision. That certainly includes our investing.
To what degree and in what ways do you view your own investing as a spiritual activity? How has your church helped you in this area?