Faith and Finances: A Duet – Not a Duel

Faith and finances can be analyzed and understood by using similar tools

accordion and mariachi guitar duet

There is a strong connection between faith and finances. I was classically trained in economics and spent twelve years in institutional investing and personal financial planning, then graduated from seminary and served four pastorates, a seminary, and a national churchwide organization. 

When people find out about my backgrounds in faith and finances, often I hear a comment “isn’t that like oil and water?”—or—“that’s an extreme switch from one perspective to another.” Normally I’ll smile, then comment that Jesus had a lot to say about stewardship, and even more about the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead of seeing faith and finances locked in a “duel,” I see them sharing a “duet.” 

Finances inform faith

In congregations, there is a very real temptation to default to what is easily measured—the unholy trinity of income vs. expenses, attendance, and deferred maintenance (colloquially, “budgets, butts, and buildings”). We might say something like this: “If there is a 20% growth in attendance, then we can hope for a 15% increase in giving.” But, what might happen if we said, “For next year, we anticipate a 20% growth in personal prayer, and a 15% deeper individual connection with Christ?” 

I have seen robust growth when people apply intentionality around faith in the same way they are intentional about finances. Measuring one’s spiritual practices can lead to surprising outcomes. 

According to Acts 2, the early church focused first on faith: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 

What if we started measuring how much meeting time was spent on faith formation, spiritual growth, and building up the covenant community vs. the time spent on budgets, butts, and buildings (topics addressed by every other non-profit organization)? What if we create space and time for prayer in meetings, and intentionally record how the time was spent? One practice to try is the Examen (from the Latin “examination”).The Examen is an intentional examination for the presence of God in one’s day. It is like a spiritual financial statement—not meant to condemn, but to build awareness. What if congregational leaders focused on faith as intentionally as they focus on finances, and gave a larger space for the Holy Spirit to move and lead?

Faith informs finances

This duet also applies to faith informing finances. What if we studied financial statements the same way we study scripture? Please bear with me—I appreciate that some people’s eyes glaze over when they read numbers (in budgets), and some eyes glaze over when they read Numbers (nestled between Leviticus and Deuteronomy). But what if we used analytical tools to read scripture—specifically the questions “Where is God, and, what is God doing in this?”

This approach with faith informing finances has led to some fascinating discussions. When presented with this lens, I have heard congregational leaders observe “we say we want families to worship here, and Christian Education is important, yet the nursery assistant has been cut from the budget, and the Christian Education budget line is almost a generous rounding error. Something needs to change—we either need to change what we are saying, or literally put our money where our mouth is!” Where is God, indeed!

A duet, not a duel

It is my hope that faith and finances can harmonize—that church leaders can be as intentional in analyzing what happens when faith is formed as they are in analyzing finances. And tools of faith can also be applied to finances when you ask of both, “Where is God, and what is God doing?” 

My suggestion is this harmony applies to how Christians view the world—it is not a duel of faith or finances, it is a duet of faith AND finances. Per Psalm 40, what “new song” might you be called to share and sing?

  • Raymond Bonwell

    Raymond Bonwell is ordained in the PC(USA) with a first career in finance. Raymond is grateful for the friendship and ministry of Dr. Wentzel van Huyssteen (1942-2022), whose inspirational work included “Duet or Duel?: Theology and Science in the Postmodern World” (1998).

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