“I fear that whenever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must of necessity produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.”

 

This famous speech from John Wesley points to the fascinating relationship between money and faith. There is often discomfort in the church with addressing the dynamics of money and power. Too often, we overly simplify these complex issues: Church leaders (who have the truth but not power or money) speak truth to leaders (who have power and money, but no truth). Money is evil. God’s people should hate money and have nothing to do with it.

But as we know, these issues are more complex than that. Therefore, it’s no wonder that seminaries struggle to teach “finances” to their students as they wrestle themselves with their financial futures. Seminaries, like their students, are struggling to find a secure financial model that is more sustainable than collection-plate or tuition-driven economies.

So how does a seminary talk about money and mission -- especially its own? Here are some starting points:

  • Do your homework. What is the theology behind your economic story? What are the values and theological principles at stake in your budget conversation? What is your institution’s financial data? Does your financial data tell a theological story?
  • Own the tension between prophets and profits. This polarity is a healthy one. Although prophets and profits are often in tension in the Bible and church history, they don’t have to be. Where do you or your tradition see constructive, faithful models of money and mission? What can you learn from these models? Which biblical texts are instructive?
  • Be politically smart. Nothing creates more tension in the church than transition, especially from one financial model to another. What can church history and your school’s tradition teach your seminary about how these changes can be managed?
  • Turn to your business and financial leaders for wisdom. Some of the church’s top leaders have been negotiating faith and finances for years. They are smart, faithful, and eager to assist theological schools with these matters -- if asked. Don't forget to ask people with significant business and financial acumen to assist with developing your school’s approach to finances.
  • Build your budget to include margins. When theological schools try new programs and experiment with new pedagogical models, these efforts demand “venture capital.” A balanced budget will not get theological schools where they need to go. Margins are needed so that schools can take risks and try new ventures without placing the institution itself at risk. Talking about margins may sound like a fantasy to schools who struggle to balance their budgets, but doing so could have a positive effect on your mission.

How does your school approach the intersection of mission and money? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Image credit: Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: "The Three Wise Men." Detail from: "Mary and Child, surrounded by angels." Photograph by Nina Aldin Thune.