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They Can Preach, but Can They Fundraise?

STH requiring personal and institutional finance class for many students

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So this pastor goes into a stockbroker’s office. (Stay with us; this is not a setup for a joke.) Needing money for a new church roof, he knows nothing about the broker except that he’s a congregant and loaded. “I suppose you’re here to ask me for money,” the broker says. “I only come to church now and then. You didn’t know that I’ve got an 88-year-old mother in a nursing home,” plus a granddaughter in drug rehab and another relative with a special-needs child.

“I don’t give them anything,” the broker says. “What makes you think I’ll give you anything?”

This real-life encounter happened to Rev. Bert White, now a School of Theology lecturer, during his days pastoring a Boston-area church. White teaches a new course on financial literacy for future ministers and nonprofit leaders. Thomas Gallen, a colleague and guest lecturer during a recent class, dredged up the story to reinforce the point of the course: aspiring shepherds of the faith must also be good shepherds of money, from fundraising to reading spreadsheets.

Starting this fall, the course, STEWARD—short for Stewardship Thinking, Economic Wellbeing, and Reduction of Debt—is mandatory for all STH master’s degree students receiving financial aid from BU, “which is almost all of them,” says Bryan Stone, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism and associate dean for academic affairs. Expanding the requirement to include all STH master’s students is under review.

STEWARD consists of seven classes; three deal with personal finance and three with institutional issues like fundraising and budgeting. The final class covers “stewardship more broadly,” from caring for the environment to caring for one’s body, Stone says.

White’s run-in with the broker—and indeed, the class’ overall subject—discomfited several students, who said they hope to guide people spiritually, not shake them down.

One asked Gallen, executive director of the Preachers’ Aid Society of New England, about the “icky feeling” attached to asking for money. (Nurture personal relationships with donors first, advised Gallen, whose organization supports Methodist ministers and congregations.) Another student, musing that it didn’t seem “genuine” to research wealthy congregants, asked about a website he’d heard about that lists the value of people’s homes. (“That website is Zillow,” White said, obviously having learned his lesson about doing his financial homework.)

Hope Hamilton (STH’16) worried that “there’s such a fine line between being grateful and greedy.” How, she wondered, does fundraising square with the Gospel? White shot back, “The gospel I’m concerned with is keeping the church alive,” a goal that requires money.

If the students’ reluctance about money and White’s clerical collar don’t tip off a visitor that this isn’t your standard business class, the classroom itself might. The course is held in the basement community center that STH uses for larger get-togethers; it has a kitchen in one corner and colorful prints on the walls. The program—at BU and at about 20 seminaries across the country—is funded by the Lilly Endowment to teach debt-strapped theology students about personal finance, Stone says. STH added some institutional finance instruction “so that the people we graduate who are going to be leaders can read an income statement or balance sheet.

“So many people graduate without even being able to know the basics of that, or even the basics of budgeting,” he says. Yet “many of our future pastors will find themselves in parishes where they’re responsible for doing a lot of the planning and budgeting.”

STH has offered administration courses in the past, but has never required them for graduation. The United Methodist Church, where most clergy-bound students at historically Methodist STH wind up, does not mandate financial literacy for ordination. “I don’t know of any denominations that require it, but all of them should, frankly, and STEWARD is a really good step forward,” says the Rev. Robert Allan Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel and an STH professor, who teaches administration at STH.

As for Bert White, he finished telling his students the story Gallen had begun about that stockbroker. After confirming that the broker had told him the truth about his family’s problems, he went back and put a precise number on the table: “I’m here to ask for $40,000 for the slate roof for the church on Common Street.”

The broker “wrote me a check for $40,000,” White told the students. Donors “need to know how much of their money you want.” Jesus may have advised his followers to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” but he never had to pay for a new roof.

5 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

5 Comments on They Can Preach, but Can They Fundraise?

  • Pauline Jennett on 11.19.2014 at 6:09 am

    As an STH graduate, I am thrilled to hear about this new addition to the curriculum. It is essential to the long term viability of the Church. Kudos!

  • King Anonymous on 11.19.2014 at 8:03 am

    Keeping the church alive may depend on money, keeping your faith alive does not!

  • King Anonymous on 11.19.2014 at 8:03 am

    When I read this thought-provoking article, I could not think to remember a great song by Genesis entitled: Jesus, He Knows Me

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EprQGmZ3Imw

  • anonymous on 11.19.2014 at 8:29 am

    Perhaps they should watch the excellent documentary film Marjoe. It chronicles a preacher and the money side of the church. Great movie.

  • Zvi Bodie on 11.20.2014 at 8:05 am

    Bert White is doing the Lord’s work. I hope that his course becomes available to all STH students.

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