Seminary’s Finances Course Raises Congregation’s Giving 26%
Article by: Julie-Allyson Ieron
Northern Seminary grad Eddie Smith, now senior pastor of Tuxedo Park Baptist Church, Indianapolis, IN, is seeing God do an unexpected work in his congregation, as a result of a finances course he took during his studies at Northern.
Smith recalls, “I was receiving a scholarship from Bellevue Heights Church Foundation. Because I was an adult student with a family, scholarships meant everything.” When the Foundation offered him the opportunity to take the Faith and Finances intensive course, he jumped at the chance. “They were going to buy the books and pay for the class,” which was an offer he couldn’t refuse. It also met a need he’d observed among fellow seminarians.
Pastoring is Smith’s second career; his first career was in insurance and finance. “At seminary, they teach us how to exegete the Bible like crazy, but you have students there who don’t know how to balance a checkbook. Then you take these students, put them in a church setting and say, ‘Here’s a quarter of a million dollar budget, balance it.’ Then you wonder why people fail. I was glad to see the seminary talk about finances.”
According to visiting professor Dr. Gary Hoag, the course was developed at the request of Northern’s leaders. “Northern Seminary and the Ron Blue Institute at Indiana Wesleyan University asked me to build a course, Faith and Finances: A Stewardship Curriculum for Schools and Churches. In 2015, they got a supplemental grant [from Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis] and asked me to produce 12 videos to correspond with the 12 lessons.”
The substance of the course, taught first at Northern as a two-weekend intensive, centers around:
- God’s Word on Financial Management;
- The Three Primary Uses of Money;
- Financial Skills of Faithful Stewards;
- Best Practices for Marriage, Family and Ministry.
For Smith, those two weekends spent studying finances and the Word with his fellow seminarians were transformational. He says the most impactful content initiated in him a freshened understanding of stewardship—Old Testament stewardship.
“I now see finances as resources God has given to us to be a steward over. That’s given me a different perspective. As someone who has gone to church his whole life, you think about Malachi chapter 3 [vv 6-12]. It becomes rote. It’s like ABCs. But going through an Old Testament study of stewardship highlighted the fact that giving is a heart issue and a head issue. Because of the course, I can show you from the beginning of the Bible the implications of being stewards of God’s resources and not our own. Now, I’m not just appealing to someone’s heart, but also their head.”
To members of his congregation he now says, “This is your Bible, right? You believe it? Let me show you how God feels about finances. Proper stewardship is up to you.” This approach, which he brings into the pulpit and into what he calls “short homilies” before the offering, has borne fruit. His congregation has seen annual giving increase by 26% as he’s shown them from the Word just how God expects us to handle the resources He entrusts to us. He points out that all of what we have comes from God; so giving back to Him from our hearts shouldn’t be a sacrifice, it should be a privilege.
Transformed Family Life
It’s not just his congregation that’s benefited from Smith taking the course; his young-adult sons also are seeing an impact. Smith gets choked up when he recalls looking out during offering times on Sundays, “I’ve seen my sons take their electronic cards and swipe them [we have electronic giving]. Not just that, my 18-year-old son has a savings account that would rival some of my clients when I was selling insurance. My sons can go out at 21, 19, 18 and live and be OK. That’s how it’s changed my family. They’ll carry this for the rest of their lives.”
Smith also notes that the structure of the course: reading assignments, teaching time, interaction and accountability among students, and a one-on-one meeting with Hoag to present his personal budget enhanced the content and drove it home. “This course made you look at yourself. We had to bring a budget in front of Dr. Hoag. It was a stark reminder for me of where I’m headed and what I need to have in place to get there—to not be sidetracked. It helped me focus. That accountability helped put in place different points of reference—or benchmarks—to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.”
Transformed Congregational Life
One other key principle from the two-weekend intensive has been especially transformative for his congregation. “Jesus and Paul say, ‘Give according to how God has given to you.’ You can’t do that if you’re bogged down and saddled with debt. So being debt-free is a big thing. I’ve taken that over into the church. The church I came into was debt-free. But there have been opportunities for us to grow faster by taking on debt. One of the things we discussed in Faith and Finances was the fact that the early church was able to thrive and help the widows, orphans, and poor, because they didn’t have debt.
“How can you be effective in the kingdom, if you’re raising money just to put into the debt? I took that to heart. So all the capital-improvement projects our church is doing we remember that the only way we can be effective is being debt-free. That’s how we have a thriving food pantry, a clothing center—and a lot of ministries we’ve been able to take to our community. Either we trust God or we don’t, right?”
The example of this church’s stewardship is becoming a model for others. Hoag wrote about Tuxedo Park in a letter to Lilly Endowment: “God’s breathing new life into this 102-year-old church. Others in his denomination are asking what he is doing, and in part he’s shared the impact of these materials. While his peers are closing churches, his is growing. Your investment in a tool has transformed many lives.”
Your continued support—in prayers and gifts—makes that training possible for all our students at Northern. Thank you for your continued generosity.
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