Financial Peace University, MB Foundation resources popular options
By Myra Holmes
“(Discipleship) has to impact the way we use our resources or else we’re really not putting our money where our mouth is,” says Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry for U.S. Mennonite Brethren.
Wiebe points out that pretty much every area of discipleship has implications for stewardship. Loving a neighbor, for example, might mean giving to the church’s benevolent fund, buying some groceries or loaning a car. “It really comes down to what we are doing with our money, with our time, with our resources,” he says.
It follows, then, that USMB congregations should be teaching and equipping attendees in this area.
And they are. Wiebe, who travels extensively throughout the USMB constituency, observes “a fresh wind” of interest in stewardship, especially when framed in the language of generosity. It’s “a different way to talk about it,” he says—not about obligation and duty but about a generous spirit.
Wiebe believes this is more than the latest trend; he sees a substantial willingness to lean in against the consumerism of American culture and obey Scripture. “It’s not a fad,” he says. “It’s an openness, a willingness to teach the full Word of God.”
So what’s the best way for churches to encourage and teach a biblical approach to money?
Financial Peace one popular option
One common approach is to use pre-packaged curriculum. Among the many courses available, one that seems especially popular with USMB congregations, if church bulletins and newsletters are any indicator, is Financial Peace University, a nine-week DVD-based course offered by Dave Ramsey. (See www.daveramsey.com/fpu.)
The course is divided into 90-minute sessions, each including DVD teaching followed by discussion and hands-on activities. Through the course, Ramsey encourages “baby steps” toward sound financial management, such as setting up an emergency fund or cutting credit cards, all aimed at eliminating debt and building financial freedom. Participants purchase a membership kit with class materials, resources and workbooks for a suggested price of $109.
User-friendly curriculum an attractive option
A clear advantage of using any curriculum is a certain ease of use, and USMB congregations that have chosen Financial Peace University say this resource is especially user-friendly, both for the hosting church and for those taking the class.
Churches say the logistics of hosting the course are straightforward and simple. Hosting just requires a meeting room, tables and chairs, podium or music stand, a DVD player or projector and a leader. Some congregations find that offering the course on Sunday afternoons fits well in their church life.
At Laurelglen Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif., church leaders chose Financial Peace over other options because they found it to be engaging and because the small, practical steps are attractive. “The DVD series is a big plus for the motivation,” says church administrator Fred Ramirez.
MBF’s Wiebe agrees that Ramsey’s easy-to-relate-to style is a strength of the program. He notes that even the best financial coursework misses the mark if it doesn’t “grab the heart for life change.”
Jim Gift, of Neighborhood Church, Visalia, Calif., where the course has been offered continuously since April 2009, says, “Financial Peace University is simple, the steps are easy to follow and practical, it is based upon Scripture, has tremendous online support, is common sense—and it works.”
Transforming lives seen as clear plus
Fans of Financial Peace University point to changed lives as a clear plus for the program. Facilitators share anecdotes of participants who cut up credit cards, handle a crisis like a car breakdown without panic, talk about money with their spouse with fewer arguments or give more than they were able to before.
Bob and Tiffany Dick of First MB Church, Wichita, Kan., were married nine years when they took Financial Peace for the first time. By applying what they learned in the course, they paid off student loans, became debt-free except for their home and built an emergency fund—all of which prepared them to weather an unexpected season of unemployment and relocation to Wichita. They now facilitate Financial Peace courses at First MB, and Tiffany has begun a second career in financial planning.
“We’ve seen how a simple class on money can really transform lives,” Tiffany says. “It’s changed ours, and it has been such a blessing to be able to help others, too.”
Reasons for caution
But one size doesn’t always fit all.
Wiebe has some concerns about Financial Peace, especially as he thinks of outfitting USMB congregations. For one thing, he says, one key motivator in Financial Peace seems to be wealth and riches. “I’ve never seen him (Ramsey) back off from that,” Wiebe says.
A scan of the titles and subtitles of some of Ramsey’s popular books reveals phrases like: 91 Days to Beat Debt and Build Wealth, A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Abundance, or Cool Tools For Training Tomorrow's Millionaires.
Some in the larger evangelical community have criticized Ramsey’s personal riches—his net worth is estimated at $55 million—and his assumptions about wealth. In November 2013, Ramsey’s comments on a blog post titled, “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” [http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/20-things-the-rich-do-every-day ] and author Rachel Held Evans’s response in a CNN blog, “What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong About Poverty,” [http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/30/what-dave-ramsey-gets-wrong-about-poverty/ ] sparked an online debate about whether biblical financial management results in wealth.
Wiebe says that, while biblical principles will result in financial health—which may mean having more—wealth is never a biblical motivation. “(Financial stewardship) is about a life of worship,” he says. Because money management is first an issue of the heart, following even the best principles for the wrong reasons may not honor God.
Tithing is a start
Secondly, Wiebe takes issue with the way Ramsey talks about tithing, which Ramsey seems to cap at 10 percent. While Ramsey does talk often about giving, Wiebe senses that he views a tithe as an obligation —as if once a family has given that 10 percent, they are free to do what they want with the rest.
“A tithe is a great place to start but a terrible place to stop,” Wiebe says. He prefers to teach a proportional giving model that encourages an ever-increasing capacity to give.
“It’s all God’s,” Wiebe says. “A generous spirit won’t ask how little can I give and get away with it, but rather be growing in every area.”
While First MB’s Tiffany Dick doesn’t agree that Ramsey limits giving to 10 percent, she points out that few Christians actually tithe 10 percent, so on one hand, “We’d be doing quite well to see most just achieving this ‘cap.’”
Gift, of Neighborhood in Visalia, agrees with Dick. Since only the smallest percentage of Christians tithe and the vast majority do not live according to a budget, learning basic budgeting and tithing will make a huge impact. “What would happen if God’s people got out of debt and started giving?” Gift asks.
Wiebe also questions Ramsey’s urging to negotiate for every purchase—which, if taken to the extreme, could damage Christian witness—and an assumption in Ramsey’s Legacy Journey material that all estate resources should be left to children.
Pastor Mike Petts discovered another ill-fitting area when his church, Salem MB Church, rural Bridgewater, SD, offered Financial Peace classes last fall. Petts says that farmers—a huge part of Salem’s congregation and community—had trouble relating to the principles, especially the emphasis on no debt. “Farmers have to constantly get in and out of debt to buy machinery or land,” he says.
A more customized approach
Because of these gaps in Financial Peace, Wiebe does not recommend Ramsey’s curriculum as the foundation of a church’s stewardship education. “I would recommend other material first,” he says.
Wiebe suggests Crown Financial, an in-depth curriculum that emphasizes discipleship; Good Sense, which he says is both theologically sound and appealing; or material from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries, which grounds financial advice with deep theology. In addition, he recommends material from authors Andy Stanley, Chip Ingram and Matt Bell. The MBF website contains links to many of these resources.
But before a congregation invests in any pre-packaged material, Wiebe recommends that church leaders consider the needs of their congregation when deciding the best way to teach stewardship and generosity.
Such an evaluation begins with an honest look at the church leadership and the church budget. Are the leaders personally modeling generosity? Does the church operate under debt? Does the church give a “firstfruits” offering to missions, the community and the denominational family?
If the church leaders and the church budget don’t model good financial management, any coursework offered will be empty, Wiebe points out. “Leaders need to lead well.”
Beyond that, a church should look at motivation, expectations and what has already been done, then consider practical concerns, such as the size of the church and the church calendar. It may not be reasonable, for example, for a small congregation with an already-full calendar to add a nine-week course.
Thinking through these issues will often result in a more customized approach to stewardship education.
Resources from MBF
And MBF is happy to help congregations as they work it out. After all, Wiebe points out, one of MBF’s goals is championing biblical stewardship—resourcing local congregations so that church leaders can take it from there.
The MBF website provides links to a number of resources, like their monthly devotional, past teaching campaigns including Advent Conspiracy and The Genius of Generosity and recommended material from established experts.
For even more customized help, Wiebe and MBF staff members are available for consultations with church leaders and for preaching and teaching on stewardship. Wiebe would gladly field queries from church leaders about how to equip their congregation in the area of stewardship—to help them put their money where their mouth is. “If we really care about people’s discipleship, we have to talk about (money),” he says.
To contact MBF, call 800-551-1547 or email Wiebe at email@example.com.—Myra Holmes
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