Q&A: Fixing our financial mistakes

Amie Streater believes that Christians in general are bad with money and have a hard time fixing their mistakes. As pastor for financial stewardship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., Ms. Streater has her own experiences with debt to share with those she counsels.

She recently spoke with new media associate Liz Applegate about the no-nonsense, biblical and sometimes humorous approach to finances in her new book, Your Money, God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke (Thomas Nelson).

You share the story of your family living beyond its means. Was it easy to convince your husband that changes needed to be made? What was his reaction?
He does not enjoy talking about money. He wants me to hand him cash once a month, tell him it’s OK and walk away. We operated like that for years in our marriage, and it seemed it was working. We never fought over money. But deep down I think he knew that I was glossing over our finances, that I was spending too much. But it was up to me to add it all up and have that moment [of realization].

He found me on my knees crying and asked what was wrong. I said, “We are in debt again, and it’s really bad.” We had gotten in and out of debt many times. And he said, “We are going to get out, one more time. And we are going to do it together, and it’s going to be OK. God has to have a better way and we are going to find out what it is.”

Every marriage will have one defining moment when it comes to their finances. Usually one spouse has more of a hand in the downfall; not always, but usually. And when you react with anger, blaming and finger pointing, it does damage, even if it is justified. We had a great marriage before this happened, but now we are bulletproof. He knows now to question, to ask, to not always say yes to everything that I want.

What advice would you give to a person in a relationship whose “other half” resists making needed changes in their financial situation?
That is very common. See a financial planner and have a neutral third party paint a picture of where the family is headed. Have someone say, “If you continue on this path, this is where you are going to be in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years—and this is where you are going to be into retirement.” If you have to nag someone to get a turnaround, you are not going to get a real turnaround. Both people have to be equally engaged, both have to decide they want this. So, if you can get a third party to sell the concept of financial health, it can be very helpful.

If a person still doesn’t want to change their behavior, then you need to sit down with a pastor and maybe even a professional counselor, someone to help root out those behaviors. That is why I wrote it [the book]. Once you find out what is the root of what is causing the financial behavior, it’s going to be a lot more effective.

You write that Christians have a harder time fixing their financial mistakes than any other group. Why is this so?
Because typically Christians have spiritual reasons as to why they do what they do. We, as believers, try not to just do anything for our own selfish gain, for our own reasons. So getting someone to admit that their application of the Scripture to the situation is wrong—that is really difficult. Christians get very defensive and very self-righteous when you try to talk to them on that level. We tend to use one Scripture and latch onto it and use it as an excuse.

Your book reveals seven money myths that keep Christians broke. Which of these myths crops up most frequently?
With Christians, enabling is very common. We want to be good, we want to help people in need and we are not comfortable asking the difficult questions. When you are dealing with an enabler, it is very hard to convince them that it is OK to say no. You cannot say yes to everyone, you have to use wisdom and discernment. Giving and blessing are what we like to talk about, but if you don’t ask those hard questions, you are only feeding someone else’s bad behavior.

And then there’s the “Scarlett O’Hara Syndrome.” That is what I dealt with. You know, “I will think about it tomorrow. I’m running to the mall with my credit card and God will provide when the bill comes.” We cannot put God’s name to our impulsiveness and our recklessness.

Fall is when many United Methodist churches hold their stewardship campaigns. What advice would you have for these churches as they plan their campaigns and talk about money with their congregations?
“Stewardship” means money management, and I think churches have the responsibility to educate people on how to manage their money. And they need to do it boldly and with a clean heart. We are doing our congregations a great disservice if we don’t teach them what the Bible says about money.

Once we equip our people, they are going to give as God calls them to give. Which means they are going to tithe and give over and above the tithe. But to not teach them biblical principles and then to ask them to bless and support the church, it’s almost like [saying] “I want you to run a marathon, but I’m not going help you get in shape.”

If you train them and you get them healthy, you are not even going to have to ask. If we got behind the concept of true stewardship, we could get to a place where Christians will automatically tithe as a function of their faith.

Let’s talk about tithing for a moment. That’s a tough subject for any pastor to talk about.
Tithing is not for the benefit of the church; tithing is about the benefit of the family. And that goes back to what the pastor believes about tithing. “If I can get these people on fire for being a part of what God is doing and what the Bible says about giving our first fruits, he has promised he will bless our socks off.”

It is the one place in the Bible that God has asked us to challenge him. Tithing is one of the most powerful things Christians can do to get our finances in line with God, and it’s a biblical mandate.

This country is in tough economic times, with a lot of uncertainty surrounding jobs. What are the challenges people face today in managing their money God’s way?
The worst decisions anyone can make are fear-based decisions. We have to be very careful to guard our hearts against adopting that spirit of fear of the economy. Now more than ever it’s important to save, save, save. It’s important to be a good employee. We have to be hyper-aware of the choices we are making, but when we get that fear mentality that we have to hoard and say, “I can’t give this month,” it’s a very unhealthy mindset.

Can you share a few stories of people who have moved into financial freedom?
One that is dear to my heart: A breadwinner took an ethical stand at work and then lost his job about a month later. It really created a lot of “Why, God?” moments for him. It was painful to watch. They used up all of their savings and unemployment was about ready to run out.

About a year into his unemployment, I said, “We need to start thanking God for the blessings that are to come. Do you know that God intends good for you?” And he said, “Yes, I can believe God intends good for me.” So I told him, “Let’s just start praising God for the blessings that are to come. He knows you need a job, he knows you need provisions, but we also know good things are to come.” About three months later, he got an incredible job.

It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to ask God, “Why?” It’s OK to jump up and down and cry and whine. But then at some point you have to wash your face, get up and get over it.

And that’s the point when you have to say: “I believe in the very core of who you made me to be, that you intend good for me and I’m going to start praising you right now for the blessings I know you have for me. I am going to do everything I can do to make it happen and I am going to trust that you are hearing my prayers.” It just does something in your spirit and something in your relationship with God.

Published originally at The United Methodist Reporter
October 15, 2010