Education & Clergy Development welcomes Michael Blue as the new contributor to the financial domain of clergy care for Thrive in 5. Michael serves as the executive director and general counsel for The Ron Blue Institute for Financial Planning. The Ron Blue Institute “delivers biblically-based financial wisdom to the body of Christ by providing thought leadership and content through church, professional, consumer and academic channels.” We welcome Michael’s financial expertise and wisdom for our Wesleyan clergy.

Five Simple Financial Principles

The keys to financial health and responsibility are not that complicated. But so many people, including clergy, struggle to make their finances work. Why? I believe that people fail to apply what they know intuitively will work in finances because they don’t think enough about why they are doing it. In other words, they fail to focus on the motivating reasons behind their behavior.

We teach five simple principles for financial health and responsibility. They aren’t hard to understand, but they can be hard to consistently practice. Let’s look at the five principles and why we should follow them.

Principle #1: Spend less than you earn: You’re probably thinking, “Really? Does this need to be stated?” Amazingly, as simple as this sounds, very few people actually consistently spend less money than they make. There are a lot of reasons this happens, but, more often than not, the reason we overspend is that we aren’t willing to say no to ourselves or just aren’t paying attention to our spending.

I think we can all agree that this is a worthwhile principle to follow. But why? God has created us to work and given us work to do; the work we do is how we are to provide for ourselves and our families. When we fail to respect the boundaries of our paychecks, we are robbing work of some of its inherent value. We are telling God that the work he gave us to do is insufficient to provide for the lifestyle that we want. We are dishonoring our work and the lifestyle God has provided. Now, don’t get me wrong, there may be bad jobs or times when you need to change jobs. But until you do so, understand that the work you have been given to do is a gift from God. One way you demonstrate your thankfulness is by living inside the confines of the income of that job.

Principle #2: Give generously: This is one as Christians we know we should practice. However, like the first principle, very few Christians give generously. I don’t know how you define generous giving, but when Christians on average give about 2.5 percent of their income, I think it is safe to say that we aren’t very generous. Especially considering the fact that we’re some of the richest people to have ever walked on earth, it is pretty pitiful.

So why should we be generous? There are a lot of reasons why we should give, but I want to focus on one – giving changes what we love. Literally. Matthew 6:21 tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where we spend our money will drive what we love. If we want to have a heart for the things of God, God tells us to use our money on those things. Doing so will actually change the inclination of our heart. It will change our loves. If you struggle with materialism and coveting things, begin to practice giving money to those with much less and just watch God change your heart. Giving is one of the most strategic uses of money that can incline our hearts more toward God. Simply put, if you want more of God, give more to the things of God!

Principle #3: Avoid debt: Is this even possible? We seem to live in a world where debt is everywhere. However, the Bible is very clear that having debt is dangerous spiritually and physically. Therefore, we should do everything we can to avoid debt whenever possible and seek to get out from under debt when we have it. The big “why” with debt is that taking on debt usually removes the opportunity for us to learn to rely on God as our provider. When we take on debt, we are putting someone else in God’s place and cutting off the need for God to provide – we have taken matters into our own hands. None of us want to cut off the faith building reliance that waiting on God produces. Debt often does this. So, be very careful as to when and how you use debt.

Principle #4: Maintain margin: Margin is simply having some room in our monthly (and yearly) budgets for the unexpected to occur. Without margin, when something unexpected happens it can wreck our finances. The “why” here is pretty easy to see. Margin lets us breathe. We all need margin in every area of our lives to be healthy. When our margin runs thin, so does our ability to deal with stress. This is true in our finances as well. When we run out of margin, any hiccup will cause unnecessary stress. The amount of margin we can create in our budgets will define our financial health. It doesn’t matter how much money we make, if we have no margin, we will experience significantly more stress and be in a much less flexible position to follow God’s promptings to be generous.

Principle #5: Set long-term goals: This principle seems a little out of place. However, this is a really important principle, because when we fail to think long-term, we only make short-sighted decisions and don’t keep the most important things in view. When we have a long-term view, we can make more mature decisions today. The biggest “why” behind this principle is that thinking long-term helps us become people who live today in light of eternity. If we made financial decisions based on eternity instead of based on next year or even 30 years from now, we would make radically different financial decisions. If eternity is real (and it is), then we should live today as if it is. That means making financial decisions with that reality in mind. This changes everything!

These five principles are all very easy to understand but can be hard to maintain. I encourage you to focus on the “why” behind them and use those as motivators to move toward financial health and responsibility. As a pastor, you know that we serve a big God. Trust him to do what he says he will when we are obedient in the use of our money.

Financial contributor: Michael Blue serves as the executive director and general counsel for The Ron Blue Institute for Financial Planning.

To learn more about these five principles, see the following resources:

The Ron Blue Institute

Financial Hope: Find Freedom in Your Finances Through God’s Word, a brand new eight-part Bible study by Michael Blue

Giving is the Good Life: The Unexpected Path to Purpose and Joy, a new book on giving by Randy Alcorn

Giving Together, a giving small group experience by John Rinehart

Good and Faithful: Ten Stewardship Lessons for Everyday Living, a Bible study by Gary Hoag

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle