Preparing for a Financial Emergency

chicklet-currencyToday is the first day of classes for the spring semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is my twenty-third convocation and the start of my twelfth year at SWBTS. For the last few years I have taught Family and Church Financial Stewardship each spring semester. This class has quickly become one of my favorites because I get to see the lives of my students impacted almost every week. This is not my typical seminary class. There is no research paper. I use a number of guest speakers. The newspaper is one of my textbooks. However, it is probably the most practical course I teach.

One of the assignments I require for Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a quick review of a couple news articles each week that address financial issues. This requires my students to stay up to date on the news beyond yesterday’s basketball scores or any recent developments at the White House. I want them to be aware of the financial side of the news. We even talk about some of these articles on a regular basis.

In order to practice what I preach, I just came across an article from CNN Money this morning that states most Americans would be unable to cover an emergency expense of $1,000. Kathryn Vasel reports, “Only 39% of Americans say they would be able to pay for a $1,000 unplanned expense, according to new report from Bankrate.”

The article goes on to report how often American households have these emergency expenses. Vasel writes, “Unexpected bills aren’t uncommon. More than one-third of households had a major unplanned expense last year, the survey showed, with half of those costing at least $2,500.” Unfortunately, the typical American household is unprepared for such an expense and places it on the credit card. Such an approach only complicates matters because high interest rates on credit cards mean you pay even more for this unexpected expense.

The article suggests a few practical tips for building your savings in order to cover an emergency expense.

  1. Set aside money to save before you start spending your paycheck.
  2. Start the habit of saving early in life.
  3. Separate your emergency fund from the money you spend in your checking account.
  4. Find a good savings account.

Seminary students are not immune to these same problems.We joke around the seminary that students are as poor as Job’s turkey (I’m not sure how poor Job’s trukey was, but after the events of Job 1-2, it must have been rough). I surmise that the figure is actually worse among seminary students regarding their ability to cover a $1,000 expense in an emergency. And then students begin a cycle of debt that can cripple their future ministries.

My goal in the stewardship class is to give students hope for their financial future and tools to help them be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to them. This is not a class about getting rich. It is a class about serving God with our financial resources. God owns it all anyway, so we are simply managers of his resources.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
Psalm 24:1

Family and Church Financial Stewardship

Stewardship Class PromoEven though I have spent most of my academic career teaching courses on ethics, one of my favorite courses that I teach is actually in the realm of stewardship. STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a fun class to teach because I get to see my students implement the concepts they are learning on a weekly basis.

As you can tell by the title, the course covers two major areas of financial stewardship–the family and the church. In the first half of the class, we consider what the Bible says about financial stewardship and how to apply those truths to our lives. We also handle some of the unique components of financial management for ministers including housing allowance and ministerial taxes.

The most practical assignment for this section of the class is the family budget analysis. Students are required to track every expense for two months, categorize those expenses, and then analyze their expenses. This is the first step to building a workable budget. Many of my students have never tracked and analyzed their expenses, so this is the first time they get a clear picture of how they use their money. Students are regularly surprised by what they find and begin making changes immediately.

When we transition to the part of the class on church financial stewardship, the focus is on how to build a church budget and how to protect the church’s money. New seminary graduates often do not have the luxury of going to churches with multiple staff members where someone takes care of the finances. In most cases, the new pastor also has responsibility of managing the budget with the assistance of a volunteer committee. For that reason, it is imperative that they learn how to budget for the church.

In addition, protecting the church’s money is also a crucial element. I once heard a friend of mine who is a church administrator say, “If you serve at a church that collects money, someone is trying to steal it.” The longer I have been around churches, the more I realize he is correct. Whether it is someone taking coins out of the soda machine or a staff member embezzling millions of dollars, the reality is that our churches’ money is vulnerable. Therefore, we need policies in place to help protect money and promote integrity in the handling of money.

As you can see, this class covers a wide range of topics related to financial stewardship. My students are also thankful that they do not have to listen to just me for the semester. This semester’s guests include John Cortines, co-author of God and Money (one of our textbooks), Stephen Osborne, senior relationship manager at Guidestone Financial Resources, and David Hain, executive pastor at Birchman Baptist Church.

I encourage as many students as possible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take this class. The class is offered on Tuesday/Thursday at 1:00-2:15 this semester. I also just received approval to offer it in our flexible access format so that students can take it without being on campus. If you are interested in the class, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

It’s Been a Long Time: Reflections on Ten Years at SWBTS

320px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29This week I will attend my twenty-first convocation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. January 1 marked my tenth anniversary at SWBTS. Over the last couple of months my wife and I have reflected on the last ten years in Texas and one point that keeps coming back up is the fact that we are still in our first post-seminary ministry. Compared to many of our seminary classmates, this is unusual.

A couple of years ago, Lifeway conducted a survey on pastoral tenure. It found that the average tenure of a pastor at a church is 3.6 years.[1] I’m not sure of the average length of time a professor stays at a seminary, but I have seen enough come and go through the years to know that transition happens on a fairly regular basis.

When I arrived at SWBTS in January 2007, I was a young 28-year-old fresh off comprehensive exams from my PhD coursework. I had a little teaching experience and a little bit more administrative experience. I jumped into the administrative side of things from day one and started teaching that fall. I’ve worn more hats at SWBTS than I can remember. I’ve had to request new business cards more often than most people. And I can rarely get through my current list of titles (of which my business card has four and one is now wrong), much less the ones I no longer hold.

How is this different than many of my seminary classmates? Some of them are easily at their third or fourth ministry assignment in the last ten years. A few may have even passed five or six. This is not to say that something is wrong with them. In many cases, God has led them to new ministry assignments for specific purposes. In some cases, the current ministry was too burdensome and a new opportunity was in order. In a handful of cases, the lure of a larger ministry with more influence has pulled them away from an otherwise effective ministry.

In my case, I have been able to work along steadily in the same place for a decade. I’ve had opportunities to perform different roles at the same institution, so that probably makes my ministry a little different than many pastors. However, I still feel that there has been great benefit in staying as long as I have. Here are just a few:

  1. Stability for my family. When we first arrived in Fort Worth, we knew just a couple of people. We set out to make new friends as our own family continued to grow. I’ll never forget one couple at our church who were hesitant to get too close because they feared that we would move on in a couple of years just like the other seminary families they had known. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had not come to SWBTS for school but to serve. We’re still friends today. The result of this longevity has been that my family has been able to plant roots that continue to grow deeper. Three of our four children are native-born Texans. They have enjoyed friendships with other children from their earliest memories just as I did. This is important for us as a family.
  2. Long-term investment. A few semesters ago I was teaching a night class when an older gentlemen in the class shared a memory from years earlier. He told me that he had been in my very first seminary class approximately eight years earlier. I cringed a little. I shared with him that I hoped this class was better than that one. He laughed and said that he didn’t remember much about the class except that we spent a lot of time working through Scripture (I was so relieved to hear that!). Through the years I have seen many students come and go, but I especially enjoy the opportunity to have some of them more than once in class. There are a few students with whom I remain in contact after their graduation. No matter where they go, they know where to find me. Investing in others over the long term is what my boyhood pastor encouraged me to do just months before he died.
  3. Personal growth. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Staying at the same ministry has forced me to grow. I can’t impress people at SWBTS with my skill set because they’ve seen it for years. As a result, I have been forced to grow as a professor, mentor, administrator, and colleague. This takes time and more effort than most of us would care to admit.
  4. Constant learning. Related to personal growth is the fact that staying in one place for a long time requires constant learning. Just the other day, my wife and I were talking with another couple about how much I read and study. I told them that I read more today than I did during PhD coursework. This is required to stay abreast of the changes in my discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I should. There is always more to learn. Had I moved on to another ministry every few years, I might have been able to get by with less, but now I have to strive for more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten years at SWBTS and look forward to this eleventh year with great anticipation. If I were to retire at 73, I could spend 45 years at one place. Who knows if that will happen, but I appreciate the opportunity SWBTS has given me to plant some roots here for the last ten years.

[1] Thom S. Rainer, “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders,” (20 August 2014). Available at

Theological Matters: Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedWhat can our children learn when they lose? In our sports obsessed culture, we have a “win at all costs” attitude. Our children can also pick up on this and forget to learn the lessons of losing in sports. However, there are valuable lessons to be learned. This week, Theological Matters published a post I wrote entitled, “Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing.” In short, I offered 4 lessons that our children can learn when they lose at sports…if we parents will only let them. Those lessons are:

  1. Humility
  2. Perseverance
  3. Learning from your mistakes
  4. Success requires hard work

Check out the full post here.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously . . . And Other Admonitions: Traits for an Effective Administrator

800px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to ask a question I had never heard him answer. I wanted to know what skills and traits he believed are necessary to be an effective academic administrator.

Dr. Patterson is uniquely gifted to address these qualities because he has served as a college or seminary president for over forty years (Criswell College, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). But more interestingly, many people who have served under him have gone on to serve as administrators at other institutions. Some would say that he has launched some of these “sons in the ministry” on their own paths to success in academic administration.

With no advanced preparation or notes, he described to me ten essential traits for an academic administrator (and there was an apparent hierarchy to this list in the order presented below):

  1. Good husband and father. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Patterson’s focus on the priority of the family, it may come as a surprise that this trait lands at the top of the list. However, a family man fits the Pattersonian mold for leadership. In much the same way that Paul describes the pastor as “one who manages his own household well” (1 Tim 3:4), Patterson believes the lessons learned as a good husband and father serve an administrator well. In addition, a man who is faithful to his wife and children demonstrates the commitment to lead with integrity.
  2. Commitment to inerrancy. If one could boil down Patterson’s legacy to a single word, it would be “inerrancy.” The complete truthfulness and authority of the Bible serves as the foundation for everything he does. His work in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention helped change the course of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. If an administrator is not committed to the Word of God, he is not really committed to anything.
  3. A faithful churchman. The local church is vital to the life of every Christian. Unfortunately, some Christians believe that they don’t need the body of Christ. For Patterson, however, he wants to know if you are committed to your local body of believers. Do you support the church with your time and money? Are you plugged into the ministries of the church? Do you exercise your gifts for the edification of the body of Christ? These are essential questions in determining one’s fitness for administration.
  4. Courageous. I have been on the receiving end of a few variations of Patterson’s questioning regarding courage. They are usually posed as ethical dilemmas that require tough decisions. What will you do when you find yourself between Scylla and Charybdis? Will you demonstrate courage or cower in fear? If the candidate lacks courage, then he is not qualified.
  5. Ability to assess himself. This is perhaps the most difficult trait to attain. Those being considered for an administrative post are clearly good at what they do. The question is whether they know what their weaknesses are. If you have an exalted opinion of yourself and cannot assess your own strengths and weaknesses, then you are probably not ready for this type of leadership. Those who can accurately assess themselves will then place people around themselves to supplement areas of weakness.
  6. Good with people. By their very functions, administrators deal with people. An academic administrator may have to wrangle faculty, shepherd students, and engage the community. In addition, some administrators may also be tasked with fundraising. In all of these functions, the administrator will have to interact with people. Some people who transition from faculty to administrator may find this difficult. Faculty are often stereotyped as contemplative, introverted hermits, who think about concepts that the average person cares little about and then cannot understand why they put people to sleep when talking about them. While this may be an unfair mischaracterization, there are elements that hold fairly true. However, an administrator cannot function without good people skills because the job requires interaction with living, breathing human beings, not just books.
  7. Ability to disengage. What do you do for fun? If your answer is to read a book in your academic discipline on an obscure topic, then administration is probably not for you. Patterson is an accomplished hunter with a penchant for showcasing his impressive trophies in his office. For someone else, it might be baseball, fishing, hiking, or another hobby. Because administration requires long hours of deep deliberation, there must be something that helps the administrator turn the switch off for a while. Otherwise, the administrator who cannot disengage will burn out.
  8. Reads widely. This trait and the next go together. Because an administrator deals with faculty across a multitude of disciplines, he must read widely in order to have an intelligent conversation with those outside his academic field. The president of a seminary needs to engage in biblical studies, history, philosophy, ethics, education, music, etc. A university president has an even wider field that includes the sciences, literature, political science, and more. To be an effective administrator in these settings, Patterson contends that you must read beyond your discipline.
  9. Be a generalist. Due to the nature of the job, an administrator does not have the time to devote to intense study within his academic field. As a result, he tends to be a generalist (as demonstrated by the previous trait).
  10. Have a sense of humor. Patterson is notorious for his practical jokes. I have often heard him say that you cannot take yourself too seriously. This does not mean that you have to take great pleasure in seeing a colleague squirm after being the target of a prank (although Patterson finds such a circumstance to be quite enjoyable). What it does mean is that you must have a side that is not so serious. The culture around schools under Patterson’s leadership has always included an undercurrent of humor. And the president is always fair game for a humorous barb. Just watch one of our faculty introduce him at a recent chapel service to see what I mean.