Art Rainer is vice president for Institutional Advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Previously, Rainer served as an administrative pastor of First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach in Florida. He is the author of several books that offer a Christian perspective of finance, including his latest title, Find More Money: Increase Your Income to Tackle Debt, Save Wisely, and Live Generously.
In the following Q&A, conducted by phone, Rainer discusses the reluctance of Christians to talk about money and how Christians can begin thinking with a kingdom mentality about their finances. The transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You’ve now written several books on the intersection of the Christian faith and money. How did you first began thinking of the intersection of faith and money? Was this something that you were always thinking about, or was it something that you realized needed to be discussed?
That’s a really good question. So, coming out of college, I had plans to be a CFP – Certified Financial Planner – and started on that journey. I dove into the world of banking, worked for a few banks. Eventually, I found myself in South Florida in the Fort Lauderdale area working for a bank called Wachovia. My hope being a CFP was simply to help people with their finances. It really wasn’t for personal financial gain. It was just an area that I like helping people with.
So I was down in South Florida for about a year, and I started just feeling simply unsettled in that particular career path. I’d go home and talk to my wife, Sarah, and say, “I just don’t think this is what God has for me. I think that there’s something else.” And she would ask, “Well, what is that ‘something else?’” and I really didn’t know.
One early morning while I was down there, I got a phone call from a guy who had just taken a senior pastor role at a church in West Palm Beach that at the time was called First Baptist Church West Palm Beach but is now called Family Church. He gave me probably the best sales pitch that a person could ever give me, and that was, “I know that you’re down here. Here’s the deal. I can’t guarantee you that you’re always going to get paid. But we’re in a financial mess and we’re going to have a lot of fun trying to turn this thing around.” And in God’s weird way and how he wired me, that was exactly what I needed to hear. So, I actually stepped into full time, vocational ministry that way, but my desire to help people with their finances never, never went away.
“…my goal is to help people understand God’s design for money, that he really does have a design for our finances, and that it can be a means to much more, much more significant, adventure-filled, satisfying end if we align ourselves with that design. And it starts with generosity, it starts with living with hands wide open, saying, ‘God, what do you want me to do with this?'”
Even as an administrative pastor at that church, I would help individuals with their finances. And that’s when I started to see that there was a misunderstanding of finances, that for many people it was the end in and of itself, even in the church, as opposed to a means to a much greater. And so, even now up here in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, I brought that understanding along with me and finally got the opportunity to write about it. And that’s where The Money Challenge (30 Days of Discovering God’s Design For You and Your Money), which is the first book that I wrote on finances, was born.
So yes, I do think that there is a misunderstanding of finances in general that most people treat it as an end in and of itself and that leads people to an end that’s very lacking in satisfaction that often leads to frustration. It continues to put people into a vicious cycle where possessions, material things are seen as the hope as opposed to just stuff. And ultimately those things fail, their “hope” fails. So my goal is to help people understand God’s design for money, that he really does have a design for our finances, and that it can be a means to much more, much more significant, adventure-filled, satisfying end if we align ourselves with that design. It starts with generosity, it starts with living with hands wide open, saying, “God, what do you want me to do with this? With these financial resources you give me I will do with them according to the way that you have laid out in the Scripture, and use them to advance your kingdom, and that will lead to a much more satisfying end than simply money for the sake of money.
Why do you think the topic of money is so difficult to talk about in Christian circles? Not just with tithing, but money and finances in general? What do you think happens when we don’t talk about money in the church? What do we gravitate toward?
I think that we bought into a lie that money is something we should not discuss, that it’s a taboo topic. I think that it’s a lie that Satan has put out there. So, we avoid the topic, we avoid it in churches we avoid it in our homes. And I don’t fault pastors. Many pastors avoid the topic of finances because they simply don’t want to be viewed as a pastor that is using the pulpit for financial gain. So they are concerned about how they will be perceived.
Unfortunately, it is an area that’s often lacking in many churches in terms of discipleship. And I always find it interesting that we’re not afraid to talk and to dive into people’s marriages, work, how their spiritual life is, all these other areas. But when it comes to the topic of money, which Jesus spoke on more than any of the topic while he was here on earth – the topic that God addressed over 2000 times in the Scripture. I believe that it’s a lie that we’ve bought into that has stopped us from discipling in this significant area of our lives. It prevents us from addressing an area that is very tied to our heart.
I also believe that it has prevented us from leveraging resources that God has given us toward a much greater end. So, as an example, and I lay this out in Find More Money, there is an amazing Great Commission opportunity right in front of us. According to recent numbers, we’re in the midst of the great wealth transfer. About $30 trillion is going to be transferred from one generation to the next over the next 20 years. Now, if you assume that 25 percent of Americans are Evangelical Christians (you can debate that number), that means that about $7.5 trillion will be in the hands of Evangelical Christians in America. According to recent numbers, there’s around 3,200 unreached people groups – people that have yet to hear the name of Jesus – around the world. If you assume that it takes $75,000 to reach an unreached people group and that it really takes about 20 years to really engage that unreached people group, then 3,200 [unreached people groups] times $75,000 times 20 years gets us to right around $5 billion. Now, once again, we have $7.5 trillion. The difference between a billion and a trillion is 1000 billion in a trillion. So we’re talking about a drop in the bucket. But we’re not talking about it. We’re not talking about money. We’re not talking about getting out of debt for the purposes of reaching the nations, to those that have never heard the name of Jesus before.
So if you’re telling me that you want to get out of debt and that you want to increase your income, just so that you can do whatever you want with your money, that doesn’t motivate me. What motivates me is the person that wants to get out of debt and wants to increase margin in their budget so that they can be a part of advancing the kingdom around the world. But we have to talk about it. We have to. We have to stop thinking that this topic is something that we should avoid, that’s taboo.
One thing that’s fairly clear in Find More Money is that you encourage people to see money as a tool for blessing others, and that “finding more money” should ultimately be other-centered and not self-centered. There’s actually something “non-American” or “not strictly capitalistic” about that understanding of money. Can you expand on that a bit?
“The idea that we should accumulate as much stuff as possible and have as much money in our bank account as possible, and those things will lead to greater satisfaction, those things will fill that void in our heart – it’s simply a lie.”
The idea that we should accumulate as much stuff as possible and have as much money in our bank account as possible, and those things will lead to greater satisfaction, those things will fill that void in our heart – it’s simply a lie. We often buy into that lie because of what we see on social media, the pictures of people with seemingly everything that a person could want. Everything looks great. But of course, what you can’t see is their heart, what’s going on inside of them. So often, it’s a facade, because if you look at financial statistics in America, often the picture that you’re seeing is propped up by debt. Those things are often propped up by debt, so they don’t even really own those things.
Second, it’s a facade because those things don’t ultimately lead to happiness. That’s not just what you find in Scripture, but there’s also secular research that demonstrates that the way to experience the greatest happiness with finances is to be generous to be more open-handed. That’s because that’s the way God has designed us.
God gives us resources so that we can then help others, so that then we can be generous with what has given us, to show the love of Christ with those resources. And in 1 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to tell those with significant means in his church and I would argue that that’s pretty much everybody in America. I know it doesn’t feel like we have a lot because the margin is often so thin, but the reality is, from a global standpoint, we have significant means. If you make above $33,000, you are in the top 5% of the world’s income. I know that doesn’t feel like a lot. But from a global standpoint, you are incredibly, incredibly wealthy. So what Paul tells Timothy to tell those who have significant means in the church is to not to put hope in their finances, but to be generous, and to be willing to share.
He says to take hold of that which is life. And what he means is to take hold of the present blessings associated with eternal life that we get to experience. Of course, there are future blessings, but there are also present blessings when we align ourselves with God’s design for life in any area, including our finances, we get to experience those blessings when you look at money, and how God has wired us to use those resources. When you live with your hands wide open, saying, “God, whatever you you want me to do with it, I’ll do it.” That’s when you experience the satisfaction, the blessings that God has for you in the here and now with financial resources.
Who is the intended audience for your new book? For example, Millennials more or less have been living the gig lifestyle since we began our professional careers, so some of the guidance you provide may be easier for Millennials than perhaps for other earlier generations.
I wrote The Money Challenge, and then The Marriage Challenge and both of those books deal with the expense side of the financial equation, which most financial books do, especially when you look at books written from a Christian worldview on the topic of money. And there’s good reason for that. For many Americans, that’s the area that they struggle with the most. But what ended up happening was that somebody would read my book and maybe they would come up to me or send me an email and say, “Hey, I love what you’re doing. I love the lens through which you write. But here’s my problem. I don’t necessarily have a lot of debt. I don’t have a ton of expensive frivolous expenses on Disney Plus. I don’t have Netflix. And yet, I’m still struggling to find margin in my budget.” Sometimes to pay off debt, sometimes to put my set money aside for retirement, and sometimes just simply food on the table, depending on the person that I was talking to. So they’d ask, “What do you have for me? What should I do?”
I remember a conversation that I was having with a single gentleman and he gave me his budget. He said, “Art, I need some help. Take a look at my budget.” And I looked at the budget and saw a $50 line item for food every other week on the expense budget. So I did the quick math, and that amounted to $1.19 per meal. My suggestion to him is not to reduce that to 75 cents. He was already living on a bare bones budget. So our conversation immediately shifted to the income side of the financial equation. Both the expense side and income side play a role in your ability to have margin within your budget. So I realized that there were very few resources out there that discussed income from a Christian worldview.
I had experience doing side gigs for actually quite some time before it was called the “gig economy.” And I’m glad somebody found a good term for that. So I took what I had learned doing my own side gigs and applied it to the present day for those that were struggling to find margin in their budget that could no longer cut the budget because everything pretty much already had been cut.
When I was writing the book, I’ve had to look at current statistics. There are 57 million Americans that have had a side gig. And so, it does require a different shift in thinking for many and I’m helping them understand what a side gig is and what it isn’t, what you can accomplish with a side gig and what you can’t accomplish with a side gig. I decided to address the topic of income even though it is somewhat of a taboo topic, and then help those who don’t necessarily want to leave their day-to-day job but need to find additional income so that they can pay off debt, save for retirement, get more money, or just simply put food on the table.