Dave Ramsey is widely known as a radio host with a national broadcast through which he has helped bring financial freedom to countless families across America. Dave’s also a committed believer, who draws on biblical truth to help people be better stewards. Recently, Dave has partnered with Chris Brown to launch “True Stewardship,” a daily half-hour radio program that offers help to people by offering biblically based financial principles. Executive Editor Michael Duduit recently visited with Dave and Chris.
Preaching: If there’s one thing Americans think about and talk about, it’s money. Yet millions of people struggle with managing money, and it seems to be spiraling out of control for so many people. Why is money and debt such an area of concern in today’s culture?
Dave: Larry Burkett used to say, “Money problems are not the problem. They’re the symptom,” and it’s true. When I went broke, it was a symptom of me doing stupid stuff, and it got me in trouble. That’s true in America. The money problems we have in America are not the problem; they are the symptoms of the problems of America. That’s why something such as what Chris is doing with "True Stewardship" is so important.
To return people to the ultimate biblical truths, in any area of their lives, causes the money thing to start stabilizing. Certainly biblical truths in money, but also biblical truths in marriage, biblical truths of parenting, biblical truths of career, biblical truths of how we live our lives. The more biblically we live our lives, the less we have problems. The truth of Scripture does surgery on our hearts and changes who we are.
Chris: The thing about symptoms is that the real issue is a lack of contentment with which we all struggle; and when you struggle with contentment, what do you do? You try to overcompensate for it by purchasing things—things you can’t afford—and that’s why we get in the issue.
Dave: Materialism. If we just stop and are honest and authentic about it, it is still the god of the age.
Preaching: All sin ultimately is idolatry, and money is an idol, isn’t it?
Dave: The stuff we use money to buy becomes the idol. That can be a false sense of security. If you’re in a rubber room, sucking your thumb because the stock market goes down, I’m afraid we’ve discovered who your god is. Even if you’re successful with money, it can be your idol.
Preaching: Chris, you’ve been a pastor. So, you’re aware of the sensitivity to this issue inside the church. Many pastors struggle to talk about money and possessions. Why do you think that’s the case?
Chris: It’s taboo to talk about it, and most of that is because everybody is struggling with it. There’s a lack of vulnerability out there in the culture. You know, there’s a stigma in the church world of preachers talking about money. Pastors want to be liked. They’re just like anyone else; they want to be liked, so they don’t want to talk about something that can hurt [their chances of being liked]. Another factor is that pastors are people, and many of them are struggling financially. It’s very difficult to talk about things you are struggling with personally.
Dave: Yet, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness” is what Scripture says. I was saved late in life. I was an adult, and it was refreshing to hear a pastor stand up in the pulpit and say he wasn’t perfect. Oh, it made me love him! They [pastors] were all the perfect, spiritual people.
The weird thing is, we had all these high-powered pastors gather recently—a Who’s-Who of church pastors, about 25 of them—sitting around a table, and it was amazing how many of them were like 13-year-old boys, insecure about this subject when we started talking about this topic. They were being authentic. They were opening up and saying, “It scares me to preach about money, because I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want our church to be that church that’s all about the money. All they talk about is money.” So they never talk about it, and they admit it—and these were some of the most successful pastors! So I know that extrapolates into smaller churches with newer pastors and less seasoned pastors.
Preaching: What kind of counsel would you offer pastors who want to deal with these issues of money and stewardship in their preaching and teaching, but are not sure how to approach it?
Chris: It would be right where we just left off, and that is vulnerability. It would be modeling it first. Dave Stone is a good friend of ours; a few years back, he got on stage and talked about this burden he had for the church to get out of debt. They launched a seven-year journey there at Southeast Christian in Kentucky to get out of debt, and he was the first one to do it. He said, “I’m going to go through this journey, and why don’t you guys join me?” It ended up being a very powerful journey in their church.
He got on stage, and he had a backpack with 70 pounds of weights in the backpack, and he was struggling just walking around. Every five or 10 minutes, he would remove some, and he would remove some, and at the end of the sermon, he didn’t have any weight on his back. It was a powerful illustration to which Southeast still clings. They talk about it least once a quarter, where everyone is at in their seven years…and it was powerful—modeling first and foremost. Second, I would say that for the people who are in the seats, it is for them, not something you want from them. It needs to be heartfelt about changing their behavior, not something that expedites their increased giving.
Preaching: A pastor told me that after years of completely avoiding the subject of stewardship, he realized by reading Scripture that he was harming his church. He did a stewardship series, and not only did giving go up, but the number of people coming to Christ went up during that series.
Dave: Absolutely. We feel as if it’s going to be the opposite. We all have heard the rumors around Christianity, and we don’t want to be that guy; but boy, you don’t want to be the guy who never talks about it either. You miss the opportunity to minister to the entire crowd of businessmen and businesswomen. They want to know what Scripture says about running a business, and they want direction from their spiritual leaders that’s a practical application through the week. Definitely stewardship, leadership, those kinds of things, coming out of the pulpit are so winsome. They are so valuable.
Chris: This concept of financial discipleship is the number one thing holding the church back. Church leaders, we have got to start talking about it and talking about it more.
Preaching: Beyond the sermon, are there some things churches can and should be doing to try to help our people find a more biblically responsible position regarding stewardship?
Dave: It does come down to teaching, and it does come down to the sermon’s part in it obviously. We are in the financial literacy business; that’s what we do. We are believers in making sure every high school teaches this, and every church teaches this, and every company in America teaches biblical principles for handling money. It’s our mission. It’s our driving force around here. So, if you ask a hammer what something is, it will tell you it’s a nail. There’s no question people need to have classes being taught—in our minds.
Beyond that, I think one barrier to that is the redefinition and reclaiming of the word stewardship. The Lord laid that on my heart and the heart of this organization to the point that we now have spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and man hours already in the beginning stages of reclaiming this word. The word has been abused. When you say stewardship to average churchgoers, they grab their wallets and say, “Oh, Lord, we are going to build a building.” When you say stewardship to the average person walking down the sidewalk, he or she thinks you’re talking about environmentalism. The word has been redefined in a toxic way in both cases. So, we have to call it out for what it really is, what it really means.
Chris: I think we have to go to the why. Why do we need to change our behavior? Why does the way we handle our finances look different? The why is stewardship. Well, whose money are we actually managing? Is it ours, or is it God’s? The definition of stewardship is managing God’s money God’s way for God’s glory. The what is God’s blessing, and it’s got the how, the Scripture and the why, not for our glory or so we can get rich, but that we can be in a position to bring glory to God and point people to Jesus.
So we have to take it off the platform. If you’re just on the platform only, all they hear is you want them to give, even if you talk about stewardship. All they’re going to hear is that you want them to give. They’re going to hear about the end result. We have to get off the platform and get kneecap to kneecap, eyeball to eyeball, and help people with how to change their lives, change the way they handle finances, and that goes with an understanding of what stewardship really is.
Dave: Here is the fun thing: 25 percent of the people attend churches all across America, and 30,000 churches have bought the Financial Peace class. Twenty-five percent of them don’t go to that church, and a whole bunch of them don’t go to any church. A whole bunch of them send me email. Listen to how crazy this is: They came to a class to learn how to get out of debt, and they met Jesus. That is so fun I can’t breathe.
Chris: They found out what was blocking their view of Jesus: their paychecks.
Preaching: Dave, you’re widely known for your radio program and the counsel you offer on managing money and getting out of debt. Chris, you are hosting this new program, "True Stewardship" through Salem Media Group. Tell me about how the program will be if we were to tune in and listen. What do you hope is going to be the result of doing this program?
Chris: We launched on June 1 of this year, and we have seen incredible results already. We are in 20 different markets, all the way from Seattle to Tampa, San Diego, and our signal goes across more than a third of the nation. The podcast is jammin’. The podcasts are reaching the Dominican Republic, British Columbia, London, South Africa. It’s been a lot of fun. We are seeing people whose lightbulbs are coming on: “Oh, this is not my money. I’m managing it for God.” Now, when they go down to a car dealership to get a car, they’re like, “Oh, that $300 payment,” which was going to be no big deal, becomes, “No, this is not wise stewardship.”
It is changing lives. We are loving the feedback we are getting. Our goal is to help people with daily decisions so they can be positioned for their intentions. Many people have great intentions to do things for God, but being intentional about ministry is nothing without being positioned for ministry.
Preaching: What do you now know about money that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a young man?
Dave: I kind of had two starts. I started out without knowing much, built wealth and then lost everything. A lot of folks know that story. By the time I was 28, I had been a millionaire, and I was bankrupt. I started again. That seems as if it were 20 minutes ago, but it was almost 30 years ago now. I met God on the way up and got to know Him on the way down. On that first ride, and then when I hit bottom, I had a thorough understanding. That really seared it into my life. It burned it into my life, and those lessons were learned so thoroughly I did not have to relearn them. Other things I had to relearn two or three times, but those I got.
At that point, my first understanding was what the Bible said about money, and I spent many years struggling. As I started handling money God’s way, I started having money again. I looked up a decade later, and I was building wealth. There is this angst a lot of people have, that somehow as Christians they’re not supposed to have any money. Yet, when I am handling money God’s way, we always reap what we sow; His way always works. God is smart. There is a paradox of working out: “Oh no, I’m losing weight. I’m working out, I’m getting stronger.” Well, of course! However, we are not supposed to be strong, and we aren’t supposed to lose weight; but yeah, we are! So, the idea of having a nice car says you did something wrong. As our business became successful…if you admitted you were successful, you had done something wrong. There is inconsistency regarding the issue of wealth.
The first thing God taught me was about what the Bible says about money. In the past decade, He’s been working on me a lot; I’ve got a way to go, but He’s been teaching me about wealth. It’s a different subject. Money is one subject, wealth is another subject; it’s still stewardship. Psalms says the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. There are a lot of people who judge when you manage God’s stuff for God’s glory, and you don’t manage it the way they think you should. They are scared to death that you are a camel going through the eye of a needle. I started teaching that stuff because I had to learn it. I personally was struggling with it. I thought that I had done something wrong because I was winning.