NASHVILLE, Ark. (BP)–Yolanda and Billy Barton no longer have tense conversations about money. Janice and Charles Marshall have all but eliminated credit card debt.
Both couples, members of Maranatha Baptist Church in Nashville, Ark., say a seminar on Successful Christian Financial Management (SCFM) helped them overcome financial difficulties, as well as providing them a way to tithe to their church.
“We are normal people,” Yolanda Barton, a homemaker, reflected before Wednesday night services at the 98-member church in southwestern Arkansas. “We just kind of struggled every day.”
But that was before the Bartons heard Denny Wright of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention present SCFM, a resource to help Christians understand and practice God’s truth in financial decisions.
Gary Aylor, director of church stewardship services at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., said the resource, published in 1997, “is, first of all, a biblical guide to family money management.”
“Its main purpose is not to get people to give more money to the church but to help them find God’s plan for their lives by being the kind of stewards he wants them to be. While many assume the resources they have belong to them to use as they wish, the Bible teaches us that God owns everything and he entrusts resources to us to use according to his plan.”
Designed for all church members, the seminar material, written by Texas-based stewardship leaders Terry Austin and Bobby Eklund, teaches a biblically based philosophy of money. Course content includes how to get out of debt and stay out of debt, how to develop and live within a budget and how to retire comfortably. A plan is provided for savings, living expenses and debt and future planning needs after the tithe, taxes and Social Security have been subtracted from one’s income.
The Bartons are convinced the principles in the seminar work.
“Beginning in January 1999 we started listing everything we spent,” Yolanda Barton said. “We made copies of the work sheets and personalized them to our situation, and then wrote down everything we spent for three months. Before that, we wondered where we’d get the tithe money.”
But the Bartons found they not only had money to pay bills on time, but also to fund a vacation to California and new living room furniture, without going into debt.
“It made us think twice about buying that extra soft drink or whatever else,” observed Billy Barton, a locomotive engineer for the Kiamichi Railroad. “We began to ask ourselves, ‘Is that something we really need?’ The financial planning part of the seminar has helped us know where we’re going.”
Yolanda Barton describes their life today as “content,” compared with the days when they disagreed over their spending habits.
“We’re in this together. We don’t fuss about finances. Your priorities change, and you begin to see many things that aren’t necessities,” she said.
“I’m satisfied that we’re doing what we should do,” he agreed, “and in return, God’s going to bless us and take care of us.”
The Marshalls — he, a Nashville School System employee, and she, a registered nurse — say after studying SCFM, they changed their buying habits and paid off several credit cards.
The study, they say, led them to apply God’s Word to their day-to-day living.
“We’re more open in our communication,” Janice Marshall said. “We are more comfortable discussing things about money.”
In addition to acquiring peace of mind, she said eliminating much of their debt “helped me get in a position to help my Mom [financially].
“I’m not constantly writing down lists of bills and totaling them. I am still concerned about bills, but I am no longer worried.”
Charles Marshall agreed, adding, “It makes me feel if I should get sick or lose my job, we’re going to be all right. We’re making the right steps for the future.”
And he attests to the spiritual benefits of being a better steward: “In being obedient to the Word of God, I’m more comfortable. When you know you are striving to do what’s right in other areas of your life, you can open up and worship fully.”
Janice Marshall said the biggest surprise in reassessing their finances is that “I’ve got some money!
“It’s God’s anyway,” she continued. “He just wants to know what we’re going to do with it. The blessings he promises us are not always a dollar figure. Spiritually, we are growing. If we are not trying to do right in the area of finances, we really don’t hear when we come to church.”
Pastor Bruce Short said after Maranatha members had two SCFM seminars in 1999 “the greatest reward has been seeing families who had seemingly hopeless financial situations now have hope.”
The church’s $2,400 monthly budget had grown to $4,200 per month in a year. February, a traditionally difficult financial month, increased to $7,900 in tithes and offerings last year.
Short said he has seen families blessed after applying what they have learned through SCFM, “and if your families are blessed, the church will be blessed. The Lord can make a drastic change. We have access to all he has when we honor him with ownership. We honor him when we tithe.”
Wright is one of 39 Baptist state convention stewardship leaders from 30 states who are certified to teach the seminar. He has trained approximately 50 Arkansas pastors to lead the seminar and has personally led 50 seminars throughout Arkansas. In all, 100 churches in the state have provided at least one SCFM seminar for their members and others in their communities.
Scott Hobbs, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lewisville, Ark., said he believes SCFM “was helpful in getting the people focused on the real issues,” adding, “we must pass those principles down to the next generation.”
In Holiday Island, Ark., pastor James Colwell of Dove Circle Baptist Church reported, “Our young people, and some of the older ones, have changed their attitudes and [stewardship] practices. The SCFM is both very practical and godly.”
Some churches have seen dramatic changes in giving, resulting in debt reduction for the church as well as for its members.
John Evans, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ward, Ark., said when members decreased their debt, “some moved beyond the tithe to the offering and grace giving. We increased our budget by $30,000 and people gave $20,000 over that for a net increase of $50,000! We’ve paid a $60,000 debt down to $14,000.”
Watson Chapel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark., also had positive results. Pastor M.L. Faler reported, “In 1999, the year we had the SCFM, the people gave $70,000 over the budget.”
Information about SCFM seminars may be obtained by contacting Stewardship Services at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention at (615) 251-2808. A catalog of all church stewardship resources available from LifeWay may be obtained by writing to Church Stewardship Services, 127 Ninth Ave., N., Nashville, TN 37234-0182 or by e-mail request to [email protected] An Internet site, www.lifeway.com/stewardship, offers information about stewardship resources.