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Finances and Heart Issues

Dale Johnson: We’re thrilled to have with us today one of our ACBC certified members, Dan Dodds, who’s an associate pastor at Woodruff Road Presbyterian PCA church in Greenville, South Carolina. Dan, we’re so delighted to have you here today to talk with us about this issue of finances.

Dan Dodds: Thank you, Dale. I’m glad to be here.

Dale Johnson: Dan, we all know that it takes money to live in the world, and sometimes it’s a really difficult thing for so many folks to think about their financial issues. Sometimes we have issues that we weren’t expecting, and maybe not because of mismanagement. The needs of folks are all around us. As you do counseling, what are some of those major financial issues that you encounter?

Dan Dodds: I break it down into three basic areas when I do counseling. When people come in, they usually have one of three major areas. One would be premarital counseling. The young couple typically is going to want to know how to plan ahead, including budgeting and planning. The second one would be when you have a couple come to you, typically a married couple, and they’re having a lot of financial disagreements. The first one, the premarital one, is more proactive, and the marital one is more reactive, so we’ll go into the issues there.

The third area that I see where people come for help is in crisis management. I break that down into three basic areas. One is where you have a person who has just come into a huge financial loss of some sort, like getting foreclosed on. They’ve gotten themselves into a situation, either intentionally or unintentionally, that’s risen to a point where it has to be resolved. The second one would be the person who’s lost a job. It’s related to the first, but we’ll spend some time on how to find a job. I find that people are fairly uneducated on the best way to find a job. I think that sending out a resume a day is going to do it. Third would be the street person, for example, that comes to your door at the church and says, “I need some help,” and if you’re the counselor on call or you’re the one that is going to be addressing it, you would address that. That’s how I would break those three down.

Dale Johnson: With these financial issues, there are several different reasons why we might be in financial trouble, like having issues with paying the bills. Maybe it’s, as you mentioned, that we lost a job, or it could be that we’re making some poor decisions financially, like spending money for things that we don’t have the money to spend. One of the intriguing things that I’ve heard you talk about is finances as being a window to heart issues. Can you talk a little bit about that concept and how we can utilize that in the counseling room?

Dan Dodds: A general principle that we often think or hear people say is, “Oh, they’re having financial problems and that’s why their marriage broke up.” It’s very typical. I’ve seen the statistics on that. The main reason that couples break up is that they’re having financial problems. I’d like to suggest that the financial problems are more symptomatic. If they are a window to the heart, which we would see, for example, in passages such as Matthew 6 where it says, “Where your treasure is there is your heart,” then we can look at what’s happening in the treasury issues, in the financial issues, and trace those back to what the heart issues are. That would be the point of it, to say, “Okay, let’s take the financial problem.” Instead of saying, “Oh, well, what you need to do is get a budget,” we use that as a means to say, “Okay, it’s reflecting values that you have, commitments that you have, principles, biblical or not biblical thinking, about money that needs to be exposed, needs to be examined, and put against Scripture to be evaluated.”

Dale Johnson: One of the things you mentioned earlier is premarital counseling. That’s intriguing to me because we think about premarital counseling as we’re preparing someone to do these financial issues well. Along with that, based on what you’ve just mentioned, there are some heart issues that you’re trying to teach them and train them as they form and shape a budget, not just looking at their revenue and their expenses and trying to lay out an appropriate way to spend that money. Talk about some of the ways that you help to prepare them and concepts that you want them to think through to honor the Lord with the finances that they have.

Dan Dodds: It’s kind of interesting for premaritals that when you do a budget and if you do a budget well, then it doesn’t suppose what the priorities are. For example, if you say, “I want you to fill out this budget,” one of the things we’ll talk about in the class is the need for a 12-month budget, not a one-month budget. A lot of people will take a year divided by 12, but I think it’s better to do 12 months because it helps you think through a lot of the details that you’ll come up against. That would include things like birthdays, holidays, and vacations that need to be planned for that you might not think about in just a one-month budget. The idea is to generate as much conversation about the details as you can, obviously within a limit.

Once you put down the budget and you have the two of them look at that, then it’s a way of them seeing what the priorities are. If he’s saying, “I like to go hunting with the guys, and I have a hunting lease, and it’s going to cost this much per month.” and you see her eyebrows raise up and say, “You’re going to still do that?” Just because it’s been in the budget, it has now been exposed, and it gives you the opportunity to talk about that. Why is that important to him and should it be? That’s a great means of generating conversation and exposing issues that wouldn’t have shown up until after they were married.

One of the important things is doing a somewhat detailed budget. I know it’s intimidating for a counselor who’s never done it before. That’s a little bit difficult, and they might not know where to go with that. In that case, they might want to refer to somebody else, but I think it’s a great exercise to do it. I would actually add to it the need not just for an income statement, but also for a balance sheet. For those who are not familiar with that, the balance sheet is like a snapshot. It’s a picture of where you are financially, what you own and what you owe would need to all be listed out so that there’s a sense of where you are. An income statement is more like a movie that takes place between the two balance sheets. You have a balance sheet at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. The income statement tells you what happened to get from one to the other, so having a balance sheet is important. It will tell you a lot.

I’ve got two daughters who I suspect, Lord willing, will one day be married. If a young man comes and says, “I want to marry her,” then one of the things we’ll talk about is finances. I’ll want to know not just an income statement, but I want to know the balance sheet. If he has a quarter of a million dollars of debt and he’s going to make $50,000 a year, then I want to know that. Those are big issues. I want to know the debt load or what his net worth is as a means of helping my daughter understand what she is going to be facing. So again, it’s not to say that that’s wrong to have but to say, “Let’s get it on the table to talk about it.” Again, budgets are a great way to force people to think through a lot of the issues that we’d otherwise look over in a premarital context.

Dale Johnson: As life happens and we experience good things and sometimes bad things throughout the course of our life, we find ourselves in some of these situations. We’ve identified some of the primary heart issues that we might want to address as a result of our financial decisions and as a result of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Once we see that their heart is tender toward the things of God and they’re willing to change their attitudes and actions toward their finances as means of stewardship as honoring to the Lord, what are some practical ways that you help them prepare their financial situation and repair their financial situation?

Dan Dodds: Of course, it’s going to be person-dependent. Are they a person who is over their head in debt? Is it a person who is making good money but has not been responsible with it? Each one is going to require somewhat of a customized approach to it. There are general biblical principles that are important to have in mind, more than we can get into right now, but when you look at Scripture, there are some priorities that are good to go through with the counselee.

For example, that would include that a name and reputation is more important than wealth, contentment is more important than wealth, and humility is more important than wealth, calm, quietness, and love. We could go through the kingdom of God and the soul over your goods. Don’t value your wealth. Other principles are that God’s kingdom work is more important than the kingdom of men. Some people we should prioritize over others in terms of who we help. A lot of these are biblical priorities that we need to keep in mind as we go forth and deal with how we’re going to deal with our money. Again, if it’s a crisis situation, then help them get out of the debt. If it’s a situation of blessing, then we help them to know how to structure things so that it’s going to best reflect a biblical ethic.

Dale Johnson: You just mentioned a crisis situation. Let’s say a young man in our church has lost his job and maybe to no fault of his own. This is a situation where he was cutting back, and now he doesn’t have a job, he’s gone several months without a job, and he’s in a bad situation. He comes to us for counseling, and certainly, we’re going to help him with those heart issues, but we also have the resource of the church. What are some of the ways that the church can be involved? What are some of the responsibilities of the church to minister to this young man in this situation of crisis?

Dan Dodds: This could depend on the church and the resources that the church has. Some churches are so stretched that they can’t help them financially. In our situation, we are blessed with a balanced budget and the ability to help out some of our folks when they run into these situations. We have a number of principles that we keep in mind and some parameters so that we are always careful about subsidizing irresponsibility, because you get more of what you subsidize. What we want to do is subsidize responsible behavior that follows that kind of situation.

If it’s a situation where it’s not his fault, he’s lost his job, but he has bills coming, then we have some principles, such as we will not pay for debts. We will help people with some of the fundamentals of food, clothing, and shelter. The debt thing is something that could be worked out. I could do that because I have some of the skill sets on that to work with different organizations to help them work out the debt.

As far as the church helping, one of the things that we would have in our church is the deacons would come alongside me, and we would go through a very detailed budget. We would work through the issues that we can help with and the issues that we can’t help with and then walk him through that until he’s able to find another job. We would use the means we have to look for work for him and give him wisdom as he tries to seek out work. There’s a lot of different principles that come into play there. Like, how far away should he look and how fast? All of those are dependent on how big the bills are, how fast they’re coming, and what savings he has. You have to customize it for each person.

The basic idea is that the deacons would jump in there. We’ve had people come to the church in a financial crisis, and the deacons will sit down and say, “Okay, we will we require as much accountability as we do, commensurate with the amount of help that we will give you. We don’t just write a check, but we will write a check if you’ll sit down and commit to a biblical approach to this, which will include some planning, some budgeting, and some cutting. It might require you to get two jobs. When we see that you are investing in yourself and responding biblically to it, we’ll come alongside you financially and help where we can.” It’s a balanced approach. You have to be careful about them becoming too dependent on the church. We limit the amount that we’ll help, but it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis.