'I'm struggling with money'

‘If one of your brethren becomes poor and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him.’ Leviticus 25 v 35

Money is a subject that some churches tackle head on as part of their ministries. Others rarely mention money except in terms of giving. However, in these times of austerity, financial worries are a concern for many people in our churches.

It’s a common assumption that single people have more disposable income than married people, and have more fun with it. However, this is far from the case. Economic research shows that, on average, single people are financially less well off than their married counterparts. This is primarily because of the lack of two incomes or two sets of assets that can be combined. For example, when it comes to buying a home, it takes a single person an average of 10 years longer to raise the deposit for a mortgage than a married person.

There are also a number of financial advantages given to married couples in the UK, which single people are obviously excluded from. For example, the website www.MoneySavingExpert.com reports that married couples can reduce their income tax, pay less capital gains tax, get a double mortgage or take advantage of the new Married Couples Allowance.

You may be aware of the studies showing that married people live longer, healthier lives. However, you may be surprised to learn that this is primarily due to the financial benefits of being married. Once the financial factor is taken into account in the statistical analysis, the positive effects of marriage on health and longevity vanish.

Obviously every individual’s circumstance – whether single or married – is different. But bearing in mind that single people are more likely to struggle financially, how can church leaders help? We asked single Christians what they need…

 

‘Point me towards advice for managing my money’

There are several Christian organisations and courses that can help people learn to manage their money better. These are all non-judgmental, which is important if there’s little social support for an individual’s situation. For instance, Crosslight Advice, Liz Lugt and Christians Against Poverty (CAP) offer help, advice and counselling (see Resources, below). Some churches train to set up their own debt counselling services to help their congregations and their local community.

“Liz Lugt’s Money Management Made Easy course was recommended to me by my church when the world markets crashed about eight years ago. The course literally changed my life. I now have a small nest egg of investments and I’m far better at living within my means.” Caroline

“My church encourages us to be debt-free and offers CAP courses, which I’ve found helpful. As I get older (I’m now 54), I’ve become more concerned about not having put away enough retirement money, but I haven’t really needed to worry about money following the courses.” Andrew

 

‘Help lift the shame of my situation’

People who get into debt often feel a great sense of shame. Admitting to their situation takes courage and is the first step in dealing with it. The Christian debt charity Crosslight Advice reports that the worry related to money problems has led to people becoming “depressed”, “isolated”, “angry”, “not knowing where to turn”, “very nearly suicidal” and “lonely in the whole experience”. 

Liz Lugt, speaker, trainer and chartered accountant, is the creator of various courses and ebooks about money management. She says: “My overall impression is not that singles worry more, but that they often carry this worry alone. I liken the money worries of a single Christian to that of a married couple battling with fertility issues. Both feel isolated in their own way. Both often feel ashamed and unable to seek help. Both can feel cut off by a church that doesn’t speak openly about the issues they face.

“A young man came to me a couple of years ago heavily in debt. He wanted to find a wife but was concerned that his financial situation would make him ineligible. Together, we drew up a proper budget, which reflected his earnings. We applied some good, practical financial principles and he was able to get out of debt. This turned out to be one of the ways that God was able to use in order to help him find a wife.”

 

‘Help me deal with my disappointment’

“I visit married members of my church, and I’m jealous of their big houses, which I could never afford,” admitted one respondent in our survey of single Christians’ experiences of church.

Being content with what you have is a key Christian message. However, this can be difficult for individuals when they visit family homes and observe lifestyles that lie beyond all possible financial reach. It’s not just about money, it’s about what it signifies — a home for a family that may never happen.

That’s why hospitality – the sharing of home and life – is so important within churches. Leaders can encourage married couples and families to develop friendships with singles and invite them for meals and outings. Some singles may be shy of taking up offers as they fear close contact may make their discontentment worse. Others will relish the opportunity to join in the kind of family life they enjoyed when they were young, and may still hope for.

“An area that may need to be addressed by a church is disappointment, discontentment and jealousy. When you visit your married friends in their nice house with the dog you may never have, that’s difficult.” Denise

 

‘Don’t discriminate against us financially’

“Why give discounts to married couples for church events, but not for struggling single people?” was the outraged comment from one single Christian in our survey.

While some churches are very aware of individual circumstances, others appear to apply blanket rules that don’t take people’s difficulties into account. When a struggling single person sees a double-salaried family getting a discount, they feel rightly aggrieved that their church is dismissing their needs.

Some churches, however, are more aware. Leigh, 47, works as a community pastor in a London church. “We’re sensitive to everyone’s financial situation, whether they’re single, a student, married or out of work,” she says. “We offer concessions to anyone in need. It’s always made clear for church events that if people need help, they can get it.”

In the wider world, many two-for-one offers are open to anyone, married or not. If you’re with a friend, you can get a third off travel costs with Two Together railcards, use Meerkat Movies two-for-one cinema tickets, get two-for-one vouchers for restaurants and tourist attractions, and take advantage of Groupon deals. Churches can take inspiration from this approach, as well as offering concessions and bursaries for members of their congregation who are struggling, so they can attend events and continue to be part of the church community.

 

‘Help us see the bigger picture in our lives’

When someone asks “Why are things going wrong for me financially?”, the question may not simply be about managing money, but about something deeper. It can also be about where the person is in their life, and the choices they’re facing. Perhaps God is leading them to make different decisions and find a new path. “Handling the debt” may be a means of keeping someone stuck in a situation from which God is leading them.

Denise, 47, is a missionary funded by a number of partners who has recently moved to South Africa to work with poor people in Natal:

“God has shown himself to be faithful in providing for my needs for so long that I’m confident in his provision.   However, I do think this is an area where Satan robs us over and over again. I know I’m stepping into something new, exciting or adventurous for God when things start going wrong, especially when it costs me financially! This is an area that people struggle with and I believe it has stopped many from walking into all that God has for them.”

 

‘Help me understand why, as a generous giver, God hasn’t blessed me’

It’s a common assumption that single people are self-centred. However, in terms of generosity and helping others, US research finds that single people are far more generous, while married couples tend to keep their money for their family.

When faced with the teaching of being blessed through giving, single people can feel vulnerable. They give, but the blessing they may (although not always) seek is one of married life with children. Where is the blessing, they ask, that God promised those who give? Church leaders may want to ask whether people have taken this belief from the teaching they’ve received, and consider how to give a clear and confident response about the nature of God’s blessing.

 

‘Include more teaching about money and stewardship’

Many people – single and married – report the need for more teaching in church about how God wants us to view and use our money. “The message of good stewardship is something I hardly ever hear spoken about in the church,” says Liz Lugt. “I feel for singles. Many want to be married, but they may not be good stewards of their finances.”

Teaching about money could include topics such as:

• God, money and you: what is the proper relationship between these three?

• Can we seek both wealth and eternal life?

• Examples of righteousness in the Bible related to buying and selling, sowing and reaping and so on.

• Spiritual traps to avoid – for example, the love of money.

• Tithing and giving.

• Practising gratitude and generosity in all circumstances.

Money and stewardship can be challenging subjects, both practically and theologically. The following resources may be a helpful starting point for developing your thinking and teaching:

The Money Secret by Rob Parsons (£7.99, Hodder & Stoughton)

Premier Christianity’s article: 6 Things the Bible Doesn’t Say About Money.

• The United Church of God’s discussion about money on their website.

 

RESOURCES

The following resources come from both Christian and non-Christian sources, and include courses, counselling and information for home study. There are also courses you can run at your church. Singlefriendlychurch.com is unable to endorse any of these products, so please explore them to see what is most appropriate for your church members.

• Liz Lugt – mentoring and home study courses: www.yourmoneyroadmap.com 

• Crosslight Advice – free debt advice for individuals: www.crosslightadvice.org/resources/

• Christians Against Poverty – free debt counselling:  www.capuk.org. You can also run CAP courses at your church and CAP provides the resources.

• HTB/Alpha and Stewardship (now run by Crosslight Advice) – The Money Course, which you can attend or run in your own church. Find out more here.

• C3 Church in Cambridge – free Money Matters Course for individuals to attend, plus one specifically aimed at students.

• The UK government has set up an independent Money Advice service that offers many links and suggestions – see here.

 

Sandi Durnford-Slater, uploaded 22 February 2017