WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with a man who is fueling a movement of generosity in this country, Brian Kluth.
Brian has been called “America’s Giving Guy” because of his work to help Christians become more generous. As you will hear him say later in the program, people aren’t born generous, and even when they are born again, that doesn’t automatically make them generous. Generosity is learned. Generosity grows as we grow as a Christian.
Brian Kluth’s books and devotionals on generous giving have sold more than a million copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages and used in more than 100 countries.
For the past four years, Brian has been working specifically to get the church to be more generous with its pastor, and he has been spearheading a movement called “Bless Your Pastor” that hopes to reduce pastor burnout, increase job satisfaction on the part of pastors, and create healthy pastors and their families, as well as healthy churches.
We talk about all of that—plus the time he lived through with the death of his first wife to cancer—in this conversation, which I had with Brian Kluth at the recent meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville, Tennessee.
Brian, it’s great to be with you again. And you and I were talking before we turn the recorder on about, I think, the first time we ever met face to face, which was years ago in Colorado Springs.
BRIAN KLUTH: Yeah, it was. We happened to have a lunch together when you were in town for one of your many trips to Colorado Springs and we had a nice visit and I had just kind of launched into a generosity work at that time and we were talking about that and ultimately an article came out of that and so it was great.
SMITH: Yeah, that was a great visit. It was wonderful to meet you. I’ve been following you, you know, sort of your life and career since then. And I want to begin our conversation really with kind of the arc of your career because it has been fascinating. I mean you were a pastor for many years.
KLUTH: Yeah, I was. I had the privilege of being a pastor for 10 years in Colorado Springs, but I didn’t become a pastor until I was 45. So, I had been the president of the Christian Stewardship Association, felt God’s call on my life at the age of 45 to become a pastor. Didn’t know how that was gonna work, but the Lord worked it out. And I had a wonderful 10 years with a tremendous congregation in the Springs. And I just thank God for those years in the lives I could touch and the lives that touched me and loved me during that season.
SMITH: And in some ways, what happened next for you was a culmination of both of those experiences because all of your stewardship years plus all of your pastoral years kind of combined into a season in your life where you were really focused on helping other people understand stewardship and generosity.
KLUTH: Yeah, exactly. So, I wrote a little book called The 40 Day Journey to a More Generous Life and it just kind of took on a life of its own. It was used by 3,000 churches across America, went into 40-50 languages around the world, used on every continent. And so that was all happening while I was a pastor. And so my elders, they took a time of prayer and fasting and said, what should we do about what God’s doing in and through Brian’s life? And they ultimately, over about a two-year period, released me from being the senior pastor at the church to becoming a minister at large, generosity minister at large from the church. And so they called and commissioned me in a public ceremony to give my life to encouraging people around the country and the world, how do you live a generous life? What does that look like? And to create materials and do national research and to do speaking at churches and conferences. So it was really quite an amazing journey. And I did that for seven years, that generosity ministry work.
SMITH: And what happened next I want to get to in just a little bit because that’s really the main reason that we’re talking today. But I want to talk a little bit about that seven-year period because ultimately after the season of prayer and fasting by your church and releasing you to do this work, and you did. It ultimately became full time. You were going through some personal issues as well.
KLUTH: Yeah. Yes, absolutely. At the end of my pastoral ministry, the last two years, my wife—actually, I have to back up. My first couple of years of being a pastor, my wife was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, which is one of the most deadly cancers a woman can be diagnosed with. 85 percent of women die within 12 months of diagnosis and my wife ended up living for eight years. So, God in his kindness blessed her and extended her life and she lived a very, very full life. And then I was called to this new work and then shortly after that she passed away.
SMITH: Yeah. Talk about that season. What was that like? I mean, there were endings and beginnings professionally, personally. I mean, how did you deal with that?
KLUTH: Yeah. You know, my son, I remember my son said to me one day, he said, dad, how are you going to deal with mom’s loss? And I said, Josh, I’m going to have to deal with mom’s loss like every other day in my life. And if I wake up, I spend time with the Lord in his word. And I look to the Lord for what he wants me to do that day. And at the end of the day, when I lie in bed, I turn back to his word and again, I’m in prayer and I’m in the word and I’m going to have to do that whether mom lives or whether mom dies or when mom dies, I’m going to just have to walk with the Lord. And so it was difficult, but it was a season of great joy. She had cancer, but she called it a journey of joy. She would tell people she lived with the “big C” and they would say, Oh, you have cancer? And she’d say, well I have cancer, but that’s not my big C. And they would say, well, what’s your big C? And she’d say, Christ. Christ is my big C. So she lived a journey of joy. My life was blessed in those eight years that she lived and my children’s life. And then the Lord gave her a heaven day and I had to go on. And it was difficult being a single dad to three teenagers. That was pretty tough. But I had to every morning wake up in the word and in prayer, and at the end of the day, God, thank you for getting me through the day. And so those are some challenging times, but the Lord is very gracious and faithful.
SMITH: Yeah. You say challenging being a single dad to three teenagers. And you also mentioned one of your sons just now. If you don’t mind me asking, how did they deal with it?
KLUTH: You know, each of them dealt with it differently. When your parent has cancer and ultimately dies and you’re young there’s a lot of big God questions in there. If God loved our family, why did this happen? If God loved our family, how could mom have died? Kind of thing. Two of my children took a difficult path cause they were like, well, I don’t think God loves us. And even though I would say no, he does love us. And so they had consequences for that path they chose. And I had my youngest son his solution was memorize the book of James and count it all joy brother when you encounter various trials. So my youngest son actually embrace Christ more, leaned into the Lord, leaned into the scriptures. And today he’s on fire for the Lord and ready to graduate from Moody Bible Institute and has a ministry called Scripture Performer where he will perform the scriptures he memorized many years ago in his own pain.
SMITH: So, that season of your life, I mean, I guess in some ways you never get over it. You just get past it. Both for you and your family. But you know, you enter into this new season, you’re a widower, you’re raising kids. You’ve got a new ministry. And then romance comes back into your life.
KLUTH: Romance comes back into my life, yes. I started the singles ministry in Denver. There wasn’t a strong, vibrant single adult ministry when I moved to Denver. So, with another friend, a female friend, we started one that ultimately grew to about 300 people every week. We would teach the Bible on singleness, single characters in the Bible. And in that ministry, my wife—a friend brought her—she was also widowed, same year I was. And we ultimately met in that singles ministry and married and coming up on seven years of marriage. And she is a wonderful gift, a wonderful person, and we serve the Lord together. And I couldn’t be happier as a man and I’m blessed to just have an incredible wife—incredible first wife and an incredible second wife.
SMITH: So, Brian, those seasons of your life came and in some ways are still with you, but a new season opened up with this Bless Your Pastor the opportunity to tell us about that. And I know it’s associated with the National Association of Evangelicals. Well, you fill us in. What’s the story?
KLUTH: Four years ago, I had a time with the Lord and God frequently will speak to me in the early morning hours. I’ll find myself wide awake at three or four in the morning. And usually that’s a signal for me to go. I’ll go into the living room and I have a Bible and a hymn book and a notebook and I’ll just spend time with the Lord. Might be a half hour, hour, hour and a half. Frequently then just go back to bed. And one of those times, four years ago, I really had a wonderful sense of the presence of God in that time and in that space and the love of God for me and a strong sense that there was something new for me to do. And it was a very unique moment, but it was so unique that I went the next morning, you know, I went back to bed and I woke up, told my wife, I said, I really had a like a visitation from the Lord last night. And she said, well, what’s that all about? And I said, I think there’s something new for me to do. And she said, well, what would that be? And I said, I have no idea. I mean, she goes, well, you’re always thinking of ideas and things to do. I said, no, this has nothing to do with me. This is something outside of me, but we need to be sensitive that God might be bringing something into my life.
SMITH: Which would be, I mean, really a pivot for you because I mean, your whole career has been focused on generosity and giving and stewardship. And so for that season to if not end at least kind of change.
KLUTH: Pivot is the right word. There was a pivot point coming. And so I think it was by that week or within a week, I came across a newsletter from the NAE that they had been given $1 million by Lilly Endowment to help improve the financial health of pastors. And I had been on the board at NAE and I thought, well that’s awesome. That’s wonderful.
SMITH: Let me just pause. The National Association of Evangelicals.
KLUTH: They serve 40 denominations and so they got this million dollars to help improve the financial health of pastors and they’d done national research and pastors are struggling financially and most people that know it. And I thought that was, I was so happy, you know, with my financial background, my generosity background, and I read the article and it says we have the money, but we have no one to lead the program. I thought, well that’s kind of interesting. So, they had a job description. So I clicked on the job description and I read that and everything that was on the job description, I had the skill set to do and had qualifications and the whole time I’m doing this—now, I just got remarried. My wife had a dream to live in the foothills of the mountains outside of Colorado, outside of Denver, Colorado. We had just moved to that location. She had a dream to live in the foothills and I had a dream to have a happy wife. So, we were living our dream at 7,500 foot elevation in Golden, Colorado and there’s this job description that’s a perfect fit for me. And I’m thinking the whole time that’s in Washington, D.C. My wife is never going to agree to move to Washington D.C. So anyway, I read through the whole job description and the final line was whoever we call to do this work c can live wherever they want.
SMITH: That’s remarkable. Before we talk about the work and what you’re doing now, let me pause on some of that research that you mentioned. Pastors really are struggling in this country, right?
KLUTH: Yeah, they really are. Unfortunately, what people see is they see celebrity pastors on TV and they think they’re all rolling in the dough, which is far from reality. The reality is 80 percent of pastors are in churches of under 200 people. 55 percent of pastors serving churches under 100. Fifty percent of pastors in America make less than $50,000 a year, though they’re working 50, 60, 70 hours a week. 60 percent no retirement, no health care, and so 90 percent feel financial stress, and yet they’re not free to talk about it. If they say something, it’d be very awkward with the church board or even the congregation.
SMITH: That’s right. I mean, if they talk to their board or their elders or their congregation, it would be like, you know, all my pastor cares about is money. He’s trying to get me to give more money. I mean, everybody brings an agenda to that conversation, right? So, yeah.
KLUTH: And in America, the average church budget is $125,000 total. So that’s to pay the pastor, take care of the building, give to missions, you know, have a children’s program. So $125,000 for the whole church doesn’t leave a lot of money to go around for the pastor or staff.
SMITH: So what are you going to do? So, you see this job description, it’s you. Clearly you’ve gotten the job. We’ll just stipulate for the record that you got the job, right? So, what have you been doing for the last three or four years on this?
KLUTH: So, we created a course—an online course. It’s completely free for pastors and it’s called God is Your Provider. And we look at ten ways God provides. One of them is a paycheck, but there are nine other ways. Even to people listening to us, maybe you have a paycheck, but it’s not big enough. So you could go to NAEfinancialhealth.org and you could go get the free course and we kind of compiled the best of Ramsey, Ron Blue, Crown, Compass, my materials and put it in one place where people, any age, any income, can go through and get some financial help to improve their financial health. So we built that course, we built the church generosity course for church boards—How do you grow givers? How do you encourage generosity in the church? Again, always with best practices and best resources. And so we built that out. We work with denominations and we actually give money to denominations to gift to pastors. So, we’re currently working with ten denominations and they’ll actually offer grants to their pastors for retirement, medical care, student loans. And they’ll offer the grant, let’s say it’s $2,000, and then the pastor will take the training, do the online training, and they’ll be gifted this money. So, we have money to gift through denominations to their pastors. But for anybody, we have these free online courses at NAEfinancialhealth.org.
SMITH: So what kind of results have you seen as a result of this? Because I mean, it’s gotta be more than okay, I’m not making enough money, and I’m unhappy about that. There’s got to be sort of more to it than well, here’s how you can be happy with the pittance that you’re making, right? I mean, you know, the grant money and teaching generosity in the church—
KLUTH: I think there’s several things. One is that people go through the best practices and they really do get help. So if you need affordable healthcare, we’ll show you how to get that. If you need to not have a car payment, we’ll show you how to do that. If you need to know how to budget, we’ll show you how to do that. So, even myself, so I built the course and my wife and I went through it. We use the course and we lowered our medical costs $15,000 a year. We lowered our car insurance $4,000 a year. Now I didn’t get a raise, but I right there in $15,000 and $4,000, that was $19,000 that using that course helped me in my wife. And so that’s the value it was, that it brings to a couple an individual. And for churches, we’ve had churches go through the church generosity course and they’ve seen double digit giving increases. They’ve experienced gifts they’ve never received before. Five figure gifts, sometimes even larger gifts. And it’s been pretty incredible small and large churches using this material of just seeing some pretty big transformation.
SMITH: Brian, a part of what you’re doing is getting down to a pretty granular level. You’ve already talked about that you’ve got funds that you’re actually giving his gifts. I know Lilly, for example, sometimes will finance sabbaticals for pastors as well. You’ve got the training program, but you got a particular program that I want you to say something about called Bless Your Pastor.
KLUTH: Yeah, Bless Your Pastor is a very, very simple program where we empower churches and Christians to better care for their pastor. I wrote a little flyer called 50 Ways to Bless Your Pastor and Church Staff. And the whole idea of the Bless Your Pastor is we invite Christians and churches to just go to blessyourpastor.org, get the free resources. There’s a seven minute video for the church board to watch. There’s free materials for the church to use. So, we we invite churches to just distribute that Bless Your Pastor flyer—50 Ways to Bless Your Pastor—and it has all these creative ways to really love and care for their pastor. You know, if you’re a dentist, take care of their teeth. You’re a mechanic, fix their car. You’re planting flowers, go do that. You’ve got a timeshare, share it with your pastor. Whatever gifts and abilities and skills you have, share them with your pastor and staff. So, we ask churches to give out that 50 Ways list, take an appreciation offering—because that will really help a pastor and a staff—and then when they do that, we will give that pastor a $250 gift card. So, it’s as simple as, I call it one, two, three. Get the free 50 ways list, distribute it and take an offering, let us know you did it and it will send your pastor a $250 gift card with the grant money that we have. And we’re able to help thousands of pastors. So, everybody listening, you know, your pastor could be blessed by that gift card, but they’d be blessed by the 50 Ways list getting out and people in your church would—When people see that list are always like, I never thought of all these ideas of what I could personally do to bless my pastor. And then for the church board, we really address compensation and benefits and all of that. So, it’s just a great tool to really love and care for pastors. A lot of churches do it in October—pastor appreciation month. But it’s been designed it can be done anytime of the year. You can do it around a pastor’s birthday, you could do it around the Christmas holidays. A lot of pastors are on the verge of leaving ministry just cause they’re so discouraged and they’re struggling financially, but they can’t talk about it. So when this kind of Bless Your Pastor thing happens in their congregation, they feel the love, they feel the support, it energizes them to keep in the game, keep doing the work, keep shepherding the flock. And so it can really be a life changer and a life giving thing for pastors and churches.
SMITH: Brian, I want to ask you some specific questions about sort of crisis points in pastors’ lives and not necessarily crisis points with milestone events, too. Like a kid going off to college, right? I think a lot of pastors, you know, kind of figure out how to make it day to day on whatever salary they’ve got. But then, you know, like I said, a kid goes off to college or they have a health crisis or something like that. Have you seen those situations show up in pastors’ lives and how the congregations and how the pastors have dealt with them?
KLUTH: Yeah, absolutely. Many pastors do live paycheck to paycheck. There just isn’t extra. But it’s wonderful when there are people within the congregation that have more than enough and they know they have more than enough. It’s an incredible thing to see them step into those opportunities and say, hey, your son or daughter to the pastor is going off to college. We want to help with that. Or we want to help them go to a Christian school or we want to help them get to summer camp this summer or whatever camp is going on. So, when people step into those opportunities. It might be a health crisis. My wife had cancer for eight years. We were sitting on a $100,000 in bills. We didn’t have the money to pay. And people stepped up—friends from around the country and our church—and people just gifted us gifts so that 100% of all of our bills were paid. I could have never saved enough as a pastor. I took a $70,000 pay cut to become a pastor. So, I couldn’t save the money to do that. But God used people, generous people that stepped into those situations to help.
SMITH: Brian, one of the things I’ve heard you say is that when people open up their hands to give, their hands are open to receive as well.
KLLUTH: Yeah, absolutely. When people are tight-fisted, when they’re not generous, and they’re holding onto their finite resources nothing’s going out, but not not a lot is coming in. But when you learn to be generous—and I always tell people, no one’s born generous, no one’s born again generous. You have to learn to be generous. And as you learn to open your hands and share what you do have, I do believe God does bring provisions into your life. He brings provisions, he brings his wisdom, he brings guidance. And so you are always, always better learning to be open-handed and generous than tight-fisted, stingy, and selfish.
SMITH: But I want to be clear. You’re not promoting health and wealth prosperity gospel.
KLUTH: Not at all. Again, I don’t give to get, I give because I received. I give because I already have something. We are blessed. You know, we give not to get a blessing, we give to be a blessing. Psalm 67:7 says, “God blesses us, and all the ends of the earth might worship him.” And so it’s not a prosperity gospel message. It’s a transformational generosity message where God transforms us into being joyful givers and blessers of other people.