Teaching on Wills and Legacies

Gospel-Driven Wills and Legacies

How often are you advising, teaching, and envisioning believers in your church about how they should use their wealth?

I don’t simply mean teaching about tithing (important though it is), I mean sharing a gospel vision for how members could use their wealth to serve the cause of Christ for decades to come.

The significance of the “baby-boomers” being the first widespread property-owning generation our nation has seen has led to an unusual opportunity to harness resources for the sake of the gospel. It means that people in our churches are making decisions today about what will happen to their wealth when they are called to glory.

While people may be ‘cash poor’, many are now ‘asset rich’ because they own their own houses. Furthermore, many in their middle-age are now inheriting significant resources from deceased loved ones which means they too have decisions to make about what to do with this wealth.

So, how are we helping believers to make wise decisions?

Preaching on giving

Often, preaching on financial giving is neglected (it seems too close to begging for your own bread) but I would say that preaching biblical principles about leaving a legacy is even rarer. How many times have you spoke on making a Will, or how a Will could be shaped by gospel principles?

Perhaps this reluctance, in part, is because we rightly take to heart Scripture’s warnings.

We all know that this area can be open to manipulative abuse. Paul warns Timothy about false leaders “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5) and others who are “the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women” (2 Timothy 3:6).

Yet the Lord Jesus did teach about legacy. He wanted believers to live in such a way that spending decisions about their time, talent, and especially treasure would be shaped to affect others for eternal good.

The Shrewd Manager

Take the commonly misunderstood parable of the shrewd manager as an example (Luke 16:1-14).

Jesus wants us to grasp one great thing: if you know what is coming, change your behaviour and live in the light of it. The shrewd manager knew he was going to get fired and did something about it.

Jesus is not advocating that we should lie, cheat or deceive, but challenging his own followers to action given that they know what is coming. We are heaven-bound when we die so he urges us to live in the light of that, especially by being responsible with the wealth entrusted to us.

The reference to using worldly wealth “to gain friends for yourselves and being welcomed into eternal dwellings” (v9) is a challenge to live in such a way as to touch others’ lives. So much so that they may well be there with you in the end, and are the ones gladly welcoming you in. You can become the means through which God blesses others.

Jesus is challenging us to a gospel-driven use of wealth, contrasting it to a selfish-driven one.

Could pastors envision a generation to leave some of their property-based wealth to gospel causes, and a generation who inherit wealth to at least tithe that for gospel work? If we don't, it could be a wasted opportunity.

Where to leave your wealth

A friend of mine heads the Wills and Legacies department of a law firm. He discusses legacies with his clients every day and tells me that most, of course, plan to leave resources to their direct family.

But others, especially those without immediate close family, can be at a loss to know what to do. If in doubt, they leave resources to what has touched them – maybe responding to an advert on the TV for an animal charity or such like.

Of course, that is people’s prerogative, but wouldn’t it be very sad indeed if a believer were to leave wealth without taking into account pressing gospel priorities?

Tragically many believers never even get around to making a Will at all. At death, government probate laws kick-in, and wealth is shared as the law dictates – maybe going to far-distant relatives people hardly knew.

A worked example

I was way behind the curve on mentioning any of this at Grace.

I hadn't realised that some people could leave more resources to gospel work at their death than they had ever been able to give during their life. It also felt a bit grubby, or unethical, to envision believers about this and I certainly didn’t want to pressurise people. It meant I put it off for too long.

But teaching on this issue shouldn’t be controversial. In regular ministry, money and giving should crop up often because it does in the Bible. And in that context, it would be amiss not to think about how Christians can use their wealth when they are called home.

I have also learnt that this teaching needs to go hand-in-hand with helpful planning. When making a Will, people want reassurance that a legacy will make a gospel difference.

To help people, we’ve set up a Training Fund at Grace and we invite people to contribute to it either when they make a Will, or when they inherit wealth and tithe a gift. This has the advantage of being specific, long-term, and gospel-focussed.

The money is ring-fenced to enable the church to take on training assistants, whom we help and then release for gospel work elsewhere. It means the legacies we received make a gospel difference for many years to come.

To start with, I was unsure it would work. But 10 years on, more than £600,000 of donations, and many assistants and apprentices later, I realise how crucial it has been to gospel work.

If you don't teach and envision believers about this, the resources will simply go elsewhere.

If the local church is the hope of the world then believers should invest in gospel work in their local church. By leaving a legacy, they can do so long after they have arrived in heaven.

This is definitely something to consider – whether you are a Christian believer who hasn’t made a Will or if you’re a church leader who hasn’t taught about it.

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