In this month’s episode of the CSN Podcast, called Biblical Stewardship: Connecting Across Cultures, our Host George B. Thompson welcomes special guest, Paola Easton. Paola is the Finance Director and Stewardship Pastor at Birmingham City Church (BCC) in the United Kingdom.
George and Paola discuss the three biggest areas of financial concern that people are facing right now. Serving in churches in California and in the United Kingdom, they find common ground on the topic of Biblical Stewardship and how to minister to people inside and outside of the church. During this conversation, you will hear how similar our cultures are across the nations when it comes to God and money.
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Paola Easton is the Finance Director and Stewardship Pastor at Birmingham City Church (BCC) in the United Kingdom and has been an active member there since 1998.
She joined the staff team in 2008 in response to a need and as a step into deeper ministry. Since 2013, Paola has been developing the Stewardship Ministry within BCC; this is something she is profoundly passionate about and eager to teach. Her desire is to see people transformed in their daily lives through implementing Godly principles and perspectives to the way that they manage not only their finances, but also their abilities, from God as they step into greater service for Him.
Paola is married to Danny, an Elder within BCC, and they have two children – Jake and Alessia. Paola enjoys traveling and cooking, and both her tiramisu and banana and nutella muffins have an ever increasing fan club.
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The following transcript* has been edited for space and clarity.
George: Welcome to the Christian Stewardship Network. We are here to empower pastors and leaders in the local church to be the best they can be for their congregations and to be kingdom builders in the community. You can learn more about CSN by going to the christianstewardshipnetwork.com.
My name is George B. Thomson, your host for the CSN Podcast. I serve as the Pastor of Stewardship and Finance at Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles, California. It is my honor to host today’s conversation. Praise the Lord!
I am excited today! We are going to be interviewing Paola Easton from Birmingham City Church (BCC), where she is the Pastor of Stewardship and the Director of Finance. Good day, Paola as we talk about biblical stewardship.
Paola: Hi George, thanks for having me today.
George: Thank you, so glad you are here. There’s so much information that I want to go over with you, so, I want to get right into it. First of all, how did you start off in ministry?
Paola: It’s quite a long story actually, so; I’ve tried to condense it for you.
I grew up in a Christian home and have been fortunate to have good mentoring by my parents in the area of finance. I often thought that that was what everybody experienced with their parents or guidants. I grew up in church. I had very strong convictions on biblical principles and didn’t always appreciate just how deep those principles were in me.
So often, I would have conversations with people who just did not understand church people, who would often ridicule my stance on biblical financial principles. This was quite a difficult thing for me, and so I would often not talk about these things.
About six years ago, God really challenged me during a prayer time. I had talked about being more generous; I considered myself to be a very generous person. I’d heard very inspirational stories about people who lived on small portions of their income and gave away large portions. I said to myself, “I want to be that sort of person.”
So, God challenged me in a prayer time and said, “You know, you’ve said this about yourself that this is a goal. But I’m saying to you today; this is not a goal. And the reason it’s not a goal is because you’re not doing anything about it. You’re saying you want to be a generous person, but you’re not being generous.”
I was fully aware that generosity starts beyond the tithe and yet I had somehow convinced myself that being an obedient, faithful tither that I was now generous.
God challenged me in that area and then told me, “I want you to double what you give as your benchmark and baseline for generosity.”
This was quite a shock for me because I was comfortable in the position that I was in. I would often talk and encourage people to begin stepping out and trusting God and tithing, knowing that they were fearful, that they were nervous about it.
And God said, “I want you to feel that again because you run on auto-pilot. You’re not scared, you trust me, you have faith in me. But I want you to start trusting me again at a deeper level.”
So, this whole process took about 18 months, from God telling me to me having the faith and the trust in Him actually to step out and do that. But what happened, as a result, was I believed that God began to open some serious doors for me.
About nine months after I was obedient to what God has asked me to do, we were invited as a church to participate in a learning community that was run by our leadership network. The whole theme of this learning community was how to cultivate generosity within your church. We attended the first meeting, not really knowing what to expect, and we were introduced to people from Gateway Church. The whole concept of stewardship was laid out before us.
And I’m sitting there thinking, all of these years I’ve had this within me. I didn’t know it had a title. I didn’t know it was a ministry and you’re telling me that there are pastors out there doing this full-time, who are seeing great results, impacting their churches and communities and now this is being presented to me. And I felt…well, I went away from that event with a clear call on the meaning of my life.
I felt like now God was saying, “You’ve kept it quiet for so long, now I’m giving you the platform to be able to speak this for me. Will you do this for me?”
And that’s really in a nutshell how this has all come about. By total surprise on my part, how through an act of obedience, God has opened doors and how quickly things have started to fall into place and happen for us.
George: Wow, that’s amazing. I didn’t know all that. At the beginning, you said that your parents taught you a lot of stewardship and things about finance and different things.
George: What are some of the things that they taught you about generosity and managing your own personal tithes?
Paola: Yeah, more on the side of managing finances really. Because my parents didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up and I was acutely aware of that. In fact, there was a period where on one of the days I’d come home from school and my dad had turned around and said, “I’ve now invested in this ice-cream truck to sell ice-cream.” And I’m thinking, great, I’m six years old, and my dad sells ice-cream. “I get free ice-cream!”
But the reality of the situation was that interest rates on mortgages were at 15% plus and he had been reduced to a three-day week at work; he had to put food on the table, he had to pay the bills. And what they did back then was they didn’t go and get money from a loan, they worked harder. They financed their needs that way. So, I didn’t know that at the time, obviously, but now I do.
My parents were very open about the difficulties that they had, the fact that you can’t just have everything that school kids have. I learned very early on that I needed to be careful and that it wasn’t that they were withholding things from me because they didn’t love me or anything of that nature, but it was because they simply didn’t have the funds to do that. And so there was a lot of the management side things, not so much on the generosity side. But looking after being careful with what we had at that time.
George: It appears they taught entrepreneurship and then also just to work harder and to save up to be able to do certain things, which is good.
Paola: Exactly, yeah.
George: You said that you also began work with the leadership network. Is that how you learned about the Christian Stewardship Network?
Paola: Yes, yes, because of our connections with getting to know some of the people like Gunnar Johnson, who was serving at Gateway church at the time. It was Gunnar who actually invited me to come along to the CSN Forum in Dallas, which I was able to attend last year.
That was my first encounter with CSN as a group and what they stood for and what they were trying to do, which was just so exciting because it’s unheard of as a ministry in the U.K. really.
George: Also, that’s actually true in the United States actually too, is that a lot of times with CSN as a Christian Stewardship Network and when we come, and we meet, I actually thought…I didn’t know any other pastors of stewardship. Then, I met Pastor Robert Morris; he set for me to meet Gunnar Johnson.
I started coming to meetings, and then I found out there’s a group of people who are not only in the areas of stewardship, but making it a whole life issue.
You know, your time, how well you measure time, your talent, and your treasure (to be very generous.) How was all of that spoke about translated into how you teach at the church? How did you get the position at your church?
Paola: One thing that I’ve picked up on in my time with getting to know the CSN group and also being part of the learning community was how often there are difficulties with the senior leaders of churches not getting on board with the stewardship ministry or not seeing it as important.
When we embarked on this learning community, my senior minister, Pastor Mark Ryan, was equally taken with it. There was no need to convince him that this was something that needed to happen.
He could, also, clearly see what God had been doing in me over the years that he’d known me. And for him, it was easy fitting two pieces of the puzzle together. It was a little bit harder for me because I started to doubt whether I was the right person for the role.
Do I really want the title of a pastor? Am I good enough to do this? I’m not sure I am.
But then I began to realize, all the years of preparation, all the things that God has been speaking to me, that I’ve been doing against the odds. I’ve still stuck to it.
God has been faithful; God has opened doors.
Why would this not be right for me to do that? So, it was sort of at the end of our two-year learning community process that we decided to make it official and announce it to the church that I would now take on this role, at the same time as still doing my finance director role.
George: Right, so you were already a member of the church, and you were already on staff. The, you switched over to also doing stewardship in that area.
There are some burning questions I had (I had these before we started our conversation) so, I have to ask them.
If I went to your church, and I just walked in, sat down, and started asking people, “What’s your biggest financial concern?” Then, I started polling the next person, “What’s your biggest financial concern?” What would they say?
Paola: I think there are a lot of concerns about just the general cost of living at the moment. How do we make ends meet?
A lot of people are in debt, and I think they see debt as a solution to their issues.
And what we have been trying to do over the last three or four years is in presenting the message of stewardship and managing things differently, in a godly way. That debt doesn’t have to be what often is termed as a necessary part of our lives. You can operate without debt but they just need to be shown how. And have never had that option presented to them before.
George: Right. The cost of living is rising with inflation.
When you go to a movie, or buy food or do everyday things, prices are rising, and we’re not seeing people’s salary increase at the same rate. Things are becoming more expensive. (And just so you know, these same issues are the exact same ones in the United States.)
So that’s why I want to make sure we talk about them because we understand the biblical way of approaching them. One of the principles is just learning to be content with what you have. You know, a lot of times people are trying to get more and more and more. With the rising cost of living in the U.K, I’m sure it’s getting more expensive.
The area of contentment is one that people really struggle in. Are there certain classes or how do you teach that to people?
Paola: Well, when we came away from the learning community, I begun to just soak and saturate myself in whatever books I could find, whatever messages I could listen to, to get more and more of the language to use to present this to other people, to be able to qualify the things that I felt deeply convicted by.
So we started to drip feed that into the congregation, whether that was just through an announcement part way through a service, we do offering talks every week. So the offering is never just…you know, we don’t just pass that along and ignore it and try and forget that is happening. We make a point of teaching in that. It’s not always myself. So we try as well to make sure that people see this is not just Paola’s issue, this is not just what she’s passionate about. But the whole church is really behind this in terms of the leadership, we all believe this. So we’ll share that out.
George: On a previous episode of the CSN Podcast, Chris Willard said,
- You want to teach it,
- You want to preach it.
- Then, you want to have a testimony about it (celebrate it.)
It’s good that we’re sharing this. It’s similar in the sense that we’re talking about what the issues are. So, that’s humanizing it for the people that are feeling alienated, saying, “I’m the only one that has this financial issue.”
But, you know, everyone has the same issues. Thinking about debt, many times people think that whenever someone gives them a loan, they’re handing them a rope. But they’re actually handing them a shovel, and they’re getting deeper in a hole.
So, one of the things is just showing them just to stop, just stop.
And then not only are we going to pray for you, but we’re also going to work for you and then we’re going to show you how to get out.
But you have to teach people to get out on their own; it’s not going to take 15 minutes in doing it. It didn’t take you 15 minutes to get in; we’re going actually to have to get out. You show people the method.
Just as in using and leveraging that offering time and communicating with the people, so it goes both ways.
You’re not saying just figure it out, but hey, we have resources available to help you. And then it’s great because, at the Christian Stewardship Network, we have a lot of resources to help in that area but also that you’re reaching out and doing it.
So, the first area of financial concern you said was that the cost of living is continuing to rise.
Then, there’s debt.
What’s another big area of financial concern?
(By the way, we can talk about debt for a long time because we also taught a class where we went out in the community. We asked people what class they wanted. One of them was how to get out of student loan debt. We had people come to that class, and they were wrapped around the room. As we were getting started to pray, people raised their hands and had questions. We were like, “Hey, can we present a little bit of the material first?” You’re in a different area, so I don’t know if it’s the same. I want to find out what your third biggest area of financial concern is, but just to let you know, here there is student loan debt. I don’t know if that is an issue (in the U.K.?)
Paola: It is, it’s a very big issue, too. It’s not something that I’m getting many questions about currently, but we have got sort of a thriving student ministry developing now.
One of my plans is to take some of the courses into their group, take it to them. Because they’re not likely to come to me, so I’m going to go to them.
And really just to put some foundations in for them, so that they can start to think about things differently. Because they’ve grown not knowing anything different, but I’ve grown up knowing things a lot different.
Just 20 years ago, things were so different. Whereas now debt is the normal. Twenty years ago it wasn’t.
And so I’m very conscious that they don’t know anything differently about it, they’ve not been modeled anything differently. Then, why do we expect them to know what to do unless we show them?
George: Then again, do the numbers shock you? Like when you sit in a class and someone says, “I have $100,000 in debt.” They just say it, like it’s not a big deal. Or some people go to law school, and they hear it’s $200,000, and they’re just like…I’m just like that’s a high number.
Paola: I think people are a little bit more reserved in the U.K. in sharing that type of information. So, they may honestly say yes, I have debt but to give you the figure, what I’m finding is that they actually don’t know the figure is more of the reality.
They don’t like talking about money and that’s been one of the things that we found difficult in getting the ministry off the ground is getting people to attend a class. Because they feel a degree of shame or there is a stigma attached to that because if I attend your class, then I’m admitting to everybody that I have a problem.
That made me reconsider the way that we advertise the classes. We started to talk to people more in lines of this is a discipleship class, it’s just another element of what we do, it’s a Bible study.
I didn’t want to jump straight in with just a practical budgeting class because I didn’t want to get people out of a messy situation but then not teach them how to stay out of it.
So, I tended to go with more the foundations first saying let’s lay that principle that God gives us, let’s tackle some of those mental pressures that we have, the external culture that is always fighting against us, trying to get us to do things in a certain way.
Well, how does that marry up with what God wants us to do? And so, are we overspending because we’re not content? Are we overspending because we’re simply out of control and that we don’t see the consequences of what we’re doing?
So, I started to tackle those issues first.
Then, once they begin to realize God’s heart, once they began to see, “Oh, there’s another way of doing it,” then I started to give them the practical ways of how to deal with whatever situation they were in at that time and so marry the two together that way.
George: That’s good because it’s one of the things that’s important (from what you’re saying), is to have the biblical content. When they understand what God’s plan and purpose is for their life, they’re much more able to receive the practical portions.
Because that’s one of the things, we’ve always struggled with in doing this.
Many times, we tend to break people up into different groups:
- There are people that are struggling and sinking, that means they can’t pay their bills.
- Then, there are steady people, meaning they pay their bills.
- Then, there are solid people, and they’re doing pretty good.
- And in the last group, there are surplus people, those with extra money, highest level service and able to give.
One of the things I see (that you, also, talked a little bit about) is we want to teach all the classes, to everybody in the church. Because then, it’s not that someone is coming to the class because they’re in debt or trouble or going into the hospital.
Everybody needs to have a consultant or a coach. Continuing to do that, but do it biblically.
This is what separates us from the other people that are doing that. So, that’s a very good point that you brought up.
Paola: Yeah, it just makes it a very safe environment.
People are very skeptical about classes of this nature, especially in the U.K. And I find it’s helpful to break down that, in some ways we’ve had almost to undo certain things.
We haven’t even started at zero, we’ve had to go backward and undo things in people’s minds and attitudes so that we can then start at zero and build from there. And it’s just been a very safe and trusting way to do that.
George: That’s great. What’s another financial concern that someone in your church has asked about?
Paola: I think one of the other ones that comes out is sort of the other end of the scale about the future and pensions, savings, retirement. What sort of investments do I need to have?
Sometimes, there’s an indication there that people are scared of their future. An indication that they’re not really trusting that God’s got them and that God is their provider. That they are looking to an insurance policy or a pension or an investment, stocks, and shares and that type of thing is, you know, that’s where my security is.
And so I’m saying, you know, it’s not wrong to plan for the future, it’s not wrong to have a retirement investment plan or savings. But are you doing it for the right reason?
Yes, God wants us to plan, but he doesn’t want you to have your reliance totally on that rather than on him. There has to be that balance.
George: That’s why it’s the Biblical stewardship principles that you must be teaching.
I’d love to get a lot more information on this beyond this podcast. But, for us to understand that point because that’s where it’s them understanding God’s plan and purpose for them other than just being content.
Secretly people don’t wanna share, where they should be saying, “I want to share.” We had those same issues here in Los Angeles and across the United States in 2008.
Then, the economy got bad; everybody was like, “Hey, look I’m in trouble.” They just started setting up the life preservers.
They were saying, “Hey, I just need help.” So actually, when you get into difficult economies, people just want help. So, it’s great that you use that particular method.
I have one more question about your church. You know, every church has a slogan, or there’s something that their church has a mission in their area.
So I just want to know what the mission was of your church and then how you bring stewardship into the mission of the church and what the senior pastor also believes.
Paola: Well, for Birmingham City Church, our mission statement really is “transformed lives transforming lives.”
There’s an emphasis on we have to be transformed in whatever area that is, continually through our growth as Christians, so that we can then impart something to somebody else and transform and be a part of the transformation of somebody else’s life.
In terms of stewardship, I was really taken with how I picked up from the Forum that I attended in Dallas last year, that the connection between the amount of growing spiritually and the fruit that we bear is directly related to our attitudes towards finance and how we handle them. And if we have that wrong, it is going to hinder our spiritual growth.
And so, in terms of looking within our congregation of believers, I’ve really tried to get that point across.
Look, this is really important that you understand God’s heart because He wants you to grow, He wants you to be more like Him, he wants you to be generous like Him. He wants you to be loving and caring and reach out to your fellow neighbors and community and be a part of their life transformation. But you have to allow God to transform you too. And money is such a big part of that. If I can help you to understand that and release more of God’s blessing through you to affect somebody else, then we can start this snowball effect.
And then on the other side of things, in terms of non-Christians in our community, one of our biggest expressions is through our food bank. We have people who really are on the poverty line.
Maybe, their benefits have been stopped. They’ve lost jobs quite suddenly. They have no means of buying food for themselves or their family. So, they will come along to the food bank, and we will sit with them while food is being prepared for them, offer to pray with them. They know that we are the church. We don’t ram that down their throats, but we offer it to them if they want that.
One of the things that I wanted to do was to see how I can teach to impact non-Christians, how can I get non-Christians to come into a church venue maybe?
We have an organization in the U.K. called Christians Against Poverty. And they work primarily through churches. So they are very evangelistic in their approach, and their heart is to win the lost and secondly, to help them get out of debt. They are well-known and respected in the U.K. You do not have to be a Christian to get help from them. And so I started to look at, what would it be like to have maybe a partnership with this organization?
They had courses that they’ve put together that work really well, so I tried that. And it’s currently something that I’m looking to put on so that people at the food bank can come to our church venue and go through a practical financial course showing them how just to make the most of what they have.
But, we’ve got them through the doors, and they are thinking, you know, the church is just a steeple and a cross on the top of the roof and wooden pews and people singing hymns and have no idea what a city church in their context is like.
And so to be able to get them through the doors and actually say, “Hey, why don’t you come along and see what we’re about. But let us help you with this financial situation and teach you how to make things work better for you.”
That’s a tool that we’re currently exploring at the moment. We haven’t done that side of things yet, but I’m hopeful that that’s going to bear a lot of fruit for us.
George: Yeah, I focus on that, too.
Over the last few years, our church growth has been about 30% of the people that come to one of our financial classes.
They know nothing about our church since they’re not members. It’s the way we reach out to them. We’re out here not only trying to save lost souls but, also, helping the people then they begin to tell their friends.
Then, they all find out that, hey, this isn’t the church they went to 20 years ago or 30 years ago. (Because sometimes people have been hurt in the church in the past and they say that I’m not coming back.)
Then, they come back and say, “Hey, they’re here, they’re helping us, and they’re doing this for the community and in different areas.” It’s just a great way to reach out to people and also to assist them.
So again, I’d encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing in those areas, and that will help you grow. And about Christians Against Poverty, that is a great way to get involved and to continue to work together.
Also, there are a lot of resources that CSN can help with in those areas. I think that is a really good opportunity. I’d like you to tell us if somebody is in the Birmingham area or the U.K. and they wanted to learn more about you or be able to utilize some of the resources, how do they get in contact with you or how do they get more information about what you’re doing?
Paola: The website for our church is bcc.life, short and sweet.
We have details of all of our ministries on there. And you could contact me through there, but we’re also looking at putting on our website an online version of our courses. (That’s sort of in its pilot stage too.) So even if you can’t come to our venue, you can access a stewardship course online. We’re looking to develop that with maybe videos and testimonies, too.
There is a little piece on there about what we believe concerning giving and generosity and God’s heart and why we think stewardship is important, so that message is there. But we’re still very much in the infancy stage of the ministry, but we’re just looking at different models, different churches and saying I think that will work for us, let’s give that a go. Adapting it, trying it, not being scared to say, you know, that wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be, let’s try something else. So we’re just trying to see the right fit for different areas of the ministry at the moment.
George: Thank you so much, Paola. That is excellent in which you’re already doing in your church. And I look forward to our networking and doing even more in these areas and helping and growing people.
Also, if you’d like more information regarding the Christian Stewardship Network, you can go to our website at christianstewardshipnetwork.com. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Paola: You’re welcome, thanks for having me.
George: We want to thank you, Paola, for being on our call today and we want to thank you just for all of the information and everything, that will be very valuable for our listeners.
Paola: Thank you so much, George, for inviting me. It’s been a great, great experience, thank you.
George: God bless you. I
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