Stewardship in a Liminal Time

Recently I have heard the word “liminal” used many times to describe this season we are experiencing in the life of our churches. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means “limit or threshold.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines liminal time in this way:

“It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Rohr goes on to say that ancient cultures referred to liminal space as “crazy time,” because it is like nothing we have ever experienced before. Think of it as that space, that time, when a flying acrobat has let go of one swinging trapeze and is in mid-air, anxiously seeking the grasp of another who is swinging their way.

Liminal times can come into our lives as planned or unplanned. These are times when life is forever different – when life is divided between before and after the event. They include, but are certainly not limited to, the following: the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, the loss of a job, retirement, moving, a health diagnosis/crisis, the beginning or end of a significant relationship, graduations, and military service.

Lee Ann Pomrenke, an ELCA pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota, has described this period of time as much like the season that congregations experience in those times when a pastor leaves and a new pastor has not yet been called. The marks of being in a liminal (literally: “on the boundary between”) period are unsettling for a congregation but also potentially freeing.

During this season we know we will emerge changed from how we entered this era, but we cannot see what that will look like yet. Pomrenke encourages us to trust those who have led through interim periods that while it is stressful, there are also blessings.

Begin by asking these questions:

  1. Why has the congregation done it that way before? Is this working for people? What might work better?
  2. What new ministries have developed recently that meet the needs of our people? Which ones will we continue? How can we provide the resources to make that happen?

Pomrenke suggests there are three important values we should embrace during our liminal time, and I added some thoughts about how you might use this liminal season to expand and modify the Stewardship ministry of your congregation.

Honesty

We are all unsettled, disoriented, and fearful of the unknown right now. Naming this honestly builds trust in our leadership, in our relationships. This is also an unprecedented time to be honest that change is coming. Consider the following:

  1. Be transparent and share how the church is maintaining its ministry.
  2. Be aware of people’s shifting values on how to spend time and money.
  3. Give the session and other congregational leaders plenty of space and permission to lead.
  4. Listen to the fears and concerns of the congregation and acknowledge them.
  5. Learn how to support one another in new and different ways.

Shared Creativity

A break in the flow of activities is ideal for trying new things, old things with a twist, adding, or subtracting from our regular patterns to see what really matters. Sometimes that means letting go of some things to make space for something new. Consider this:

  1. Revisit and modify the budget you approved for this year.
  2. If your congregation has been affected by unemployment and reduced finances during this season, recalculate the potential giving.
  3. If priorities for ministries have changed, revise the line items for ministry resources. This does not mean you are “cutting” the budget. It is a refocus.
  4. Think of new ways to lead your fall Stewardship program that builds on the energy and creativity you have seen during this liminal time.
  5. Create ways for your congregation to envision the future of the church by establishing or promoting a legacy fund.

Flexibility

Obviously, we have “never done things this way before,” but now we are extraordinarily free to experiment and pivot when something does not work.

  1. Find new ways to receive and celebrate gifts during worship.
  2. Implement online giving if you have not already done so.
  3. Be open to short-term planning to try something new.
  4. Evaluate plans for designated resources to free up those resources for something new.
  5. Learn how to “let go” of ministries to enable new ministries to flourish.

Now is a wonderful time for us to envision the future of our church and our congregations. We need to embrace the abundance we have been given and learn how to use that for renewed ministry. Life is different and that’s okay! God is at work in us helping us to see beyond this liminal season.

Deborah Rexrode, PhD
POJ Associate for Stewardship

Faithful Stewards

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10

So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.

Conversion from Scarcity to Abundance

Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.

Stewarding Congregational Wellness

Some stewardship committees focus most of their attention on the fall Stewardship emphasis. Frankly, that’s plenty of work. But our calling as stewardship leaders is not just to the fall “ask.” We are also called to help shape the identity of stewards among our peers and as a community. We are entrusted with many assets, some of which are physical (like buildings and money) and some of which are relational (like our congregational community or our congregational mission). All of these are inflection points where we can invite others to think and act like stewards.

Christmas Gift Giving

People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.

Practicing Gratitude

Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?

Giving to God

Stewardship is not just a way of life; it is a good way of life. In fact, for many, it is a way to a better life. Stewardship means belonging to God. It means allowing God to rule our lives, putting God in charge of everything, including our time and our money. Surrendering control does not come easily to any of us. But God is good at ruling people’s lives. If we really do belong to God and if we really do put God in charge of everything, we will not be the worse for it.

A Season of Numbers

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

September is only a couple of days away and signals many things…vacation is over, children return to school, fall church programming kicks off, and congregations hear about Stewardship (hopefully not for the first time of the year). It’s a season of numbers! Sessions, Finance Committees, Stewardship and Generosity Teams, Pastors and members of the congregations look at all kinds of statistics: