Congregations and clergy across the country and around the world are navigating uncharted waters as we struggle to deal with the effects of COVID-19. Some are scrambling to implement new technologies related to connecting and giving. Others are advocating for a time of Sabbath rest.
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.
Many congregations’ websites describe the practice of tithing on their giving pages, almost as placeholder text. Sometimes it’s simple and direct:
“The biblical model for giving is to tithe, allocating 10% of one’s income
to the church, so that should be your goal.”
Other descriptions are more subtle:
“We appreciate your support for this church, where our mission to share Christ’s light with the world includes the practice of directing 10% of church gifts to support global charities.”
Thereby implying, we tithe as a church so you should, too!
As congregational leaders of Stewardship, we are aware that many in our congregations give closer to 1% than 10%, so giving invitations might not mention percentages at all. But avoiding the conversation entirely may abandon an important opportunity to nurture disciples in the joy of giving. Whether it’s welcoming a handful of crumpled dollar bills from a single parent, or a retiree’s hefty Qualified Charitable Distribution, we must provide a way for everyone to grow in their generosity and giving.
There are serious limitations if we structure our Stewardship message around the supposed “Biblical Standard” of tithing. Let’s rethink how we invite people to give, inspiring their giving rather than obliging it.
The data indicates that, on average, U.S. individuals give around 2-3% of their after-tax income to charities (including churches). So while there may be some tithers in your congregation, average church-goers will give away 2-3% of their income and probably not to your congregation alone. Given this reality, if our Stewardship pitch focuses on the tithe which may be as much as four times what someone is currently giving, there is a good chance our Stewardship goal is probably not going to make its mark.
A fair reading of scripture does not reinforce any goal or requirement that Christians today should give 10% of their income to their local congregation. If tithing became a key concern of Jesus, he would probably mention it. Instead, while Jesus talks about money all the time, he is nearly always addressing people’s relationship with money, and the injustice associated with the distribution of money. In imagining the Christian life, Paul embraced generosity, cheerful giving, and caring for those in need. But there is never any sense of a 10% catchall expectation in the Gospels, epistles, or elsewhere in the New Testament.
The Old Testament includes several passages that note the practice of giving 10% to the Temple. This money went to support the Levitical priests, temple upkeep, sacrifices, and charity. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 suggests tithing also led to huge parties with good food, strong drink, and great rejoicing.
So, if we don’t use tithing as a rhetorical device to compel giving, what should we do? This path is where we should lean on invitation rather than the obligation. And for Christians, invitation is a key ingredient of discipleship.
As Henri Nouwen famously observes,
“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer
other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”
Stewardship ministry then becomes a way to proclaim what we believe.
One of the best ways to make this proclamation is to tell stories; stories of our ministry, stories of lives changed, stories of the Spirit working through the gifts we give to God in the offering.
- Tell the story of Dave whose life was changed by volunteering at your food shelf.
- Tell the story of Nikkeya who led confirmation classes and is now going to seminary.
- Tell the story of Haden who discovered God on a mission trip.
- Tell the story of Edna who was touched when the pastor visited her last week.
We are made of and moved by story. Stewardship, at its best, invites people to join in the story of God’s work in your midst — an invitation that can truly inspire generosity.
POJ Associate for Stewardship
*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Indianapolis at the annual spring Ecumenical Stewardship Center conference. The theme for the conference was Generosity Transformed! The keynote speakers addressed transformation in three main topics: Mission, Ministry and Money.
Last month, I introduced you to a book by the Rev. Dr. Eric Law entitled, “Holy Currencies.” Eric’s focus is on the “currencies” that flow through ministry that make our ministries sustainable and missional. One of these currencies is the currency of relationship.
We are all aware that social networks have value precisely because they help us to achieve what we could not achieve on our own. It is through our networks that we find partners, friends, healthy relationships. We have a choice in choosing who is in our network or which network we are a part of. We also have a choice to decide what to spread through our network. Do we use it to spread lies or tell truth, instill fear or foster trust, propagate hate or share love, break down or build sustainable communities?
You’ve probably heard of “six degrees of separation” which refers to the idea that on average we are only six relationships away from any other person on earth. There is also a theory known as “three degrees of influence” which says that everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends, their friends, and their friends’ friends. Our influence gradually dissipates and ceases to have noticeable effect on people beyond these three degrees of influence.
Consider this…an inspiring worship at a church that moves 100 people to do good in the community can have the potential of influencing 500 people in the first degree, 2,500 people in the second degree and 12,500 people in the third degree to also do good. In a small town of under 10,000 people, this means what happens in worship for a small church can have the potential to influence almost everybody in the community. We have a great responsibility for the networks of which we are a part.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (selected verses from John 15).
Even though Jesus’ initial network was composed mostly of Jews, he also commanded his friends to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Building and strengthening the internal network is an essential first step for every church. However, if we are to fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to spread this love to the ends of the earth, we must learn to develop relationships outside our community of faith, connecting with people in our neighborhood, our city or town, our nation, and across the earth.
Remember the story of Mary and Martha. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, but she was distracted by her many tasks while Mary came and sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. Many in our churches are like Martha. We are so used to “doing” church that we might neglect to be more like Mary: to be, to listen, and to relate.
Today, one of the determining factors for whether one goes to church is relationship. People go to church because they have relationships with people there, and these relationships are also exchanged for other currencies such as truth, wellness, and leadership. We need to refocus our church’s ministries on being relational. What would our programs be like if we were focusing on building relationships as well as getting the job done?
Having strong relationships among members of the church is essential for a sustainable ministry. Church members will gladly offer their volunteer hours for ministries when they have strong ties to the church community. Through a strong internal network in our congregations, raising leaders is accomplished usually by friends inviting another friend into some leadership role. Members can offer their gifts and skills for ministry, not only as individuals but also working together in teams, because of the relationships that are already developed.
In addition to building relationships among members of our congregations, we need to maximize our relationships with other congregations in our community. Having working relationships with other churches will enable churches to pool their resources of time and place, money, and gracious leadership to create and sustain ministries that can be done together while respecting the unique ministries of the separate communities. Churches in the same area can also enable each other to see the bigger picture of the needs and concerns of the larger community and find resources to support ministry projects they can do together.
The key purpose to developing relationships is to create wellness within the church community – spiritual, social, and sometimes financial wellness. How much time does your congregation spend building relationships? Is there time during and after worship for relationship-building? What portion of your budget includes relationship-building ministries?
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
(Taken from “Holy Currencies: 6 Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries”
by Eric H. F. Law.)
Time – how do you define it, how do you claim it, how do you have enough of it? What does it mean to be a good steward of time?
In the book, “Beyond the Offering Plate,” Maryann McKibben Dana laments the fact that the founder of Amazon is funding a multi-million-dollar project to help build a 10,000-year clock, a clock that will tell time for 10,000 years.
I recently met Margaret Marcuson at a Stewardship conference and was impressed by her energy and enthusiasm for Stewardship. Margaret is a leader of leaders, ordained minister, and teacher and student of human systems. She speaks and writes on leadership and works with faith leaders nationally as a consultant/coach.
In their recent book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson claim that generosity is a practice, not a “haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life.” In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul talks about generosity as a virtue, a habit of the heart, and a character trait. Generosity as both virtue and practice connects attitude to action.
letr1 – Stewardship is a Year-Long Ministry
Every Sunday is an opportunity to preach and teach about stewardship. Seize that opportunity whenever you can. Listen for God’s messages on Stewardship in the scriptures. One good Stewardship sermon in the fall during the annual stewardship campaign is not enough. Think about the people who might miss that Sunday or even avoid that sermon.