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.
Recently Minner Serovy, one of the Ministry Relations Officers for the Presbyterian Foundation, shared an interesting experience she encountered while participating in a panel for an adult education class. The opening question was, “Is the church a business?” All the other panelists were members of the church where the panel was taking place, and all were businesspeople. They explained their reasons for thinking of the church as business. With some discomfort, Minner said, “I could not find my way to agreement.”
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.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)
The Rev. Lisa Cressman, an Episcopal priest and the Founding Steward of Backstory Preaching, recently wrote an article for the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary titled, “How Our Failure to Address the “M” Word Damages More Than Budgets.”
With stewardship season fast approaching and knowing many preachers feel uncomfortable talking about money, Lisa wanted to know why. Why does preaching about money — or talking about money in just about any context — make us squirm with awkwardness? Here’s what she concluded:
When did talking about money become taboo?
Interestingly, while talking about money may be taboo for you and me, it isn’t off limits for everyone everywhere, because talking about money—or avoiding it—is culturally specific.
For example, in some cultures talking about money is seen as genuinely helpful, and not discussing it is rude. If I’m paying a higher price for rent than you are, or I paid less than you did for a car, it’s polite to talk about it so we can both pay what’s fair. In the United States, especially among the middle class, it seems we inherited the taboo of talking about money from early American colonizers from England.
In England, the wealth of others was easily estimated based on the amount of land one owned and all it required to build up and maintain it. A person’s wealth, and the status, power, and prestige it implied, was self-evident. People who had money didn’t need to talk about it. Therefore, those who talked about money were the ones who didn’t have it.
And thus, the discussion of money was associated with those in a “lower class.”
To oversimplify hundreds of years of social development, to be “classy” (meaning to be polite, genteel, respectable) meant not talking about money—and so our social norm was established.
What is the cost of avoiding the “M” word?
Think about how much time, emotional energy, and relational labor is spent worrying about money in the life of your average congregation member. Practically speaking, this taboo around money talk traps people in ignorance, stress, and scarcity:
- financial illiteracy leads to uninformed consent when we sign on the dotted line, leading to unwelcome surprises when the bills come due
- as a country, we continue to amass the greatest amountof personal debt in the history of the world
- financial distress is a factor correlated with domestic violence
- immense unnecessary stress occurs when the spouse who managed the finances dies without leaving a trail of bread crumbs to the family’s bank (or the computer passwords to the online accounts)
- college grads amass student loan debtwithout calculating whether a chosen profession provides an adequate salary to pay it off
- women and minorities continue to experience injustice in pay equity because ignorance of what others are paid makes it impossible to know if they’re paid the same
What we gain by breaking the silence?
Money itself is amoral—neither evil nor good. But our perspective toward it can make it decidedly corrupt or benevolent. As Stewardship leaders, we have a responsibility to disrupt the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture of silence around money to cast a sacred vision for money.
When we avoid discussions of money, we forfeit an opportunity to free people from the anxiety or shame of financial distress. Here are some of the ways we might do that:
- promote justice for our lesser-paid colleagues by advocating they receive the same pay we earn for the same work
- teach financial literacy—beginning with our kids so they learn sound financial decision-making skills
- focus on the joy of living well within one’s means with enough left over to give to those in need
- learn the virtue of patience, which is so often missed with every purchase we pay interest on
- provide dignity and respect to our loved ones after we die by sharing with them the amounts and locations of our assets and debts
- experience joyful financial giving because we no longer care whether we are “keeping up with the Joneses.”
During this season of Stewardship, find ways to truly talk about money, not in terms of scarcity, but in terms of abundance. What does your budget say about your mission and ministry? How can you free your congregation to share their own financial stories and how it impacts their ability to freely give?
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do:
“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity,
which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;
for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints
but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”
(II Corinthians 9:11-12)
The practice of generosity stretches us to offer our best to God, to have an attitude of giving that is joyous and from the heart. It is a practice of thoughtful giving that is planned and extravagant. It is giving that is more than dutiful, required, or simply doing one’s part. It is giving above and beyond the limits of what we think we are capable of accomplishing.
In order for your congregation to have an effective stewardship campaign/emphasis, you need a plan! Now is the time for you to make a plan for the fall. There are many methods for conducting a stewardship emphasis and collecting financial commitments in your congregation. The perennial question is, “What should we do this year?”
Every method has strengths and limitations. To decide which method best suits your congregation’s situation, you should begin by asking the following questions:
>> What methods have been used in the past few years?
>> When was the last time we did an Every Member Visitation?
>> How much time, energy, and money do we have to invest in the campaign?
>> How well do our members attend worship and other events?
>> What is the focus of our campaign?
>> How much do members know about the mission of the church?
The most effective method is the “Every Member Visitation” method but it needs to be well planned and takes a great deal of time, effort, and organization. However, it does generate enthusiasm in the congregation that carries over into many other areas of the church’s life. It is recommended that you only conduct this type of campaign every 3-5 years. Any program you decide to use should have variety to maintain excitement, intensity, and effectiveness.
Some of the most common types of annual stewardship campaigns are:
- Every Member Visitation Campaign – involves making personal contact with all members of the congregation in their homes.
- Small Group Meetings Campaign – depends on enlisting each member to attend a meeting in another member’s home.
- Sunday Worship Campaign – focuses on the commitment invitation and a reception during Sunday worship.
- Direct Mail Campaign – an effective mail appeal with a series of carefully written letters and a commitment card that is mailed or brought to worship.
- Congregational Dinner Campaign – the dinner is the main event with an outstanding presentation, and commitments are received at the dinner.
- Telephone Approach Campaign – similar to the Every Member Visitation but contacts are made by telephone rather than face-to-face.
- Consecration Day Campaign – this program is concentrated in a single 24- hour period with a highly charged worship service followed by the consecration.
- Personal Delivery Campaign – involves organizing the congregation into chains of families who pass on the commitment information to one another.
Your congregation is unique, and some of these plans may not fit into your culture. If you are looking for some new ideas to implement, maybe one of these appeals to you or could be adapted to your setting.
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” I think a better quote might be, “The definition of excitement is doing a new thing and getting new results.”
Associate for Stewardship Presbytery of the James
How often have you had a great idea that you shared with your church committee, your session, or members of your congregation, only to be told, “we don’t have the money” or “that isn’t in the budget.” Too often we focus on raising the money first and then thinking about how we can advance the mission.