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.
What is the importance of telling our congregation’s story? First, and foremost, we tell our story so that others can hear the message of God’s love. We are called to “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” This is the mission God calls us to in our congregations.
December is just around the corner. From a stewardship perspective, December is typically the biggest giving month of the year in churches and also for many non-profits. So, what can we do as church leaders to provide an opportunity for our members to give to the ministries of our churches as part of their end-of-the-year giving?
Charles Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation” reminds us that the focus of biblical stewardship is on the fact that generous giving is one of the basic acts of discipleship. Charles suggests that there are three foundational verbs that help us to focus on this aspect of stewardship:
- Ask. If you want people to give more as year-end approaches, you need to ask them. You can communicate this message in whatever way works for your people: letter, from the pulpit, video, whatever social media platform works for you. We are often far too hesitant to ask people to give. The message can, and should, come from the pastor as well as from leaders of the congregation.
- Thank. As you ask, be sure you clearly thank people for their giving so far this year and for their commitments to give next year. If you didn’t send out thank you letters or notes for pledges, do it now. You can’t thank people too much. Most churches do it far too little.
- Tell. There are two ways you called to tell the story.
Tell the story of your ministry this year and your vision for the next year. Hopefully you already did this as part of your fall stewardship emphasis. Don’t worry about repeating it. And if you didn’t, do it now! Share with people the difference their giving has made. Whether or not they make an additional gift, it further reinforces their commitment to give to your ministry in 2019.
Tell the truth about your financial situation. If you are facing a real shortfall, be honest about it. Do it clearly and calmly, without a “sky is falling” panicky message. It’s not helpful for leaders to protect the congregation from financial challenges. They can’t step up to help if they don’t know about it.
If you have an abundance of resources, be honest about that. Some leaders think, “We don’t want to let people know because then they will stop giving.” People will keep giving if you give them a reason to give. Make your Christmas offering something significant that will benefit the wider community, and invite people to give generously.
Charles concludes his book with this wonderful vision of Stewardship ministry:
“One of my favorite novels is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Each year at Christmas I try to see either a play or movie version of A Christmas Carol, or to read the original. A big part of the appeal of the story is the incredible contrast between Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story and Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.
Notice Dickens’ description of Scrooge from the first pages of his novel, ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’ Many, many pages and three Christmas ghosts later, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. To say the least, he is a changed man. He sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit’s that is twice the size of Tiny Tim.
And then Dickens writes, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”
I don’t wish for any of God’s children to be scared to their senses by night visits from past, present, or future ghosts. However,
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation so enjoying their generous giving that they chuckle until they cry.
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation who discover the radical truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation whose generosity grows by leaps and bounds, and who discover that this generosity has indeed led their heart to Jesus.
- I do have a vision of people chuckling, or at least smiling as they drop their offering into the plate on Sunday morning.”
If you have a special story to share about your fall Stewardship program, I would love to hear it! What’s been special about your celebration of stewardship this year? You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 434-996-6032.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
“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
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.)
Eric Law is an Episcopal priest and the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute in Los Angeles. Eric has an understanding of what it means to lead an organization and struggle with money issues. In his ministry, he has found that congregations who talk about sustainability spend a lot of time focused on money. How can we make our ministry sustainable? Where do we find the money to finance our ministries? How can we raise the money to start a needed ministry?
Congregations who talk about being missional tend not to talk about sustainability. Eric found at the Kaleidoscope Institute that what made it sustainable was not just about the money. They increased their annual budget entirely from contributions in exchange for the leadership-training programs and resources they provide. They were serving, resourcing, and building networks of relationships. Serving, resourcing, building relationships, and giving! Isn’t that what we are called to do?
After more than a year of research, Eric concluded that there are at least six currencies that flow through a sustainable missional ministry. In addition to money, these currencies are time and place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, and wellness. These currencies “flow” through your ministry, exchanging themselves for other currencies, forming what Eric calls the “Cycle of Blessings.” The sequence rejuvenates what is spent initially, recirculates resources, and regenerates more currencies, thereby growing and expanding the ministry.
In his book, “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries,” Eric Law discusses each of the following types of currency and assists congregations in assessing the currencies that are often overlooked and under-utilized. Here is a brief definition of these six currencies:
Currency of Time and Place – This currency includes the paid and volunteer time that leaders and members offer to the church or ministry. It also includes any properties from which a congregation operates, and other property which can be accessed by the congregation. Imagine the volunteer hours that people give to the ministries of your church. Imagine your facility being used to its fullest capacity!
Currency of Gracious Leadership – This is the ability to use skills, tools, models, and processes to create gracious environments within which mutually respectful “relationships” and the discernment of “truth” across differences can be built among members and with non-members. Differences can be racial/ethnic, age, class, political or simply day-to-day relationships with one another.
Currency of Relationship – This is the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of a church have such as relationships among members in small groups and classes, workshops and seminars. It might also be connections with organizations outside the congregation to build relationships and partnerships to meet the needs of the community.
Currency of Truth – This type of currency is the ability to articulate the stories of your congregation, the beliefs of our denomination, and the experiences of our ministries. We often fail to use this currency to show the community, the neighborhood, the city or town what makes us unique and inviting and transformational.
Currency of Wellness – Wellness is the state of being healthy physically, socially, economically, ecologically, and spiritually within our congregations, within our neighborhoods, and within our country and the world. Congregations in a state of wellness have energy, intelligence, imagination and love enough to share with others.
Currency of Money – Money is the medium of exchange, a measure of value or a means of payment. It is often the only currency we can envision.
Consider these important facts:
- It is the flowing of these currencies that gives them value. If you have a beautiful church building, but it’s only used on Sunday, the currencies of time and place are not being maximized.
- The flowing of these currencies needs to include all six in order for ministry to be sustainable and missional. If a church uses the time of volunteers to provide wellness to the members only, there is no energy flowing outward to build new relationships.
- The flowing of these currencies must recirculate back to replenish what was spent to ministries can be regenerative. People experience the mission and ministry and respond with their giving.
Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you more about each of these currencies and how you might incorporate them into your stewardship efforts.
Please contact me at Deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032 if I can assist you in your fall Stewardship planning.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
*Excerpts taken from “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries” by Eric H. F. Law.
Now in its twentieth year, the magazine, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for many churches. For the past four years, “Giving” has focused on 1 Timothy 6:18-19: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasures of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” and each year focused on one of these sub-themes:
Live Free is based on Galatians 5:1 and 1 Timothy 6:18. Find a good steward, and you’ll discover a person who understands what it means to live free in Christ. They realize their economic status does not define them. They know that true riches will not be found in their bank accounts. They freely and wisely give away what they’ve been given as agents of change and as God’s ministers of restoration and redemption. They have a mindset focused on abundance, not scarcity.
Live Simply is based on Philippians 4:11 and 1Timothy 6:18-19. We know that Paul’s contentment came from his life in Christ. One of the simplest – and at the same time most comprehensive – description of Christian stewardship is that it is “everything we do after we say we believe.” Live Simply offers spiritual insights and practical ideas for finding contentment though simpler living. The financial stewardship emphasis includes worship services and special meal event.
Live Generously is based on 2 Corinthians 8:9 and 1 Timothy 6:18-19. Generosity seems to be the buzzword these days when we talk about giving and stewardship. In our culture today, we often hear of trendy methods to encourage generosity such as Giving Tuesday, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or crowdfunding responses to personal needs. Live Generously challenges us to practice faithful generosity at a deeper level as a measure of our discipleship.
Live Courageously is based on Psalm 31:24 and 1 Timothy 6:18-19. Twenty-first century North American culture has presented unprecedented challenges for the church and a new sense of what it means to practice our faith courageously. This includes our understanding of the spiritual discipline of stewardship and how we live that out through our generosity. Attentive listening and gracious conversation takes courage, but can led to fruitful results.
Hopefully you are thinking about your congregation’s annual stewardship emphasis for this fall. The “Giving” magazine is just one of many resources available to help you plan your annual stewardship program. One of these four themes might speak to your congregation’s current journey, and if so, I would be happy to assist you in putting together a program that would center on of these themes.
If you are a congregation that has been conducting the fall stewardship program the same way for many years, this would be a good time to introduce something new and fresh that would inspire and encourage the spiritual and financial giving in your congregation. Some of the things you might consider are:
- Provide a simple meal for your congregation to gather and share their stories of generosity. In your table fellowship, talk about some of the most generous people you have met on your spiritual journey and what it means to benefit from someone else’s good works.
- Invite everyone in the congregation to bring in the ingredients for a “Stewardship Stew” or have several individuals or families prepare and bring in pots of stew to add to one big pot at the church for your fellowship meal. Invite people to share their thoughts about what living simply means.
- Invite several people to host a small group either at their home or at the church. Invite members to sign up for the gathering they would like to attend and to bring a dessert or snack to share. The major components of the gathering are Bible study and conversation. Have a brief presentation of the ministries of the congregation and provide an opportunity for people to share ideas and to ask questions about these ministries.
- Consider scheduling special visits to every household. This is a way for persons to share affirmations and concerns, strengthen their understanding about faithful generosity as a spiritual discipline, build fellowship, and respond in support to the congregation’s shared ministry. Visits should focus on connecting persons in your faith community with your congregation’s ministry and showing them how their generosity makes it all possible.
Deciding what type of annual stewardship program is best for your congregation should be based on the life and health of your congregation. I am available to assist you in considering these options and choosing one that will be an inspiration to your congregation and will enhance your stewardship ministry. You can contact me at Deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032 for assistance or more information on how to obtain the “Giving” magazine.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
Now in its twentieth year, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for churches and denominations throughout North America. It is published annually and available sometime early in May each year. I have found this magazine to be a helpful tool for congregations to select a theme and a method for conducting an annual Stewardship program as well as learn more about Stewardship to enhance the church’s overall ministry.
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”
I Peter 4:10
For me, this is one of the most powerful passages of scripture that really gets at the core of what Stewardship should be. Did you know, however, that this verse never comes up in the Revised Common Lectionary, and many of us follow the lectionary for our preaching?
Adam Copeland has recently edited a book entitled, “Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship.” In this book, he has brought together writings from various scholars and theologians on the topic of Stewardship. These authors help us to expand our understanding of what Stewardship really means and broaden that definition beyond the usual interpretation of time, talents, and treasures.