Recently, a colleague introduced me to a book by A.J. Jacobs. The title of the book is Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey. The idea of the book is deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey took him across the globe, transformed his life, and revealed secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.
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.
There are a lot of faithful ways for us to live this life, to live responsibly and even more so to live gratefully with the abundance of gifts we’ve been given. When a member of your congregation asks you the question, “How much is enough?” how do you respond? Consider these scriptures as you reflect on your response:
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.
In the spring of 2016, Sean Mitchell, Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, was the keynote speaker of our Annual Leadership and Stewardship Event. This past week he and the Rev. Dr. Millie Snyder published a book “Gracious Stewardship: Developing the Church in the Way of Jesus.” Today I share with you a small glimpse into the ideas that Sean and Millie explore in their book.
Sean reminds us, “We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that of gracious forgiveness offered by God to all members of God’s family. Our stewardship ministry is part of our overall proclamation of the gospel, and not a separate fundraising effort to provide the finances for our proclamation. Stewardship must be integrated, both in content and in methodology.”
Let’s reflect with Sean and Millie on Jesus’ parable about a father and his two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it in a distant country. When he had spent everything and found himself working in the fields feeding pigs, he decided to return home in hopes that he might become a hired hand for his father. Instead his father welcomes him home and throws a party for him. The older son who had remained home all along found it hard to understand why his father had never shown that kind of attention to him.
In this story we see a father who enacts grace with both of his sons. This grace was the foundation for his own stewardship.
- The father is a gracious steward of the wealth God has entrusted to him. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, his father was generous and gave it to him.
- The father is a gracious steward of his relationships. When the younger son was seen far off, his father saw him and ran to embrace him. This father was willing to accept his son without condition. He also went into the fields to reassure his older son that he had always been a part of the family and had always had a share of the father’s blessings.
- The father is a grateful steward. He offered grace freely to both sons. He did not put conditions on their role in the family, and he didn’t withhold blessings from either son. He celebrates and forgives because he is a thankful soul and takes nothing for granted. His gratitude keeps him centered in gracious generosity.
Sean and Millie begin with this biblical story to lay out what they see as the three core values of a grace-based stewardship ministry.
- Transforming Fellowship – relationships are vital to our formation as stewards. What would that mean in your congregation? It would mean:
➢ moving toward one another in community
➢ sharing our stewardship stories and listening to one another
➢ hearing the stories of people who are taking steps toward contented lifestyles
➢ hearing the stories of people whose lives and wallets are over-leveraged
➢ nurturing an environment of trust where it is safe to listen and challenge one another
➢ creating relational communities where we discuss and embrace the gifts of God and discern what gifts we might each share in response to God’s amazing grace
- Gratitude – embracing God’s abundant grace fosters peace, trust, and celebration. Stewardship teams need gratitude as a core value. Without gratitude, stewardship ministry is merely a string of tasks with no acknowledgement of grace. Learning to regularly acknowledge and thank God for provision and resource is a spiritual discipline. Creating special occasions where you can lead the entire congregation in practices of gratitude are appropriate responses to God’s generous grace.
- Equipping the Saints – encouraging the church to share, practice hospitality, and live generously. Gracious stewardship teams are encouraging and equipping. They join with the mission of other ministry teams to build up the body of Christ. Their work presents faith-formation opportunities for members to learn how to practice stewardship in real life. They expand the understanding of stewardship to be more than giving and finances. Equipping the body of Christ to embrace stewardship of all of life and creation gives them joy and purpose.
If this grace-filled message from Sean and Millie resonates with you in your Stewardship ministry, I encourage to get a copy of the book to read, invite your Stewardship Ministry team to study the book with you, share a copy of the book with the session, and most importantly consider the values of grace-based stewardship in your own life and ministry!
Associate for Stewardship
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 email@example.com or 434-996-6032.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
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
For many of us, our earliest memories of giving occurred in church. We watched our parents put their offering envelope in the plate, and we looked forward to getting something from them that we could also add to the plate. So how are we teaching our children stewardship and the joy of being generous?
Fall is here and that means it’s the time of year when we typically focus on Stewardship specifically the Stewardship of our Financial Resources. Many in our congregations will wrestle with the question, “How much is enough?”
If only God would give us a simple way to determine how much is enough! For some the answer is the tithe.
As for those who are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (I Timothy 6:17)