The Stewardship of White Privilege

One of my favorite definitions of stewardship, generally attributed to Clarence Stoughton, is “stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘I believe.’” Stewardship is love in action—it puts feet to our faith.

What does that really look like? It’s easy for those of us who are white to join the crowd in professing “Black Lives Matter,” make a donation, and return to business as usual without doing the learning, listening, and soul searching required to join the movement for lasting systemic change.

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.

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.

Is the Church a Business

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.” 

Tithed and Tired v. Storied and Inspired

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.

Tithing 

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.

Stories

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.

 

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

 

*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

 

An Opportunity to Give

Regularly ask yourself the most basic stewardship leadership question, “What can we do to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through their stewardship?” A constant temptation faced by leaders in a congregation is to focus on what meets the needs of the leaders, rather than what meets the needs of the members of the congregation. Focus on the giver’s need to give rather than on the church’s need to receive.

In many congregations, the “model giver” is over fifty years of age, highly committed to the church, and understands giving as a “duty.” Often, we direct our efforts to this person. Studies have shown that givers under fifty are different from those over fifty. Younger generations are not as committed to institutions, and certainly do not understand financial support of an institution to be their duty. Younger generations are much more inclined to give where they can see their giving making a difference.

Ways to Ask

What is the most effective way to ask someone to give? In the church we seldom ask ourselves if we are using the most effective means to ask people to give.

Recently we had an opportunity to hear Charles “Chick” Lane discuss his book, “Ask Thank Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation.” He discusses the various ways that we often use to ask someone to give. It might be face-to-face or a personal letter. It might be a telephone call or an “ask” at an event.

Which of these methods has your congregation used? Which method was the most effective? Chick suggests that you analyze your past asking and possibly choose other ways to ask to find the most effective method for your congregation. What he has found is that the more personal you are, the more effective the “ask.”

Motivations to Give

Another important piece of research that has been done is to ask people why they give. What are the top motivators for people who give financial support to non-profits? Here are the responses in order of importance from most to least:

  • Being asked by someone you know well
  • You volunteer at the organization
  • Being asked by clergy to give
  • Reading or hearing a news story
  • Being asked to give at work
  • Receiving a letter asking you to give
  • Receiving a telephone call asking you to give

As congregations, there is some insight to be gained from this list.

  • Get people involved. Almost all of your congregation who gives will also be involved in some way in the life of the congregation. Some will sing in the choir, some will be a part of the men’s or women’s organization, some will serve on a committee or the session. Most will be regular worshippers.
  • Get the pastor involved. Sometimes pastors are reluctant to be actively involved in the stewardship ministry, and sometimes the congregation wants the pastor to be on the sidelines when it comes to stewardship. Don’t let this happen. The pastor preaches, teaches, and talks to the congregation about all sorts of spiritual issues – let stewardship be one those issues.
  • Tell a compelling stewardship story. People don’t give to their congregation because they read or hear about what their congregation is doing but knowing what the congregation is doing and knowing that their gifts are making a difference in people’s lives will encourage people to grow in their giving.
  • Consider the most effective way to ask. What are some ways that you can ensure that people are asked to give by someone they know well? Some churches use an every member visiting program. Others use telephone calls. Encourage people to visit or call people they know to invite them to give.

A Positive Approach

When you ask people to financially support your congregation and its ministries, focus on what will happen when they give, rather than what won’t happen if they don’t give. People are motivated to give when they hear how the church is making a positive difference in the world.

Overall, remember that the goal of our stewardship ministry is to help God’s people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through the use of the time, talents, and finances God has entrusted to them.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship

 

*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.

A Culture of Thanksgiving

Thanking should be a part of the culture of every congregation. People who give to support the ministry of their congregation should be thanked regularly. People who are active in the life of the congregation, and the life of the community, should expect to be regularly recognized and thanked for the work they do.

Paul regularly uses his letters as opportunities to thank God for his fellow believers. Romans, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon all contact strong statements of thanks to God for Paul’s fellow believers and their faith. Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

There are two important things to notice in Paul’s thanksgiving. First, he seems eager to give thanks. This provides a great model for us. We should be equally eager to give thanks for those with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ. Second, Paul tells people he thanks God for them. Sometimes we need to say thanks directly to people. Sometimes, we may say thanks to God in our prayers for the work of specific people but when we tell that person we have given thanks to God for them, we have taken our thanksgiving to a whole new level.

Charles “Chick” Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation,” suggests there are few things that will build up a congregation more than having a culture of thanksgiving. By this he means a culture in which people feel comfortable and natural expressing their thanks to one another. When people are regularly thanked, they will not only feel appreciated, they will feel valuable, wanted, and needed. They will also be quick to volunteer to help with other projects.

Here are some specific ways you can create a culture of thanksgiving in your congregation:

  • Expand the circle of thanks-givers – don’t expect the pastor or the leaders to be the only ones saying thanks. Find the people in your congregation who have the gift of thanksgiving. Give them a pile of thank-you notes and stamps and help them to know who could use a thank you note.
  • Thank everyone at the same time – sometimes a thank you can be extended in worship or at other congregational gatherings. This is especially good when lots of people have been involved in accomplishing a project, and you don’t want anyone to be left out in receiving thanks.
  • Thank personally – a thank you note from a pastor, a thank you note from a leader of the congregation, a face-to-face thank you…you can’t thank too often. Receiving a thank you note when you least expect it can have a tremendous effect on someone.
  • Thank immediately – the sooner a thank-you is received, the more sincere it will be perceived. Set aside time for thank-you note writing.
  • Pass on a thank you – share with the congregation any thank-you that is received from ministries you support. Post them on the bulletin board or include them in your newsletter or an insert in the bulletin. Make sure everyone knows how their generosity has made a difference.
  • Hold a thank-you trip – if you support a ministry in your community, plan a time to visit that ministry with a group of people from your congregation. This will give your congregation a chance to see the good work that is being done because of your congregation’s financial support.
  • Involve the children and youth in your congregation in saying thanks:
    1. Spend Sunday school time writing “thank you” with chalk on the church sidewalk or parking lot.
    2. Make fridge magnets that express thanks and hand them out as a gift for everyone in worship.
    3. Plant seeds in small cups and allow them to sprout. Write messages on popsicle sticks to put in each cup. Give these to teachers and youth workers on Christian Education Sunday.
    4. Attach gift tags to small gift bows and give everyone one to wear on a special Sunday when you want to thank everyone.

Giving thanks is as important to Stewardship work as asking. Plan to say thanks with as much care as you plan to ask. Watch the amazing results that occur when people feel appreciated and valued.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship

 

 

*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.

Ask, Thank, Tell

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

Stewarding the Church

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

We spend a lot of time during the fall Stewardship programs of our church helping our congregations understand what Stewardship is and what God is calling them to do as good stewards of all that God has given to them. We challenge them to consider their response to God for all that they have and all that they are. We plan programs to inspire and encourage them in their personal journey of faith and specifically in their giving.

As pastors and leaders in the congregations where we serve, I think we too are called to be good stewards of the resources we have been given, to serve our congregations with whatever gift each of us has received. We have been given both a responsibility and an opportunity to steward the congregations in our care. How is God calling us, as leaders, to be good stewards of the church? What are some of the gifts we have received?

We are stewards of God’s Word.  In First Corinthians 4, Paul describes the ministry of the apostles in this way, “We are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” That message is just as important to us today. In all that we do, we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. God has entrusted us with something precious to submit our lives to Christ and to proclaim the Word of God. Every leadership decision or action we take is first and foremost spiritual in nature and should focus on connecting persons to God.

You and I have been called to steward the amazing mysteries of God revealed to us in Scripture. That’s part of our stewarding of the church, being good stewards of the gospel so that it is God for whom we bring glory.

We are stewards of God’s vision. We are called to listen deeply to the heart-songs of God’s people and articulate the vision God is imparting to them. The vision for a church answers the question, “What does God want us to do?” We are called to help our congregations embrace a clear vision of God’s call. Every congregation is unique, and every congregation has its own unique vision for what God is calling them to do and be.

We are stewards of trust. We are called to develop and nurture authentic relationships that cultivate trust. As stewards of trust, we serve one another in an open transparent way. We keep the lines of communication open, avoid judgement, become vulnerable, offer and receive forgiveness, and model Christ’s love and sense of welcome to all.

We are stewards of administration. This involves coming alongside our congregations to help them fulfill their vision and mission. The most essential ingredient in this area of stewardship is identifying and equipping new leaders. Most of the issues that plague churches – giving, attendance, evangelism, leadership, and mission – are minimized when church leaders focus on equipping the saints. The process of equipping and empowering people is what helps someone move from simply believing in Christ to being a true disciple. When people are growing spiritually, they will give, attend, tell others, volunteer, and serve.

Finally we are stewards of financial resources. At the core of being financial stewardship leaders is creating a culture of extravagant generosity. Generosity is a spiritual attribute that extends beyond merely the use of money. There are people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity is something people acquire in the actual practice of giving.

In Second Corinthians, we read, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Churches that practice extravagant generosity don’t talk in general terms about stewardship. They speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ and in the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.

Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity. Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission. People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.

As you make your way through this particular season of Stewardship, consider how well you as leaders are stewarding your churches and your congregations. Be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching and teaching and leading your congregations to become faithful disciples who know what it means to be stewards of all that God has entrusted into their care.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

 

The Currency of 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?

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James