Wholehearted Stewardship

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
(Matthew 25:21)

In the Parable of the Talents, we are reminded that we are called to steward that which God has entrusted into our care. We are called to receive what we have been given, nurture and grow it, share with those in need, and return to God what belongs to God having been faithful stewards of many things.

Stay Focused on God

“They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

In a recent blog, Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, writes that over the past few weeks, he has been drawn to this passage of scripture…perhaps because all we have been doing for weeks and months is waiting…

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

 “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives.

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.