Local church members join with the promise to uphold the church with “prayers, presence, gifts, and service.” The ministry of stewardship is concerned with the appropriate employment of the fruits of that pledge throughout the ministries of the church. This Guideline is designed to help implement and guide the work of the ministry area.
This is one of the twenty-six Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 that cover church leadership areas including Church Council and Small Membership Church; the administrative areas of Finance and Trustees; and ministry areas focused on nurture, outreach, and witness including Worship, Evangelism, Stewardship, Christian Education, age-level ministries, Communications, and more.
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Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Stewardship
Raise Up Generous Disciples
By Ken Sloane
CokesburyCopyright © 2016 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
What's It All About?
Charles (Chick) Lane, in his wonderful, very readable book on stewardship, Ask, Thank, Tell, begins the introduction with my favorite opening sentence from all the books I've read on the subject: "Stewardship has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by a sinister villain named 'Paying the Bills'" (Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 7).
In that sentence, Lane points our attention to the burden of any person who feels called to do the work of stewardship in the church. There will be those whose total expectation of you and your team will begin and end with getting the church bills paid. Unless we are able to move past that perception, stewardship will remain a hostage indefinitely!
Please don't misunderstand me: the funding of the ministry of your church is important! (Notice I didn't say paying the bills is important.) Many people depend on your church and its ministry; and if your church were forced to close, people in your community (beyond your members) would notice and would miss it.
In my work as director of stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, I am constantly reminding myself that part of my time needs to be focused on helping stewardship and finance leaders find the tools that will help them fund the ministry and mission of their local church. However, it is just a part of the work that I do, and that you will do. I hope your main focus will be the work of growing generous disciples of Jesus Christ, so that the world might be transformed.
"What is the secret to creating a culture of generosity in the local church?" "Why does stewardship come so easy to some congregations but so hard in mine?" "If you just tell me which program to use, which kit to buy, I will order it today!"
There is no program, no kit to buy that will cause a magical transformation in your church. This Guideline will explore some ideas, perceptions, observations, and best practices. What I can give you is one little vision, a sneak peek at what lies down the road: generosity brings joy. It is a glimpse of God's kingdom here on Earth.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn't because of the crowd. So heran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today." So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.
Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much."
Jesus said to him, "Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. The Human One came to seek and save the lost." (Luke 19:1-10)
I worshiped for a period of time in a church that had signs posted everywhere — doors coming in, doors leaving, entering the fellowship hall, even in the men's and women's rooms: "It's all about relationships." It wasn't the church's mission statement; but it was a core value, and you couldn't be in that church facility for more than a minute without realizing it. It was a reference to the relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, with other people in the church family, with neighbors and community, and with the global community. This church lived it out. They really were all about relationships.
Stewardship Is about Relationships
The story of Jesus encountering Zacchaeus as Jesus entered Jericho is a powerful stewardship text — not just because Zacchaeus responds to Jesus with an explosion of generosity, but because his generosity comes as a result of the desire of Jesus to be in relationship with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus might have more money than anyone in Jericho, but he is living estranged and alienated from the community of faith. That Jesus would reach across that chasm and seek to restore Zacchaeus's relationship to the community of God's children brings forth a wellspring of gratitude that can't be contained!
Stewardship is not about what the finance committee does in August or September in preparation for the pledge campaign in November. It is not about the little box in the Sunday bulletin that tells us how much less last Sunday's offering was than what we needed to make the budget. Stewardship is all about relationships.
Don't be mistaken: raising money for the operation of the church is important, and the money people give or don't give will either empower or cripple ministry that your church must be about and that the world desperately needs. Creating revenue for the church is important, but it is not the foundational purpose of stewardship. In fact, because the word stewardship is so strongly identified throughout the church with the fall fundraising event, many have started using the word generosity as a way to embrace a focus that is not so limited.
To view this from a biblical perspective, the dominant theme in the Old Testament is the understanding of the covenant that God established with our Hebrew ancestors: "You will be my people and I will be your God." More than an agreement or a contract, the covenant defines a relationship. We can't understand or teach stewardship until we understand the blessings and obligations that undergird this covenantal relationship. For the Hebrew people, their part of the covenant was to keep the law as given by God through Moses. As the New Testament unfolds, we are freed from bondage to the law (see Romans 7:6), but we are not without our side of the covenant. Our responsibility is still rooted in relationship: acceptance of the good news of redemption offered through a relationship with Jesus who accepted the cross for us.
How does our teaching about stewardship connect and call people into relationships?
Stewardship is about our relationship with God, who, in love, has sought to enter into covenant with us.
Stewardship is about our relationship with Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, who called us to a discipleship role, the scope of which extends "to the ends of the earth."
Stewardship is about our relationships in and beyond the church, Christ's body in the world, and the mission to which it has been called.
A Matter of Trust
Dr. Carol Johnston, associate professor of theology and culture at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, has done extensive research on generosity in a variety of congregational settings and has interviewed church members across a wide range of income levels. She observed that, regardless of the economic strata, when asked about money, interviewees expressed consistent anxiety about whether they "had enough" to really feel secure. Those interviewed were unable to see that money really couldn't guarantee security in this life. Johnston's reflections on this are powerful:
From a Christian perspective, security comes from healthy relationships — with family, community, and ultimately with God. But we live in a society in which relationships of all kinds have been unraveling for decades. ... In order for people to change the way they think about and use money, the focus needs to shift from money as the measure of wealth and security to the only true security there is: placing your life in God's hands, and learning to build healthy relationships in this life — healthy families, healthy communities, and a healthier world. (Thinking Theologically About Wealth, Including Money, http://www.resourcingchristianity.org/research-article/ thinkingtheologically-about-wealth-including-money)
Jesus: "It Is All about You"
We've often heard it said that Jesus talks more about money and possessions in the Gospels than he does about any other subject: heaven, salvation, or evangelism. What we miss sometimes is the most obvious: He doesn't talk about money and the church; Jesus talks about money and us. He talks about our possessions, what we own and what owns us; he talks about how what we have helps or hinders our walk with God. Jesus talks about how we invest money and resources, and what that says about where we put our trust and what it says about where we think we will find happiness, security, and contentment.
Focus on the Giver
Too often, we begin the stewardship conversation with what the church needs: more money, more tithers, a new roof on the Sunday school wing, and so on. All of these may be true, but if the conversation remains locked on the church's needs, eventually we'll find ourselves "begging" our people for money so often that they will walk by on the other side of the street to avoid us.
How different might stewardship in your local church be if you put the focus on the giver; on his relationships, or on her ability to be in a trusting relationship with God, instead of on the church's need to pay the bills?
What Is Enough?
In 2007, Adam Hamilton and the staff of the Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Leawood, Kansas, were preparing for their annual giving campaign. In the midst of their planning, they came to a shared realization that Adam describes this way:
One thing became painfully obvious. There were many people in our congregation who were struggling financially. They were struggling, not because they were not making enough money. They were struggling because they were living beyond their means and were saving nothing. (Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Stewardship Program Guide [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009], 7)
Adam and his team realized that the traditional pledge campaign was not what was needed. Instead, he and his team needed "to help people redefine their relationship with money and begin to think carefully and biblically about where we find real joy and what our lives are really about" (1, emphasis added). The result was a sermon series called "Simplicity, Generosity and Joy," which became the basis for the book and video study Enough.
In 2008 (the year following the preaching series), the members of the church gave more than they ever had before, but for Adam and the church staff that was not the real payoff:
As exciting as that was, the emphasis was not about increasing our budget. It was about helping people to experience the life God wanted them to live and to have the kind of relationship with their money that God wanted them to have. And as they did, they simplified their lives and found greater joy. (8)
What a great lesson! When we move the focus of our efforts from preserving and supporting the institution (the focus of so much of our stewardship efforts in the church) to the making of genuine, joyful, generous disciples, our work is fruitful and the church is blessed!
This is why we make a distinction between creating a culture of generous disciples of Jesus Christ and conducting a successful pledge campaign.
In too many cases, the pledge campaign focuses almost exclusively on the needs of the church, or specifically the budget for the coming year. Often this time of the year is referred to in an apologetic tone, as an "uncomfortable process" we have to go through for four weeks each year, so we can "put it behind us."
Even if this were no more than a simple fund-raising effort (like United Way or the PBS pledge break), this would be a questionable attitude and tactic. For disciples of Jesus Christ, who taught us so clearly and emphatically the importance of people being rightly related to God in regard to our money and possessions, anything less than a comprehensive, year-round focus on growing generous disciples seems less than worthy of our calling.
Five Key Elements
Churches that have been successful in shifting the stewardship focus have found that nurturing members to become generous givers has made the process less "seasonal" and more of an ever-present value. Attendees rarely perceive the congregation as one that is "only interested in money." They are not embarrassed to talk about money and possessions because they understand that as part of being true to the gospel.
Here are five characteristics often found in congregations that are leading people to be generous givers:
1. Self-Examination. Guided self-examination of personal values and practices around money and priorities, for the purpose of finding joy and abundant life.
2. First Fruits Teaching. Unapologetic "first fruits" teaching in regard to giving to God.
3. Personal Witness. Opportunities for leaders to give personal testimony of the joy found through generous giving.
4. Clear Vision for Mission. Going beyond numbers on a budget and being able to state clearly how lives will be changed because of the gifts of time, talent, and treasure offered by members.
5. High Expectation of Members. Holding membership as something of value that requires commitment, with leaders willing to articulate that without embarrassment.
As stewardship leaders, we should be moving our churches from the perspective that "a few weeks in November can take care of all the church's stewardship needs" to a long-term strategy that keeps faithful generosity before people year round. And yes, that strategy can include a program that is intentional in asking people to make a commitment for the year about their goals for giving to support the mission of the local (and global) church. It is, however, just one component (albeit an important one) in a larger strategy.
No one book, model, program, or package has a monopoly on the right formula for every church setting. As a congregation looks to embrace a model for shaping vital, generous disciples (or to create their own) these five elements can be used to build a comprehensive strategy. Let's examine each one further.
The challenging economic times in which we live provide fertile ground for a call to self-examination. Not only are many people struggling to find ways to navigate the uncertainty, most of us are ready to acknowledge that much of the current crisis finds its roots in very internal struggles.
We are part of a culture that has, in many ways, lost its vision of the difference between wants and needs. We have tasted the sweetness of immediate gratification, and it has become the staple that we want on our table all the time. We haven't wanted to save for something when we could charge it and enjoy it immediately. Author and nationally syndicated talk show host Dave Ramsey has built not only a career but also a publishing empire by pointing out to people the trap of credit card debt. The basic message couldn't be simpler: If you don't have the money for it, don't buy it.
Every day, we are bombarded with millions (yes, millions) of messages telling us what will make us prettier, what will make us smarter, what will make us more loved by those around us, what will make us more successful, what will make us happier, and what will make our lives more fulfilling. Not surprisingly, most of these messages seek to move us to buy something that will make all these things a reality. We might say we are not influenced, but if we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we retain more of these messages than we like. These modern-day evangelists (more accurately called marketers) will continue to offer these solutions that are contradictory to the teachings of Jesus. For the most part, they go unchallenged by the church. People buy, consume, overspend, go in debt — all in search of something to satisfy their longings.
The people in our congregations are ready to acknowledge there are spiritual issues along with financial ones in the present crisis. Many are willing to admit that the ways we have sought contentment and fulfillment, joy, and purpose do not resemble the abundant life Christ has promised his followers.
In the example of Church of the Resurrection (mentioned earlier), Adam Hamilton admits that, normally at his church, a commitment campaign would mean an attendance drop of about 15 percent. But when he preached his series on "Simplicity, Generosity and Joy," the attendance swelled. "It had clearly struck a chord with people," he says.
Isn't it the goal of every church, of every pastor, of every disciple to help people find the joy and contentment of the abundant life that Christ has promised? Not abundance defined by things, but by purpose and meaning? And if the church won't help people find this, who will?
Your church can offer a class on basic money management, using one of the great resources available (three suggestions: Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Financial Peace University, and Freed Up Financial Living are listed in the "Resources" section). As you recruit someone to lead one of these studies, make sure that person is not just knowledgeable about finance, but understands the spiritual impact as well, sees generosity as a key ingredient in a faithful disciple, and is already a generous giver.
Excerpted from Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Stewardship by Ken Sloane. Copyright © 2016 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Cokesbury.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBlessed to Be a Blessing,
Part One: What's It All About?,
Five Key Elements,
First Fruits Teaching,
Clear Vision for Mission,
High Expectation of Members,
Part Two: A Strategic Plan For Stewardship,
Shift the Focus,
Shift the "Connectional Conversation" from Them to Us,
Giving beyond the Budget,
Part Three: Explore Your Role,
Stewardship Ministry Team Leader,
Spiritual Gifts and Qualities for This Team,
What Does Our Team Do?,
Prepare for This Role,
Where Can I Find Help?,
Articles, Essays, Etc.,
UMC Agencies & Helpful Links,