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Whose Offering Plate Is It?New Strategies for Financial Stewardship
By J. Clif Christopher
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow Did We Get in This Mess?
Dr. Christopher, I have been listening to you for three hours and you have me convinced and also terribly troubled. I am a third-generation pastor. My father and my grandfather were both pastors. They were some of the finest men that I ever knew. They loved Christ, and they loved the church. I knew well many of their contemporaries, and they also were extremely fine Christian people with a desire to save souls and grow the church. They, however, were a part of the generation that has left me with a church that receives a much lower percentage of income from its members than they received. Where did they go wrong? How did we get in this mess?
I would hate to say that the grandfather and father of this pastor were all to blame for where we find ourselves today. I would never judge them or others of their generation on the commitment of their hearts or their love of the church. They operated on what they knew with the best that they knew and perhaps wondered why things did not go better. I would also point out that previous generations had their demons to fight. They were also not left with a perfect world or a perfect church, and I am sure they were trying to make adjustments in their own time with many of the changes that were called for.
The generations who led the church prior to the current one led us through the civil rights era, Vietnam protests, and the assassinations of a president, presidential candidate, and Martin Luther King, Jr. They fought through issues on women's rights, ecumenism, charismata, and Vatican II. They led the church as a president resigned and the cold war raged. Contemporary worship, the power of the Spirit, and Mormonism were hotly debated. That generation had its share of problems with a mixture of successes and failures. They are not the issue. We are the issue. This is our time! It will do us little good to look back and shame those who came before. We can affect only the future from the present. So let us concentrate on what we must do now so as to not exacerbate the problem, particularly when it comes to Christian financial stewardship.
First, we must not make the mistake of General Motors. We cannot rely on what was said or done yesterday and expect it to be effective today. Just because it was right or righteous before does not necessarily make it the best course of action today. It used to be that all a mainline Protestant church had to do to grow was put a sign up in the yard announcing its presence. Not anymore. Today that church must show that it is worthy of someone getting out of bed on Sunday morning and attending. It must prove to the inquirer that one's presence there is beneficial to his or her life as compared to attending a soccer game with a child or just clicking the remote to catch Rev. Smiley and his 200-piece orchestra. Your grandfather did not have to contend with those kinds of competition.
All Reverend Grandfather had to do to raise money for his church was pass the plate on Sunday morning and urge his people to be givers instead of hoarders. He never had to convince them that the church was the best place to give because in many instances it was the only place to give. Now, you must not only encourage generous giving but also sell people on the fact that the place to be most generous is "God's Place." It is a new day and requires a new message.
There is a very good possibility that your grandfather and you received the same training in stewardship and fundraising. That is, none! Pastors have often complained to me as I teach that they had no formal education in financial stewardship or fundraising, yet when they got into a church they found it was fundamental to their success. I conducted a confidential survey among about one thousand of these pastors and, indeed, 85 percent reported having no training whatsoever.
It was almost as if the seminaries assumed that monies would easily flow to the church if they would just teach their students how to preach and teach and visit. When I look at those same schools I notice that all of them have fundraising departments. They all expect the president to fundraise. They know that they must compete for funds with other schools, nonprofits, and yes, the very churches they are educating students for. Why would they not realize that those students need to be trained to do the same thing? To prevent this mess from going forward we need our professional training schools to professionally train our pastors in this vital and always necessary task of securing funds for ministry.
You and your grandfather probably both look at those you are raising funds from as "members." Most churches refer to those who have pledged some sort of allegiance to it as members. This can lead to a mind-set that is dangerous. Some people see their "membership" as entitling them to some service. People are members of country clubs or airline clubs or fraternity groups. Membership in each entitles one to certain amenities and perks. These same members can often be "made" to contribute to something with an assessment or dues to maintain membership. A country club I once belonged to decided to build a new swimming pool, and I was sent a letter telling me what my assessment was for such a project. No need to fundraise here. Members understood they had certain obligations, but they would benefit from getting to enjoy the new pool. That approach is not likely to work with your church "members."
For us to change the way things are, pastors and church leaders today must begin to see their "members" as "donors." Donors have a choice in what to give, when to give, and why to give. For us to pretend otherwise is foolish. These donors give a whole lot more when they feel they are getting a whole lot back. What they want is results. They want to know that from their contributions the world is being changed. They want to know that lives are being positively affected and that their gifts made a difference. If you can work on this mind-set, you will have a chance to leave a different future for your son or daughter.
Excerpted from Whose Offering Plate Is It? by J. Clif Christopher Copyright © 2010 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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