Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Stewardship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Deborah Rexrode

This month I had the privilege of curating a series of blog posts on stewardship. Those who have contributed have approached stewardship from many important perspectives. When I began my ministry as the Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James, I put together a list of what I consider to be the top ten things we need to know about stewardship. This is a great place to start the conversation with your stewardship leaders.

1 – Stewardship is a year-long ministry – Every Sunday is an opportunity to preach and teach about stewardship. Seize that opportunity whenever you can. Listen for God’s messages on stewardship in the scriptures. One good stewardship sermon in the fall during the annual stewardship campaign is not enough. Think about the people who might miss that Sunday or even avoid that sermon.

2 – Stewardship ministry should involve lots of people – The more people you include in this process, the more effective your stewardship ministry will be. People who serve as role models in the congregation are effective stewardship leaders. They demonstrate a high level of commitment not only in their giving but also in their gifts of time and talents. Invite them to serve in the area of stewardship.

3 – Stewardship is a topic worthy of ongoing study and discussion – There are lots of resources available for you to use in adult study groups and Sunday School classes of all ages. As stewardship leaders, it’s also important for you to spend time in study and prayer understanding stewardship in order to be effective leaders.

4 – Stewardship is more than financial giving – Often it is the case that we give most of our attention to the financial aspects of stewardship and therefore, give less attention to the other things that create a holistic vision of stewardship ministry – stewardship of time, talents, creation, relationships, worship, and even stewardship of our bodies. If we only focus on giving of our financial resources, we miss the opportunity to involve our congregations in the full understanding of stewardship ministries in our churches.

 5 – Stewardship ministry should have a definite plan – Develop an annual stewardship ministry plan embraced by the session and all the leaders of the congregation. Involve the Christian education committee, the outreach committee, the missions team, and the worship leaders. Do you all that you can to raise the awareness of what stewardship means to us as disciples of Christ.

6 – Stewardship is a way to say thank you – Send thank you notes when people give to the church. Send thank you notes when people are engaged in ministry in the church. Send thank you notes when people make a pledge and a commitment to serve God through the ministries of the church. A sincerely-worded handwritten thank you note can do more to promote the mission and vision of a church than any well-done campaign.

7 – Stewardship continues even when we die – Develop a legacy giving plan. According to the experts, America is undergoing the largest transfer of wealth in history as the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers leave their accumulated assets behind upon their deaths. All we need to do is encourage and provide ways for people to remember their church in their estate plan. Statistics show that the church is the number one charity and yet people do not include the church in their will. Implement a planned giving program.

8 – Stewardship is about good sound financial management – The top three reasons why people give to non-profits are: belief in the mission, trust in the leadership, and demonstrated accountability and transparency. That is the same for the church. People don’t give because the pastor is an inspiring preacher. They don’t give because the church is experiencing a budget deficit. They give because they believe in the mission, they trust the leaders, and there is a record of accountability and transparency.

9 – Stewardship is about telling stories of transformation – One of the most powerful tools for growing generosity in the church is telling the story of how the church is transforming people’s lives through its ministry. Every church has an abundance of people who can provide a witness to the ways in which their lives have been positively impacted by the people, the programs, and the ministries of the church. Have you heard any good stories lately?

10 – Stewardship is a spiritual discipline –Stewardship is a spiritual practice that allows us to live out the belief that all we have and all that we are belongs to God. Stewardship is our gifts of time, relationship, worship, thanksgiving, prayer, service, and material possessions. It is a way of living that includes giving. Stewardship goes beyond the church budget or building project and connects everything we do with what God is doing in the world.

We are called to be faithful stewards in all that God is calling us to do. It is being open to the opportunities and challenges that God places in our lives and serving with faith and joy. I hope you have been blessed by our stewardship series this month.


Deborah Rexrode is the Associate for Stewardship with the Presbytery of the James. She is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and brings to the Presbytery a background of research, study, and application of the theological understanding of stewardship and the importance of ongoing stewardship education in our congregations. Deborah enjoys opportunities to spend time with pastors, sessions, and stewardship committees to help them enhance their stewardship ministries. She is available for workshops, retreats, and pulpit supply. Check out her website at www.pojstewardship.com.

Leaving a Legacy: What is Planned Giving?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Olanda Carr

The term “planned giving” is not always easily understood. After all, shouldn’t we always plan when making a gift to someone, especially the church or another charitable organization? How is a planned gift any different from a regular gift? These are just a sample of the questions I often hear when presenting the topic of planned giving to a congregation or gathering.

Whenever I am asked to clarify the concept of planned giving, I often use a tree analogy: think of planned giving as planting seeds for shade trees that you will never sit under.

This analogy generally works well because it helps us to envision the true purpose of a planned gift: a financial gift (or seed) cultivated now that will be fully realized in the future. This analogy often works even better during periods of sweltering heat such as these, as I believe we all appreciate a cooling breeze or shade tree during the warm days of summer!

There are many definitions circulating the internet to define, clarify, and/or describe planned giving.  From a Christian perspective, planned giving is not just about the responsible utilization of our financial assets, it is also a critical component of living out the tenets of our faith. On the Presbyterian Foundation’s website, planned giving is described this way: “[planned giving] is an opportunity for us all to return to God that which God entrusted us with during our lifetime. It is also an opportunity for us all to further strengthen Christ’s church for the future by providing for ministry and mission for those who come after us. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us; let’s be the shoulders for those who come after us” (1). In short, planned giving allows us to use blessings of today to bless those of tomorrow. For one to begin the planned giving process, however, it is imperative for one to take an inventory of assets prior to considering charitable giving opportunities. This estate planning process is a critical first step towards planned giving.

Estate planning is the process of managing accumulated assets for the present and the future. It is a written expression of your intentions for the protection and preservation of your assets during your lifetime and their management and distribution upon your death (2). Many financial advising institutions recommend creating a list of assets, both individual and shared, to assist one with developing a complete picture of one’s financial state. This allows an individual or couple to then enter the discernment process of asset distribution. The Presbyterian Foundation offers an asset recording instrument, the Estate Planning Workbook (3), for individuals to review and complete to capture such information. Inside the workbook, information related to investments, living will directives, retirement accounts, insurance policies and other pieces of related information are addressed.

After an inventory of assets has been developed, it is now time to consider charitable planned giving opportunities. While most immediately think of a named bequest in a will, there are many other options that should be considered when planning to donate to a particular church or charitable organization. Endowment funds, appreciated securities, charitable remainder trusts, life insurance beneficiaries, and retirement accounts are just a few of the many ways one can use accumulated assets to provide for future ministry.

Participating in planned giving allows us to develop an enduring statement of faith. Thus, as one begins to engage in the planned giving process, it is often helpful to reflect on the areas of ministry that have brought us the most joy in life. For some, it may be music. For others, it may be mission and outreach. Regardless of the specific area of ministry, however, a planned gift is an excellent way to provide financial support for the given ministry for many years to come. Thanks be to God! 

References:

  1. Planned Giving Toolbox http://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/Resources/Ministry-Resources/Church-Tool-Box/Planned-Giving-Tool-Box.aspx
  2. “What is Estate Planning”. Page 2.  Composing A Legacy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation
  3. Estate Planning Workbook. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation

Olanda Carr, Jr. is the Ministry Relations Officer (MRO) serving the East Region for the Presbyterian Foundation. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Olanda shares his call to the Foundation — “God calls us each day to do new and exciting things. I believe my service with the Foundation is such a call, as it provides me with an opportunity to further God’s kingdom and the mission of the PC (USA).”

Choosing to do a Capital Campaign

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Joel Morgan

Built in the mid-1960’s, the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church featured an understated cross in the front, 72 14ft long pews, a 35-foot high ceiling, and a Casavant Freres organ in the back.  From the beginning, nearly every visitor commented on the immensity and simple beauty of the sacred space. The footprint of the sanctuary was 8,000 square feet and the congregation utilized it a little more than one hour a week.

Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. The congregation’s membership had declined significantly and the sanctuary was being used in the same way for the same amount of time each week. Under new pastoral leadership, the congregation initiated a new and different worship service in their fellowship hall while keeping the traditional worship in place. After a number of years, the worship service in the fellowship hall had a larger attendance than the worship held in the much larger sanctuary.

Other things had changed as well. In 2002, the entire church facility, some 36,000 square feet, had been quiet during the weekdays. By 2012, most of the facility was being used 6 days a week by 12-step groups, a Montessori school, neighborhood groups, and other non-profit organizations. The sanctuary was the only space that sat empty, except for that 1 hour on Sunday morning. The session and pastor often commented on how this seemed like poor stewardship–to have been given the gift of this space (the largest in the facility), but to barely use it.

Over that same 10 years, the congregation experienced a significant generational shift. In 2002, the congregation was made up of 70% retirees. In 2012, about 70% of the congregation was 45 years of age and younger. The congregation also moved from a $25,000 – $50,000 yearly deficit to a number of years with a surplus. Many attributed this financial shift to a right-sizing of the staff and a focus on preaching and teaching about stewardship year-round, such as hosting and leading numerous Financial Peace University classes. New members also received teaching about the expectations of members in terms of financial stewardship, instead of simply being handed a pledge card. There were other changes too, modeled on the stewardship practices extolled by J. Clif Christopher and others.

For over a decade, the pastor and session tossed around ideas about how to modify the sanctuary to make it more flexible and useful for all kinds of worship and other events, while keeping some of its character. No one seemed to have a good answer. With the fellowship hall filling to capacity on Sunday mornings, there was more talk about what the next step should be. The session decided it was time to consult an architect.

The architect led the congregation through a process of determining the best use of the entire facility. They worshipped with the congregation and completed some initial designs. A small group from the session worked with the architect to refine those ideas. Once they believed they had the “right” design, a cost estimate was completed.

The next question seemed to be obvious, “Can we raise the money for this project?” The question behind the question was, “Can we pull off a successful capital campaign?”

The congregation had done capital campaigns before, but the most recent one (20 years prior) had not gone well.

The session put together a task force to select a fundraising/capital campaign consultant to complete a feasibility study. This group interviewed 3 firms and chose Horizons Stewardship to complete the study. The task force chose Horizons based on a number of factors, with the most powerful one being that they were the only firm to talk about how a capital campaign should be a spiritual experience.

Horizon’s process for the study was straightforward and inclusive. There were personal interviews and an online survey of the congregation. Ultimately, the report from Horizons was positive. The consultant found the congregation supportive of congregational leadership and found the members were willing to support a capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary. The session voted to move forward.

One of the first tasks was selecting leadership for the capital campaign. Even with the full faith and support of the congregation, the capital campaign would not be successful without energized and committed leaders.

The wheels were set in motion. The congregation eagerly awaits the day when their beautiful 8,000 square foot sanctuary will be used more than one hour a week. Faith in God, generosity, and a successful capital campaign could make it possible.

The story of WPC’s capital campaign is not over.  At the time of publication, WPC is in the final design phase before beginning the renovation, but that is another blog post (or two!).

A few observations from our experience:

  1. WPC had talked about renovating for years. We knew we needed more space for our informal worship service where we sit around tables and not in pews. We knew the chancel area needed to be larger to accommodate some of the worship dramas we did on a regular basis. We knew we needed a welcoming gathering area. It wasn’t until we really began thinking about it from a stewardship perspective (Are we being good stewards of the facility? Are we using it to its full potential for God’s mission? How can this bless the neighborhood?) that the idea grew in importance.
  2. Leadership. This is one of the underemphasized, but most important pieces of deciding to pursue a capital campaign. Does the congregation have full faith in the current leadership? Is there sufficient energy and other potential leaders in the congregation for this endeavor? We had a group of folks who not only committed for the six months of the “active” capital campaign, but said “yes” to three years of shepherding the congregation in the campaign. Amazing! But, without the energy of the Spirit, forget it.
  3. Pastoral leadership is critical. I know this isn’t a popular notion. Yes, all the Elders lead together. I believe this and teach this. I often say in our session meetings, “As the session goes, so goes the congregation.” However, in financial stewardship and capital campaigns, if the pastor(s) are not fully engaged and willing to lead, the efforts will fall short.

Joel Morgan has always been fascinated by the intersection of body, mind and spirit as well as how to sustain creativity, energy and vitality. He seeks to connect others with God’s love, grace and promise in Jesus Christ through preaching, teaching and coaching that marries real life with faith and practice. Joel has been the Pastor/Head of Staff of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA since 2002. He has a BS in Language Arts (English, Literature, and Theater) and a Masters of Divinity.

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Becoming a Leader of Stewards: The Practice of Showing Up

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sean Mitchell

When I was attending a seminary class years ago, a professor ended the lecture with a statement that stuck with me. The final moments of this class had moved all of us into a discussion on prayer. One student finally asked the professor, “If you could summarize the theology, mystery, and practice of prayer in one sentence, what would it be?” Yes, I thought, good question. Without missing a beat, the professor said, “The most important thing I have learned about prayer from study and practice is this: simply show up.”  

Simply show up. At the time, these words seemed, ironically, too simple. Yet after years of living as a pilgrim, I get it. We need to keep showing up and praying…again and again and again. Show up, do it, and trust God.

After eleven years of working in stewardship ministry, one of the greatest lessons I can pass on to those hoping to become leaders of stewards is, in the words of my seminary professor, simply show up. There is much to be learned about stewardship ministry: the asking, teaching, preaching, mentoring, as well as the storytelling, reading, writing, and team-building. But to show up again and again is at the essence of practicing the leadership.

On multiple occasions, I have worked with pastors or lay leaders, who, when looking to practice more intentional stewardship leadership, have shared some reservations due to perceived lack of skills and lots of fear. Sometimes it is obvious that the fit is not right. For some, it is simply not time for them to lead.

But for others, as they are discerning a call, I often counsel for them to show up and just to do it afraid. The more immersed they are in the work, the less afraid they are of it. As in the case of Moses and others who have taught us how to live faithfully, the way forward is to trust God that all will be provided. We simply show up, read what we find, write and preach what is inspired by Scripture and sacred conversation, live what we are learning, and lead others through the courage that God provides.

Showing up is a practice of prayerful attentiveness. We show up, committed to leading in the ways that God shows us to lead. We show up with our strengths and weaknesses, our convictions and concerns, our hopes and worries. We show up as we are and expect God to be with us along the way and for the Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Over the years, I have watched many people show up in stewardship ministry and begin leading. What did they do? What did they learn about becoming a leader of stewards?  What happened to them along the way?

Here are two stories:

  • A pastor and her church community began their first capital campaign together. This size fundraising initiative was the first for this pastor. How could she lead? What was expected of her? One of her first steps was to write some of the narrative for the campaign communications pieces. She is a good writer and communicator, so she decided to share this strength with the campaign implementation team. Her writing was meaningful, challenging, faith forming, and of course, well received by the congregation.How did she lead?  She simply showed up.  And then she did the next thing: share her strengths with the campaign.
  • A church member was invited by his pastor to join him in a multi-month stewardship ministry learning experience, to which he said yes. Weeks later, after some of the education had taken place, he decided to write out his stewardship journey. He shared it with his pastor, and the pastor invited him to share it with the church on a Sunday morning. He did, and as he did, he was leading. He showed up. He learned. He reflected. He shared his story, and his story inspired others.

The first step on the journey of leading stewards is simply showing up. It’s about saying yes. Yes to the opportunities, invitations, and resources God will provide for the leadership. This is what the above leaders have learned, and what many more will learn as they humbly, courageously, and faithfully show up again and again and again.


Sean Mitchell is the Stewardship Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He is also the founder of Generosity Development. Sean works closely with churches to develop annual and capital campaigns, major gifts, and planned giving.  

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Toward a Year-Round Stewardship Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ann Michel

As a child, I would roll my eyes when my mother repeated herself again and again and AGAIN. But as an educator, Mom knew that repetition is the key to learning. As a stewardship professional, I note with some irony the many church leaders who complain that their congregations just don’t seem to get it when it comes to giving and stewardship. And yet they never talk about stewardship outside of a commitment campaign conducted in a perfunctory way over a couple of weeks in the fall – a campaign culminating in “The Stewardship Sermon” – the one-and-only time each year when stewardship is preached from the pulpit.

Spiritual formation for stewardship and giving requires much more than this. It happens over a lifetime, as people grow in faith and discipleship. These days, fewer and fewer people come into our churches having learned the values or giving and tithing at home. And they are bombarded daily with cultural messages contrary to what our Christian faith teaches teaching about money and possessions. We have to constantly invite people into an alternative world view – one that attests to the truth that God really does provide for us abundantly, that we are stewards not owners of the things that God has entrusted to us, and that giving is more important than acquiring.

Creating a culture of generosity within your congregation can’t be done in a single Sunday or even in a month of Sundays. It’s something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

A “stewardship calendar” can be an invaluable instrument in planning a more holistic, year-round approach to stewardship. Some wonderful examples of stewardship calendars can be found online from the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

These planning templates suggest ways that stewardship themes can be tied into scriptural or liturgical themes across the church year and linked with various aspects of congregational life.

When I worked as the stewardship director at a large church in Washington, DC, I would create a yearly timeline to map out the various parts of our stewardship ministry – not just our pledge campaign. I would ask myself, when was the best time of year to focus on planned giving or stewardship of one’s lifetime assets? When would various special appeals be made? How might stewardship education, including training around financial literacy, fit into the overall church calendar? When would we send thank yous and giving statements? How would we help people think about stewardship of their time and talents?

My goal was to make sure that all aspects of stewardship received adequate attention – but at a time of year that made sense given the liturgical season and the church’ programmatic calendar. I also wanted to avoid overlapping appeals or competing messages. Once I knew we were going to be focusing on financial literacy in January, sacrificial giving during Lent, and stewardship of time and talents in the early fall, it was much easier to plan appropriate communication and connect our stewardship efforts with preaching, worship, and Christian education.

The goal of establishing a holistic, year-round stewardship ministry may sound daunting. But the wonderful thing is you can start small. Over the next year, experiment with adding something new. Maybe it’s a sermon series on a stewardship-related theme at a time of year totally apart from when you’re asking people to make pledges. I guarantee people will be more receptive to what you have to say if they don’t think it’s a thinly veiled attempt to get more of their money. Or maybe it’s conducting a “thank-a-thon” to acknowledge the importance of people’s support of the church’s mission and reinforce the connection between generosity and gratitude. And you don’t need to do everything on an annual basis. Classes on budgeting or preparing a will might be needed only every so often. But without planning, these things might easily fall through the cracks.

Our faith teaches that God created different times and seasons. A bit of planning can help us see how God’s call to generosity connects to every time and season, so that we might better reflect the abundant generosity of the God who created us and calls to be partners in God’s divine generosity.


Dr. Ann A. Michel has served as associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since 2005. She is editor of the Lewis Center’s online newsletter, Leading Ideas. She also serves as an adjunct member of the faculty of Wesley Theological Seminary, supporting the Lewis Center’s curricular offerings as a lecturer in church leadership.

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Creating a Narrative Budget

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Raymond Bonwell

Numbers have caused people’s eyes to glaze over. To some, financial statements appear to have been written in a foreign language, guided by GAAP and overseen by FASB (even references to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and the Financial Accounting Standards Board might inspire some to skip the balance of this post).

I would suggest that numbers are NOT the best way to talk about or describe a budget. Numbers certainly have their place in financial statements, and there they are very useful. And I am focusing on “talking about a budget,” or “describing a budget.” For this focus, we use words (not numbers).

Words have meaning. Words speak to us. The world has God’s Word in Scripture. The world has the Word made flesh in Jesus. The Spirit inspires us to lead lives faithful to the Word. And words are powerful.

The following passages of Scripture are each less than a sentence, and look at all they capture:

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go.”‘” (Exodus 5:1a, NRSV)

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NRSV)

“When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, [Jesus] said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed.’” (Luke 8:4-5a, NRSV).

Not all budgets are created equal. Some use numbers, and others use narratives. Here I explore three types of church budgets, for which I am indebted to Kennon L. Callahan’s Effective Church Finances: Fund-Raising and Budgeting for Church Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992).

First, a cost budget is a maintenance budget typically built by a key person. It seldom changes categories year over year, and is typically dominated by the staff, the building, and a few programs, including the denomination. There is a very strong preservation/protection mentality – a need to “keep the lights on” since it “costs” XYZ thousand dollars a month to operate the church. This is not an inspiring reason to give – just enough to get by.

Second, an organizational budget, is a local budget typically built by key committees. Priorities and the budget are driven by these congregational committees. While the congregation may be financially healthy, this organizational budget is still scarcity focused – a few people on a few committees see a few resources. The organizational chart of church may not be actually printed in the budget, and it is certainly visible by the grouping of the budget lines. People are asked to give to support the organizational, institutional welfare of that local church.

Third (and finally), the mission budget is an externally-focused budget informed by the major priorities of the coming year. This focuses more on narratives than numbers, and it serves as a high-level overview. (Yes, full financial statements would be available for the chosen few whose joy is not complete unless they make sense of all the cents.) This mission budget invites people to give to generously to major priorities; stewardship is the purpose and mission is the result. It is very people-focused. People give money to people; who will be helped by the congregation’s major priorities.

Cost and organizational budgets are created with numbers and are very format-driven. Accounting software generates a report, or figures are updated in Excel.

Mission budgets, however, are created with narratives and are tailor-made to describe that specific community. This is what makes them so challenging to create, and makes the efforts so rewarding. Given the connectional nature of the church, the Presbyterian Foundation’s Ministry Tool Box includes three examples of narrative budgets and includes instructions on how to write narrative budgets in Word. (This, and other resources, is available online. No registration is required. These are resources from the church, for the church.)

Scripture is full of paradoxes: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NRSV).

And here is a budgeting paradox to be effective – do not use numbers; use narratives.

Do not focus on Excel; focus on (The) Word.


Raymond Bonwell is the Corporate Secretary of the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and is responsible for advising on best practices for corporate governance and ensuring directors have needed resources to guide the Board of Pensions. A classically trained economist, his first professional career was twelve years in institutional investing and personal financial planning. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he served two churches and as a Director at Princeton for five years.

Stewardship and Young Adults: Finding Space for Conversation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Grace Duddy Pomroy

While working on a stewardship research project a few years ago, I realized that congregation leaders were willing to talk with me about any topic except stewardship with young adults. In fact, they were very eager to vent their frustrations to my fellow researcher, who was in his sixties, while conveniently avoiding eye contact with the only young adult at the table: me. They were looking for a counselor, not a conversation partner.

Out of this experience grew a second research project. I went on a quest to talk to young adults about stewardship with the goal of sharing my findings with congregation leaders. There are many stereotypes about young adults and stewardship floating around the church today. I wanted to challenge these stereotypes by bringing the voices of young adults – their stories and their struggles – to the table. I spoke with 65 young adults across the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. While my research lacked scale and diversity, I accomplished what I set out to do.

One of my greatest learnings from this project had nothing to do with the questions that I asked but rather with the conversation that unfolded. I came in expecting that participants might find it uncomfortable to talk openly about money, stewardship, and giving. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The young adults that I met were yearning for an authentic space to discuss these issues with their peers without fear of a hidden agenda. They were grateful for the opportunity to ask questions like, “How do you decide what to give? How much is enough?” At the end of the conversations, many of the participants thanked me. They had never had a conversation about giving where there weren’t also asked for money.

For the most part, the word “stewardship” did not resonate with the participants. It was seen as a very “churchy” word that referred to “asking for money.” The only positive association that they had involved environmental stewardship or “caring for people or places.” The three words that they most associated with stewardship were community, faith, and mission.

More than half of the young adults I talked to said that their congregation had not helped them integrate their faith with the way they use their money. Those who said their congregation did pointed to the way it helped them consider their giving. They were eager to discuss how faith affects all of the ways we use money – not just how we give.

The participants gave their money because they believed in the mission of the church, trusted that the money would be spent well, and felt that their gift – no matter how small – would make a difference. Participants gave their time to their congregation because they were asked and because they wanted to form new relationships.

The major question that came up was “How much is appropriate to give?” They weren’t sure what normal looked like. Our conversation gave participants the opportunity to ask this question and hear honest answers from their peers about how much they gave and why. Each participant was free to share openly – there wasn’t an assumed right answer. The participants told me they were fearful of pledging. They were concerned about not meeting the commitment so they underestimated their giving.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to share these learnings (and more) with church leaders across the country. In this way, I feel that I’m beginning to make the voices of young adults more audible to the church at large. I’ve seen church leaders come into the room rooted in assumptions and anger towards young adults and leave equipped with empathy, new ideas, and a desire to ask better questions.

If I can encourage you to do anything to better connect with the young adults in your congregation, it would be to start conversations of your own. Ask young adults why they give and what stewardship looks like to them. Invite them to share their perspective, rather than just being the subject of the conversation. Together, we have a lot to learn from one another.


Grace Duddy Pomroy is a millennial stewardship ministry leader. She is the co-author of the recently published stewardship book, Embracing Stewardship: How to Put Stewardship at the Heart of Your Congregation’s Life, as well as author of the stewardship resource, “Stewards of God’s Love.” She lives in Apple Valley with her husband, Tyler. She is currently the Financial Education Specialist at Portico Benefit Services. To learn more about Grace, visit her website at https://embracingstewardship.com/.

Being Generous

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by David Loleng

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)  

“Generosity is something we want for you, not from you.” I think the church needs to take this phrase to heart.

In their book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson state: “Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing.” They go on to show that generosity positively affects our happiness, health, life purpose, and personal growth. Generosity is at the heart of discipleship and human flourishing. But here is the paradox: although generosity is good for us, generosity is often elusive in our churches.

How, then, can our churches form generous disciples? We tend to turn to technical fixes and best practices as the answer. Things like narrative budgets, e-giving, revamped stewardship campaigns, and talking about stewardship throughout the year are important and impactful, but I believe they are not enough to bring about lasting transformation in people and in the culture of the church. The real paradigm shift is from focusing on funds development to people development. To put it another way, we need to measure our success not by the quality of our programs but by the quality of our people.

I believe the way to form generous disciples of Christ is by creating habits and practices that will truly begin to change our beliefs and behaviors. It’s not just the occasional generous act but sustained practices, disciplines and a lifestyle of generosity that will have a transformative and lasting effect on individuals and our faith communities.

My question is this: what are some spiritual practices that will help cultivate generosity and Christ centered stewardship in the lives of those in our churches? I want to briefly share two spiritual practices that have become important for me recently as I have thought about how to be a generous steward of my, time, talent and resources.

First is the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Simplicity helps us to let go of our inordinate attachment to things (possessions, experiences, achievements) and our insatiable desire for more.  It is uncluttering our lives of excess and practicing things like frugality, contentment, thankfulness, and graciousness.

Richard Foster describes the importance of simplicity in his book Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World. He writes, “The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more threatens frequently to overwhelm us… Christian simplicity…brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It allows us to see material things for what they are – goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions…it is the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity that gives us…a strategy of action that can address this (poverty and hunger) and many other social inequities.” Simplicity helps us to re-calibrate our lives back toward God and God’s will. It frees us to be more generous with our money and resources and become more mission-focused.

The second is connected to simplicity. It is creating margin in life. As Dr. Richard Swenson describes in his book Margin, it is like the margins on a piece of paper: there is no text on the top, bottom, and sides; just empty space. As James Bryan Smith writes in his book The Good and Beautiful God, “We add so much to our schedules that we have no ‘margin,’ no space for leisure and rest and family and God and health.”

Creating margin means uncluttering our schedules, our time, and our lives. When we have more margin in our lives, we can be more generous with our time and our talents. Creating margin positively affects our relationship with God and others, our health, and our ability to join in Christ’s mission in our communities and world.

The spiritual disciplines of simplicity and margin not only help to cultivate a culture of generosity, but help form people in our churches who are growing as generous disciples of Jesus Christ, with a greater impact on our communities and world.


David Loleng is the Director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership at the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA). He is the co-author of the Engage (Gospel, Discipleship, Mission) Curriculum. Loleng is leading the effort to assemble a body of educational materials and tools for effective financial church leadership and administration and make them available to both pastors and lay leaders. Loleng most recently served as Associate for Evangelism in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Stewardship of Energy

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Than Hitt

I was in Paris recently for a screening of “From the Ashes,” a powerful new documentary on climate change, and the contrast was hard to miss: Paris, a symbol of global cooperation for climate protection, on the heels of the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

It’s true that traveling helps you see home in a new light, and this trip certainly did for me. I found myself asking how America, the largest contributor to climate change, could turn its back on the global effort against climate pollution and meanwhile miss new opportunities for clean tech innovation and job creation at home?

The word “negligence” comes to mind, as do others unfit to print.

But seeing home from a distance also helps me appreciate the good that is afoot: many American cities and states have stepped up to achieve the Paris goals. Many churches have as well, notably through the “Paris Pledge” organized by Interfaith Power and Light with over 160 congregations dedicating themselves to this goal.

Yes, many churches are responding in creative and positive ways, including new investments in clean energy. So why aren’t all church rooftops crowned with solar panels today? Perhaps congregations don’t see a connection between their faith, the Earth, and their energy source, but I doubt that is the main reason. Instead, I think it’s primarily a financial hurdle – particularly the initial investment capital. And who wants another capital campaign?

So how do we move forward?

Let me share some thoughts from my experience helping Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) “go solar” in 2014. Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on the solar industry or financing (I’m a fish biologist working on climate change science and endangered species research in West Virginia). But I have glimpsed how financial thinking can merge with ethical and spiritual thinking when it comes to a church’s investment in clean energy. And that’s some powerful stuff.

In our initial discussions at SPC, the environmental benefits of solar usually came up first. That makes sense, particularly in West Virginia where we see the costs of fossil fuel development. Of course this issue was not new to folks at SPC, which has been a proud PCUSA Earth Care congregation for years. The question was more “how” than “why.”

We couldn’t take advantage of federal tax incentives and our state incentive programs had recently been stripped away. So we had to think differently. And we did. We started working with Solar Holler to finance our solar project from energy efficiency savings pooled from our individual homes. It worked. We were fortunate to receive a national award for our efforts, and we plowed the award money back into energy efficient LED lighting for the sanctuary.

We’re currently saving thousands of dollars a year on electricity bills and are producing about 40% of our electricity demand. Meanwhile, the regional utility rates keep going up, so this further increases the value of solar into the future.

If you want to go for it, here’s where I recommend you start: take a look at your church’s energy bills over the last several years. You might be amazed, particularly when you consider the opportunity costs. What mission work is not happening because you’re paying so much for energy?

Then look around the church for ways to improve its energy efficiency. You might find what others have – that you already have the capital for an investment in solar all around you – that you could use cost savings from energy efficiency planning to finance an investment. This is the model currently expanding to churches and other nonprofits across West Virginia from the good work of Solar Holler.

Particularly now as we hear the tired, false narrative of “jobs versus environment” touted loudly by national leaders, it’s up to us to tell a different story. Churches have to be leaders in this great effort. After all, the sun gives physical energy – and metaphysical energy!


Than Hitt lives in Shepherdstown West Virginia where he spends his time as a husband, father, biologist, musician, river runner, explorer, and procrastinator.

Stewardship as Intentional Caring

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jordan Davis

When I was a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, “stewardship” might as well have been a four-letter word. My understanding, at the time, was that stewardship meant a request for money (of which I had very little!) and stewardship month was the most painful month of the church.

When I was asked to write about stewardship and the seminary student, I groaned but also prayed that maybe my experience was a unique one. I have learned a great deal about stewardship since those early years, but also I have been working on a capital campaign at Union Presbyterian Seminary for three years. I knew that our students have heard a lot about money and I hoped that we hadn’t clouded their minds in the recent months.

And so, I took to social media and asked “What do you think of when you hear ‘stewardship’?” Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, I began to read the responses and y’all… the future of the Church is in good hands!

Rather than worrying about money, seminary students are worrying about — wait for it — caring! An overwhelming number of responses came in highlighting that stewardship is about caring for God’s creation through the use of our time, talents, influence, and (of course) money. Special concern was shown for stewardship of the earth, in the way that those resources are both cared for and used.

One word that was used in these responses was “intentionality.” I think that this is what sets seminary students apart from so many: their intentionality. Our seminarians are being taught to think critically and act intentionally. Papers and actions are dissected as every word and movement is looked at through the lens of an “other” in hopes that they can learn more and therefore model better. Seminarians are learning that ministry is not just about preaching on Sunday morning and visiting hospital rooms during the week. Ministry in the 21st century is about breaking down barriers as we both look at and refine the way we live with one another in God’s creation. This intentionality, this thoughtful care, is quickly becoming the new face of stewardship.

I spend a great deal of time with congregations of all shapes and sizes, and I have heard my (not so fair) share of stewardship sermons and campaigns. I am always so disappointed at the focus placed on money, especially in areas where I know that money may not be the best or most accessible resource for that particular congregation. I have grown weary and frustrated with the idea that no ministry can happen without someone sitting poised and ready to write a check! If we will give these students a chance, if we will welcome them into our congregations and give them the space they need, they just might change the way that we minister in the 21st century.

Yes, Jesus spoke of money, but he mostly spoke of care and love for one another. I fear that many of us have lost focus of this crucial message in our attempts to “save the church.” Every year when the “ask” is made for a financial pledge (which IS vital, but maybe not the most important), more members grow tired and our congregations grow weaker. If we give these students space as they begin their ministry and heed their advice in our own ministries that have already changed multiple times, maybe our congregations will find new energy and endurance in their care for one another and God’s creation!

I also asked current seminary students how they are involved in stewardship.  One of my favorite answers was simply, “Through immersion.” I think of the students I regularly see in my work, and I think of the time they spend carrying compost buckets, serving in multiple capacities within congregations, cleaning kennels at the animal shelters, and hosting prayer vigils. They help to fundraise and they remind those of us who are so focused on money the importance of coming together to play.

Stewardship is about caring, and I think it is time that we allow these students to be our teachers.


Jordan B. Davis received her Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2014 and has a passion for building relationships within the Church and the world. Jordan devoted her time at Union to finding ways to strengthen the community through fellowship and worship. Taking a call as a Church Relations Officer for the seminary was a natural next step after graduation. She enjoys working in a setting allows her to continue learning both from congregations and students, recognizing that the church is already very different from when she started on this journey! Learn more about her ministry at www.congregationalcorner.wordpress.com.