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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.

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 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.

Crowdfunding Your Congregation

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 Adam Copeland

What if a new technology existed that completely changed the way congregations raised funds for mission? What if there was a tool to make difficult-to-fund projects overflow with supportive donations? What if, by using a simple website, a congregation could discover hundreds of new giving units without any trouble at all? Well, I suppose if such a technology existed, we’d all be using it. As far as I know, no such a miraculous tool exists.

Today’s post is on crowdfunding and while I believe it has great potential, let me be clear: crowdfunding is no silver bullet. It is not the fundraising savior. Crowdfunding is, though, a relatively new way to think and go about funding specific projects that might be of interest for your congregation. It’s also a particular interest of mine and, therefore, the topic of today’s blog.

Around 2008, crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and dozens of others developed a new way to give money to support a particular cause, project, or vision. While there are plenty of ways to raise money online, I define crowdfunding as goal-based fundraising ventures, conducted by groups or individuals using the Internet, that seek small contributions from a large number of people. Beyond that general definition lie several different types of crowdfunding. There are campaigns in which the funder receives rewards or gifts if the project is fully funded. Other campaigns work more like traditional charity fundraisers — people give to the causes they support. Some campaigns are set up in an all-or-nothing way so, if the goal isn’t reached, the project does not go forward. In common, though, is the notion that a good crowdfunding campaign seeks to raise money for a specific goal.

Usually, we think of a church budget as a big, bulky mixture of various missional priorities. We might call funding the budget a “macro goal.” Crowdfunding thrives on “micro goals:” specific, often time-sensitive, visions of something new. As Perry Chen, a Kickstarter co-founder, has explained, potential backers see a pitch and think, “That’s really cool. I want to see it exist in the world.”

Crowdfunding is about bringing vision to life or making dreams a reality. Campaign creators describe their vision — what they think the world needs — and they ask the crowd for help. Together, they create something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I’ve come to think of it this way: crowdfunding supporters don’t give away money; they midwife dreams.

What does all this pie-in-the-sky description actually look like? Well, for a church plant in Wilmington, North Carolina it meant raising $20,000 to launch a new space. St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, New York has conducted several successful campaigns. For a student at Illif School of Theology, it means raising $1,100 to help her go to seminary. And dozens of faith-related music albums now exist thanks to campaigns like this one and this one. In sum, crowdfunding offers congregations and faith-related non-profits opportunities to share their vision with the world, and ask the crowd for support.

Now, I want to be clear: crowdfunding takes work, organization, coordination, some technological savvy and, most of all, a good idea. I’m really drawn to the crowdfunding world because of the possibilities that it might help the church think differently about mission and funding, but it’s no panacea. For that reason, I’ve written a guide booklet titled “Crowdfunding for Congregations and Faith-related Non-profits” that you can download as a resource. Crowdfunding may not be right for your congregation, but I do think it has potential for some. Who knows, maybe God is doing a new thing. Either way, I think the church has much to learn from the invitational language, compelling videos, and inspirational vision on display in many crowdfunding campaigns.


Adam Copeland is Director of Stewardship Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota where he teaches as well as directs the Center for Stewardship Leaders. Having served as a rural pastor, church planter, and college professor, his scholarly interests consider stewardship and generosity, church leadership, rhetoric, and digital culture. His books include Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), and the forthcoming Making Stewardship Whole (Westminster John Knox, 2017). He holds degrees from St. Olaf College, Columbia Theological Seminary, and is a pursing a PhD rhetoric, writing, and culture at North Dakota State University. Find him online at http://adamjcopeland.com or follow his tweets @ajc123.

 

Living Generously Begins With Trust

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 Marcia Shetler

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center produces resources to help congregations encourage faithful generosity. Our Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine and complementary materials focus on a different biblical theme each year. In 2017, that theme is “Live Generously” with a focus on scripture texts of 1 Timothy 6:18-19 and 2 Corinthians 8:9.

When we define faithful generosity—or stewardship—we often think in terms of time, talent, and treasure. But when I look at the logo for the Live Generously theme, another important “T” word comes to mind: trust. It is difficult to be generous without it.

Trust seems to be a tough concept for many North Americans to master. It’s ironic since we have so much. But our culture tells us to put our trust in the goods, systems, and financial reserves that we have created. We tend to ignore the fact that all of these can fail us. We forget that as Christian disciples, we are called to a counter-cultural way of living.

Trusting in God is part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus. It allows us to joyfully and generously let go of what we think is ours and release it for God’s use. Those acts of generosity are our witness to the world, sharing God’s abundance as channels of God’s love.

We can find many examples of trust in the Bible. Elijah asked the widow of Zarephath to be generous by sharing her last meal and trust that she and her son would not go hungry. In another account, a small boy gave his lunch of five loaves and two fish, and more than 5,000 people were fed. Moses’ mother trusted God with her son’s life. Twice. The first time she placed his life in God’s hands when she put him in a basket in a river, Moses was returned to her and she was able to raise and love her son while he was young. Later, she gave him up again, and Moses ultimately fulfilled God’s call as leader of the Hebrews.

“The Widows Mite” by James Christensen

One of the most well-used stewardship sermon scripture texts is the story of the widow’s mite, and there have been numerous interpretations of this incident. But perhaps what was most important was not only the widow’s ability to give to God totally, but to trust God completely. Maybe that is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples, and what we should learn from the widow’s example.

The hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” was written in the late 1800s by Louisa M. Stead. She understood well the need for trust. Her husband drowned while trying to save a boy from drowning as she and her young daughter watched. The hymn was inspired by this tragedy. Louisa continued to trust God and followed God’s leading to Africa, where she remarried and served as a missionary for many years. The continent became her home and she died there in 1917.

So when I look at the Live Generously logo, I see the open hands that we must have to be generous. But I also envision the hands as God’s hands. There’s even a hint of an arrow pointing to the center of those hands. That’s where I need to be if I’m truly going to be generous: in the center of God’s hands, trusting in God’s care.


 

Marcia Shetler is executive director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

Creating a Culture of Generosity

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 Clayton Smith

How can we best identify several proven stewardship models for ministry that can inspire, innovate, ignite, and improve generosity in your church or faith-based ministry? Every year many pastors ponder this question. It prompted me to do some research and writing. Over my ministry of 40 years, I have used several stewardship and generosity development approaches. Many stewardship models today are outdated and lead to a decline in giving. They are not relevant or they may be poorly executed. But too many look for the latest popular stewardship campaign model or fad and just plug it in. Each model needs to be adapted to fit your congregation so spiritual growth and long term generosity will result.

The challenge is to encourage stewardship leaders who want to learn and grow in the joy of giving, and not to generate feelings of guilt or inadequacy. The opportunity is based on raising the levels of expectation for the pastor, staff, leaders, members, and visitors that fits your congregation. Donor development is a slow but fruitful process.

Most local churches function with the typical financial stewardship models that support the annual giving, strategic mission and emergency giving, planned giving, memorial giving, and capital/building giving. In my book, Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity, I describe six models and how they can help you better develop a culture of generosity. I describe strategic needs to improve your existing stewardship and generosity models as well.

Key Questions

  1. How can leaders inspire vision to raise giving expectations?
  2. How can leaders innovate new ministry models that fit your congregation’s needs?
  3. How can we ignite leadership change?
  4. How can we improve stewardship and generosity giving levels?

It is both a privilege and challenge to serve in Christian leadership today. There are areas of ministry that bring joy and those we try to avoid because they are outside our comfort zone. Dean Don Wardlaw of McCormick School of Theology once asked me, “Clayton, what is your greatest challenge in ministry?” I responded that it was a struggle for me to talk about giving money! I know I am in good company: two-thirds of the pastors I have surveyed agree that it is a real challenge for them to talk about money. And yet, stewardship preaching and leadership is one of the top needs of leaders of the church today.

Setting annual goals for your stewardship and generosity ministry is very important to help create focus and energy. Strategic planning can best be developed for three years in mind. Whether it is a one-year plan or a three-year plan, goals need to be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. These goals will need the annual support of the finance team and church council.  Stewardship ministry must be a major priority!

These goals will be a result of a brainstorming session but will need to be refined with those who are going to be executing these goals before final decisions and approvals are made. Ownership is important for best results. Every year it is helpful to evaluate the previous year and then modify your strategic goals for the new year, if necessary.

It is recommended that you limit your strategic goals to three or four per year. Too few goals will not generate the leadership dynamic you need, and too many will be frustrating to all involved. These goals can also become part of the pastor’s or staff professional annual goal setting process.

Specific goals can be identified from those areas of your ministry that need improvement. Measurable ways of quantifying the progress or results are essential for evaluation. Assignable simply means who will be responsible for the project. Realistic expectations are important and yet the expectations should encourage risk. Failure should not be punished.  Time-related results keep moving us forward toward completion or at least a sense of accomplishment.

Here are some sample goals from our church’s Stewardship and Generosity Ministry:

  • To teach and interpret the biblical stewardship principles which enable every member to become disciples of Jesus Christ who are theologically informed, spiritually transformed, and daily living their faith.
  • To celebrate that “God gives to all mortals life and breath and all things,” so that in him we live and move and have our being.” God is the giver of all good gifts! (Acts 17:25, 28)
  • To teach Christian stewardship as the faithful practice of systematic giving of our tithes and offerings. Every member is invited to give a percentage of their income with the tithe (10%) as a goal. We seek to find creative ways to become a tithing congregation.

Want to create a culture of generosity in your local church? Begin with one goal at a time!


Clayton Smith has served as an Executive Pastor of Generosity at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection since September 2005. This church has four campuses in the Kansas City area with a membership of 20,000. Clayton gives executive level leadership to ministry areas of stewardship, development, and generosity. He gives oversight and support to Resurrection’s giving campaigns for the annual operating budget, capital building funds, special strategic and mission gifts, memorial giving, and planned gifts for their foundation. Clayton enjoys teaching and consulting with local churches and leaders on stewardship programs and financial campaigns. He speaks at conferences across our country to give leadership in stewardship and generosity ministry.  He leads and teaches faith- based programs that assist people in personal financial stewardship and generosity.

Stewardship 101

by Deborah Rexrode

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to God’s service, you could not give God anything that was not in a sense God’s own already.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

For us as Christians, all that we have and all that we are belongs to God. So then what does stewardship look like in our lives today? How do we define stewardship?

Too often stewardship means the Annual Stewardship Campaign. It means filling out a pledge card to make a commitment to the annual budget of the church where we are a member. In some cases, the definition has been broadened to include a commitment of our time and talents so that we don’t put all our focus on money.

As we begin a month of reflections on stewardship, it seems the best place to begin is to ask, “What do the scriptures tell us about stewardship?” I share these biblical principles of stewardship for you to begin to broaden your definition of stewardship:

Ownership – Let’s begin with the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” God created everything! In Psalm 24 we read, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God is not only the creator but also the owner of everything. The biblical teaching is not that God created everything and then handed ownership off to us or someone else. God still owns all that is.

Responsibility – Once we acknowledge that what we have is God’s, the question becomes: “What would God have me do with all of this?” As God’s stewards, we are responsible to care for all that God has graciously entrusted to us. “Who then is the faithful and wise steward…?” (Luke 12:42) A steward is a person who cares for something that belongs to someone else. The steward is not the owner, but instead manages that which belongs to another. All that surrounds us in this life belongs to God, and we have been given the privilege to manage and care for some of it as we travel through life.

Accountability – One day each one of us will be called to give an account of how we have managed what God has given us. In 1 Peter we read, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10) As God’s people, we are called to live and give generously, especially to help those in need. We are called to give first to God and God’s work, to give regularly, and yes, to give cheerfully. The Bible tells us that what we do with our money and possessions impacts our faith. We are called to be accountable for what God has entrusted into our care.

Reward – Stewardship is the way we use the abundance that God has entrusted to our care to love God and our neighbor. Stewardship is more than money, offering plates, and pledges. As the master said to the servants to whom he gave five talents and two talents, “Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21) They used what they had been asked to manage and multiplied it for the good of the master and his kingdom.

Stewardship goes beyond the church budget or building project and connects everything we do with what God is doing in the world. Stewardship is a way of life. It is one of the primary ways that we live out our identity in Christ. 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.

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.


Deborah Rexrode serves as 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. She provides consultation to pastors, sessions, and stewardship committees with stewardship campaigns, capital campaigns, and planned giving. Deborah has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Religion from the University of Virginia. Her research and doctoral dissertation focused on stewardship and the role of clergy in providing strong financial leadership in their congregations.

From SERVING to Serving

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Boni Kim

Growing up in America, the only place I saw people that looked like me was at church. My parents were Christian and so I just followed them to church every Sunday. We started off at a smaller Korean church and later moved to one of the larger Korean churches in the area.

It wasn’t until eighth grade I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That was when I really started to explore what the church was. I had always liked helping out and volunteering for church and I discovered that I had been serving and being spiritually formed by my experiences even before I accepted Jesus into my heart.

During my college years, I went to an American church when I was at school and when I was home during the summers, I attended my home church. There was such a huge difference between the two churches that essentially did the same thing: worship God. When I attended church at school, I felt like I was learning so much and that I was getting something from the sermons every week. At home, I didn’t get the same kind of learning that I was getting at school. Nevertheless, after I graduated from college, I moved back home and started serving my home church.

Serving was my M.O. for most of my twenties. I believed that the only way I could grow spiritually was if I served. So, I served my heart out. I served as director for my church youth group for seven years along with serving and leading two summer camps for over ten years. During these years, I felt very tired and alone. There was only one person that was going through what I was going through, my best friend, and she was really the only person that I was able to talk to about my problems. Since she and I were pretty much in the same place in our respective churches, we just listened to each other and tried to encourage one another. In the end, I made myself believe that serving was the only way that I would learn more about myself, grow spiritually, and get closer to God.

Then, I burned out. I felt myself getting angry at the thought of stepping into church. Fuming when I had to sit through another meeting. I didn’t enjoy going to church. So, I stepped down from everything. I knew I needed rest.

During this time of rest, I learned that it was okay not to be in a leadership position in everything I was involved in. I learned to step back and be a participant and not volunteer. I learned to be more of a Mary rather than a Martha. (In my mind, I wanted to be perfect blend between Mary and Martha.) It was different because people around me have always seen me in a leadership position and have always asked me for help or asked me questions about certain events or camps. It was liberating to say, “I don’t know, I didn’t plan anything for this event.”

I also learned that it wasn’t JUST about serving. I didn’t just learn about God and my relationship with God only when I served. This time of rest was also apart of forming my spirituality. I learned that I could just sit and be a Mary and that was okay. It was definitely different and even uncomfortable at first. The more I was sitting back and not leading, the more I started noticing the small things with God. I never experienced just sitting back and enjoying God. This was a part of my spiritual journey that made me just sit and absorb God. Through just listening, God told me that I had done well in His eyes. All the serving that I did, was for Him and that He was delighted in me. When I realized that, I knew that servanthood was something that I couldn’t stop. It was just a matter of how much and what I wanted to be involved with.

Even though I told people I was taking a rest from serving, the servant heart inside me didn’t really let me stop for long. I was still involved with things here and there, so it’s not that I stopped serving altogether. I just learned how to say “no.” It took me a very long time to say no and to turn things down. It had to get to a burn out to say no. I learned how to balance and to know what my limit is.

I have by no means got my spiritual life figured out. I believe that’s something that is going to be an ongoing thing. I know that I just need to be connected to God first and foremost. After that, it’s really what God calls me to do to further the Kingdom. God is still working on me and I’m still discovering more about my relationship with our Father as well. In order for a relationship to grow, the relationship will always be going through some kind of transformation. That’s how I know that my relationship with God is still ongoing.

Currently, I am a deacon at my church and a Sunday school teacher. For now, that’s enough.


Boni Kim is an elementary school teacher at American Montessori Academy in Redford, Michigan. She has been a member of and served at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Metro Detroit (KPCMD) since childhood and is now a deacon at New Hope Church of Michigan, the English Ministry sister church of KPCMD.