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Stewardship in Today’s Culture

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the offering. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Larissa Kwong Abazia

Let’s be honest: It’s either stewardship season or the congregation’s own sustainability that get our fiscal attention in the church. The act has been expanded to include “time, talent, and treasure” but is this simply a strategy to make people give more, feel good about what they decided to give, or calm anxieties about “the ask” rather than embrace a fuller understanding of what offering is meant to be?

I’m just going to cut to the chase and share these knowledgeable words from Walter Brueggemann: “We live in a society that would like to bracket out money and possessions (politics and economics) from ultimate questions. The Bible insists otherwise. It insists that the issues of ultimacy are questions about money and possessions. Biblical testimony invites a serious reconsideration of the ways in which our society engages or does not engage questions of money and possessions as carriers of social possibility.” As long as we continue to engage in the offering as merely a financial ask for the church’s vitality, we disregard the call to discipleship that requires us to see money and possessions as a disruptive force for change in ourselves and the world.

We must rid ourselves of a few myths:

Myth #1: What you possess is due to the success of the work of your own hands. Need we be reminded who created each one of us, who claimed us in our mother’s womb before we drew our first breaths? We cannot celebrate being created and called by God, yet avoid the required response to give back what was never ours in the first place.

Myth #2: Offering and stewardship are primarily about maintaining, sustaining, or building a legacy. A budget should neither define the life of the church nor its endowments or investments be solely about its own future. It ultimately reflects what we value and where we place our trust (consider looking at the church budget through this lens at the next meeting!). Withholding the money and possessions of the congregation risks keeping us from the exact neighborhoods in which our faith communities reside. We must stop utilizing the first fruits of what we collect for the church, giving only scraps out after our needs are determined.

Myth #3: Offering is what we give inside the walls of the church. We need to act as though what we do inside the church has the power to transform how we live outside of the walls; the concept of giving does not stop at the offering plate but involves every way that we choose to use or cling to our money and possessions.

Myth #4: Offering is just about money and finances. Racism, sexism, other-ing, assumptions, and hierarchies impact our engagement with and participation in Christian life together. We are called to a different kind of community: a diverse gathering of people who create a new lifestyle together. So when our churches say, “All are welcome,” it means that the visitor and stranger transform us, not the other way around. It also means that those who have power, privilege, and authority must share and/or utilize these possessions for the good of the whole.

What would happen if money and possessions were seen as disruptive forces of change for the church and people of faith? We would see Christ in every face and respond with hospitality, generosity, and love. We would acknowledge the truth that, if the marginalized remain in our midst, our money and possessions continue to oppress the exact neighbors we are called to care for and love.

American culture encourages us to clench our fists, take care of ourselves and those we love for first, and celebrate the freedom of individualism. Instead, our faith calls us to challenge these assumptions and live in a community where everyone’s needs are met and all contributions are celebrated, no matter the size. We need to witness to and embody Christian communities where the binary structures of this world (insider/outsider, foreigner/citizen, us/them, have/have nots) are replaced with a true reflection of the body of Christ.


Larissa Kwong Abazia is a pastor, speaker, writer, and consultant with the Vandersall Collective. She is also the project manager and a team member for the Collective Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting research into fundraising practices in Christian communities of color. Larissa was the Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly and has served churches in Chicago, New York City, and throughout New Jersey.

Workshop Materials: Creating a Culture of Generosity

Workshop: Creating a Culture of Generosity
Presenters: Robert Hay Jr.

Attached you will find the powerpoint from Robert Hay’s workshop “Creating a Culture of Generosity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop description: Is your congregation’s approach to stewardship stuck in a rut? Are you living in a state of scarcity and longing for abundance?   This workshop will outline a program that has moved churches from a four-week stewardship campaign to a year-round culture of generosity. Learn how to form your Generosity Team, how to create an activities calendar for your church’s funds ministry, how to prepare a narrative budget, and how to integrate all aspects of your church into the life of generosity.

Workshop Materials: Leading Fully and Freely

Workshop: Leading Fully and Freely: Deepening spiritual authority around issues of money
Presenters: Mike Little

Attached you will find the money autobiography Mike talked about in his workshop “Leading Fully and Freely.”

Workshop description: In many churches, issues of money and budget are wilderness places: leaders must navigate competing priorities, anxiety about scarcity, and the perennial stewardship campaign. One way to lead with deeper spiritual authority is to work with the ways in which we ourselves are not free with respect to money. In this workshop we will reflect on our own money stories and the practice of leading by example. What is our theology of money? How do we model a faithful relationship to money?

Hope on a Whole New Level

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Kate Morrison is curating a series featuring reflections on Advent and Christmas from our 2018 National Gathering workshop and post-Gathering seminar leaders. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear what this season means to them through stories, memories, and favorite traditions – and how they see the themes of Advent connecting with the work of NEXT Church. We invite you to share your own memories and stories on Facebook and Twitter!

Editor’s note: Folks from the Presbyterian Foundation are leading a post-Gathering seminar (a 24-hour opportunity to dig deeper into a topic, new this year!) called “Forming Generous Disciples.” It will take place from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning following the 2018 National Gathering. Learn more and register

by Rob Bullock

Hope has been hard to find lately. There’s precious little of it in the morning paper. Not much to be found during the drive-time broadcasts on NPR either. My friends on Facebook don’t seem very hopeful, judging by the posts that show up in my Facebook feed. There’s plenty of despair – about politics, world affairs, injustice, poverty, division, violence, and all of the other entries on our endless list of social ills. The stories of hope are much harder to find.

Sadly, the situation is not much better in the denomination. There’s anxiety aplenty – declining membership, departing congregations, shrinking revenues. Budgets are stressed. Pastors are stressed. A third of our churches don’t even have pastors to be stressed. Even the prayer times at my church on Sunday morning contain far more petitions and pleas for help than reports of hopeful praise.

advent, ornament, starAnd in the midst of all this stress and anxiety and despair, we come hurtling headlong into Advent. Oh yeah. Advent. That season of … HOPE. And PEACE. And JOY. All the bright and shiny feelings, warming our hearts and souls like the bright and shiny ornaments adorning our homes.

Everything changes in Advent: colors everywhere change from oranges and browns to reds and greens. The Halloween decorations are (finally) replaced with Christmas trees. The music on the radio changes. The cups at Starbucks change. The hymns we sing in church come from a different section of the hymnal.

And perhaps with all of these outward changes, we may start to sense some glimmers of hope. Hope that the presents we buy go over well. Hope that the presents we get are things we actually want or need. Hope that the charitable contributions we make will have real impact in people’s lives. Hope that the 40% of annual giving we know comes in every December will indeed come in again this December.

But is any of this really the right kind of hope? is this what Paul meant when he wrote in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans that,

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

I think that’s hope on a whole new level. Real hope. Enduring, sustainable hope. And, perhaps, hard-earned hope. It helps me to think backwards through Paul’s logical progression. Hope comes from character, which comes from endurance, which comes from sufferings.

So maybe God has a plan for us in our current anxieties. Maybe these are sufferings that can lead us to that hope in God and in God’s Word which Ruth and Esther and Job and David and Solomon and Jeremiah and Luke and Paul and all the other Biblical characters keep talking about.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of hope I’d like to have. That’s hope that will overcome anything on Facebook, or NPR, or in the morning paper, or the afternoon Presbyterian News Service email. That’s hope to get us through tight budget cycles and too many empty seats in the pews. (That’s the kind of hope my Presbyterian Foundation colleagues will be talking about in Baltimore at the NEXT Church National Gathering, sharing stories of real churches that are finding hopeful ways to overcome financial challenges.)

The “next” church should be a hopeful church. And Advent is a perfect time to start living that hope-filled life. We may be surrounded by sufferings, but we must not despair. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 43:5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”


Rob Bullock is Vice President for Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation. He is a ruling elder and hopeful member of the St. John Presbyterian Church in New Albany, Indiana.

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.