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.