Lives as Stewards: Promotes good stewardship of parishioner’s time, spiritual gifts, talents and money.
Stewardship is how congregations honor the offering of parishioner’s time, spiritual gifts, talents, and money in advancing our participation in God’s mission. Promoting good stewardship of those offerings is an important factor in congregational vitality.
Vital congregations practice generosity in stewardship of time, gifts/talent, and finances.
Jesus looked to the generosity of others to fund his movement. He also knew that resources would be required for his disciples to carry out the great commission. Christians today are a continuation of the Jesus Movement. We are 21st century disciples of Jesus who are called to invite, form, nourish and send people who are renewed by the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ. We have received the great commission from Jesus every bit as much as the first disciples, and we are called to live a faith rooted in our baptismal promises.
The very nature of God in Jesus Christ is unconditional generosity. Jesus exemplifies this generosity and calls all of his disciples to live lives in the same generous spirit. In the Society of Saint John Evangelist’s Rule of Life, the brothers write: “[The] act of creation was one of pure self-emptying. But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake.” (SSJE Rule of Life, p. 12).
Sister Joan Chitister – Benedictine nun, theologian, and writer, has commented that: “The purpose of wealth is reckless generosity, the kind that sings of the lavish love of God, the kind that rekindles hope on dark days, the kind that reminds us that God is with us always.”
This quote as it speaks to freedom – a liberation – from wealth. It points us toward the unconditional generosity of God given through the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. It draws us closer to Jesus and allows us to follow him with a generous spirit in giving to others. Saint Paul writes to the Church in Corinth of giving as a “generous undertaking” (2 Cor. 8:7). The original Greek can also be translated as “grace.” This grace is the act of giving out of an abundance of faith, gifts/talents, service (time), and finances in advancing the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ.
Vital congregations both understand and live a theology of generosity. They understand and live a theology of generosity because vital congregations are excited about the mission (and ministries) of the congregation. Stewardship efforts in vital congregations are less about convincing people to give. Rather, stewardship efforts are about matching people’s deep gladness/passions/desires with funding the church’s mission and ministries.
Those familiar with the writing of theologian Frederick Buechner may have already detected where this is going. So often in my ministry I turn to his quote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Christians are called to specific areas of ministry (in time and talent) at the intersection of their gladness (or passions/desires) and where there is need. The same is true of giving when it comes to our money. Vital congregations recognize they are absolutely necessary or important; essential. They are congregations full of energy and lively. They connect their deep gladness (or passions/desires) with the funding needs of those areas of mission and ministries.
Writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest Tom Ehrich states: “Thriving churches focus on transformation of life – the personal journey of faith – and on mission[s] in the community.”
Vital congregations focus on transformation of life. They recognize God’s call to us in living out our deep gladness/passions/desires, then engage in deeply theological and spiritual conversations about where those intersect with mission and ministries, and the generosity in giving needed to fund them. Vital congregations approach conversations around giving with joy and excitement as they are opportunities to discuss God’s generosity and our call to live boldly and passionately into mission and ministries. Vital congregations practice generosity in stewardship of time, talent, and finances because they respond out of gratitude to share the generosity we experience through Jesus Christ.
People Resources (Time, Spiritual Gifts, Talents)
A congregation is a gathering of people who are followers of Jesus. Parishioners are human beings created in the image of God, and God created a time of sabbath. This is to say we need to honor the wholeness and wellness of parishioners to balance family, work, church involvement, recreation, and rest. Clergy and Vestry need to model a healthy work/volunteer-life balance and honor the time of all parishioners.
The congregation does not exist to create more and more programs and committees and then find ways to fill positions. Even when congregations are operating with an appropriate number of programs and meetings for their church size, energy level, etc., leadership still needs to pay attention to being good stewards of people’s time in how they manage schedules and conduct meetings. Following are excerpts from two Episcopal Church Foundation articles on the issue of time stewardship which are helpful to the discussion.
The first is from “Time Stewardship at a New Level” by Steve Huffman, lifelong Episcopalian, strategic planning consultant for Huffman Strategy.
I have spent more than thirty years as an adult in parish life. My experience is that leaders, both clergy and lay, who would not dream of wasting money, with all good intention repeatedly waste volunteer time. The results are unsuccessful programs, half measures, and volunteer discouragement and burnout.
This happens when the vestry fails to set priorities and demand good administration. My business is advising private-sector companies in strategic and operational planning. I tell my clients they cannot afford to pursue every goal which comes to mind. Good planning comes from focus, and that requires pruning down goals and programs to a feasible number, one that your budget and your people’s time can support.
SOME SPECIFIC IDEAS:
- Ask yourself if a proposed new program (or an existing one) supports your mission. Is it someone’s pet project? Is it a tradition that no longer makes sense yet continues to gobble up volunteer time?
- At your vestry retreat be sure to take time to list program ideas. Then take the next step: pare down the list. I know it’s harder to do that in a nonprofit organization, but you were elected to lead.
- How easy is it for your volunteers to communicate with the office? Does the secretary and rector or vicar have email and common word processing and spreadsheet programs to facilitate modern messaging?
- How up-to-date is your mailing list? Are you sending members out at canvass time to call on dead people and those who have moved out-of-town?
- Do you keep good records, or do your volunteers have to start all over when the secretary resigns?
Sound administration and respect for volunteer time are part of your job and the jobs of paid staff. They are central to spreading the Gospel. Respect volunteer time. You will get more done, and your volunteers will be happier.
Steve Huffman is a lifelong Episcopalian, strategic planning consultant for Huffman Strategy, and junior warden of All Saints Church in Sacramento, California. (Source: June 2001 Vestry Papers, Episcopal Church Foundation)
In “Seven Ways to Steward Leaders’ Time” Miguel Escobar, Managing Program Director for Leadership, Communications and External Affairs at the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), writes “when I speak to current and former vestry members, and other congregational leaders, the issue of time – especially of time spent in poorly managed meetings – is brought up again and again as one of the most difficult aspects of serving on the vestry or other key committees in a congregation.” He then goes on to suggest seven ways to honor the gift of time:
1. Make time for meaning
2. Establish clear norms for start and end times
3. Employ the 1:1 rule for meeting preparation
4. Foster trust and transparency about meeting participation
5. Use phone and video conferencing technology if/when possible
6. Use the consent agenda method
7. Spend the bulk of time on strategic discussions
Both what Steve and Miguel offer are practical applications to be good stewards of the gift of time. Many of their suggestions are ones I have used myself when serving as rector of congregations, and they made a positive difference. Another practical idea is one used at a congregation where I once served as Associate Rector. At Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC, vestry meetings are held one Sunday a month following worship. I know of this practice at several other congregations as well. A scheduling change which helps in stewardship of time for vestry members (and clergy).
Spiritual Gifts & Talents
There are similarities and differences between spiritual gifts and talents which I want to recognize and honor. Nonetheless, with respect to how we promote good stewardship of these gifts I am not going to draw to fine a point. For clarity, let’s make a distinction between spiritual gifts and talents. Spiritual gifts are graces given by the Holy Spirit to empower Christians to perform tasks specific to Christian mission and ministry. Talents are the result of genetics and/or training. One can also say they are gifts from God. The difference, however, is that spiritual gifts are focused specifically on the tasks of Christian mission and ministry, while talents can be used entirely for non-spiritual/mission/ministry purposes.
The focus with respect to congregational vitality is to help people discover and embrace their gifts/talents and empower them in service to promoting God’s mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. To be truly effective, we should pay special attention to how gifts/talents match with what is most needed in fulfilling the purpose and vision of the congregation as it lives into mission.
A person’s gifts/talents may be evident to all. Perhaps they have been exercising them for many years. They should be supported in every way. For others, they be unsure — or even think they have no gifts/talents. Everyone has gifts/talents and leadership needs to encourage and facilitate the discernment and discovery of gifts and then empower their use in fulfilling God’s mission through the congregation’s purpose and vision (as well as in service to the wider Church).
Leaders can assist parishioners in prayerfully discerning gifts/talents through the use of spiritual gifts assessments tools. Even those who may already know their gifts/talents may benefit from participating. They may discover something new about what God has given them and it could open them to God’s imagination and call them to new and wonderful ministries.
Spiritual Gifts Assessment Tools:
I believe we should also find a third point of intersection: passion/desire/gladness. That place where hearts sing, give joy, and fulfillment. A quote by theologian Frederick Buechner is a wonderful guide in connecting passion/desire/gladness with mission/ministry when he writes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This forms a trinity of gifts/talents, passion/desire/gladness, and mission/ministry which cultivates abundant and life-giving ministry.
Spirituality of Fundraising
“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer people as an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising.
I began with the quote form Henri Nouwen as I believe it is important to look at financial stewardship as ministry in support of God’s mission as fulfilled through a congregation’s mission (purpose) and vision. Nouwen’s little book, A Spirituality of Fundraising, is a real gem as it is a thought-provoking and powerful witness to why we need a ministry of financial stewardship/fundraising for our congregations. Nouwen invites us to recognize that fundraising as ministry is about being drawn together by God who is about to do a new thing. It occurs through the collaboration of of the one(s) asking for money on behalf of the congregation and those giving of their money to support God’s mission. Nouwen writes that we meet on the common ground of God’s love to create a community of love, and we are helping God build the kingdom.
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate
J. Clif Christopher, founder and President of Horizons Stewardship Company, in Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate argues that people don’t give to church because we don’t offer them a compelling vision of the good their giving will achieve. Hearing a young attorney speak of the faith-based reasons for which he had just made a substantial monetary gift to a community youth center, Clif Christopher asked the speaker if he would consider making a similar contribution to the congregation of which he was an active member. “Lord, no they would not know what to do with it” was the answer. That, in a nutshell, describes the problem churches are facing in their stewardship efforts, says Christopher. Unlike leading nonprofit agencies and institutions, we too often fail to convince potential givers that their gifts will have impact and significance. In this book, Christopher lays out the main reasons for this failure to capture the imagination of potential givers, including our frequent failure simply to ask. Written with the needs of pastors and stewardship teams in mind, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate provides immediate, practical guidance to all who seek to help God’s people be better stewards of their resources. (from book description)
Christopher writes: “Jesus is the reason we are here!” Serving the mission of God as disciples of Christ should be a central message in fundraising. “[…] one of the most important things you can do to improve financial stewardship is to refocus your leaders and then the congregation on what their unique mission is in your community as the body of Christ. Persons must learn it to the point that they can easily repeat it. It must become the centerpiece of your next budget and everything you do.”
He points out and reflects on the importance having a mission (purpose) and vision people believe in and want to support. A significant takeaway from the book is that “money follows mission!” (money is given where donors see the most results. Further, his research suggests that the top three reasons people give are: (1) belief in the mission, (2) a high regard for leadership, and (3) the fiscal stability of the congregation.
Belief in mission: people want to be part of something that changes lives. Congregations need to show how lives are being changed because of how they fulfill their purpose and vision. A high regard for leadership: Effective leaders (clergy and lay) engender trust and confidence in donors. Fiscal stability: people don’t want to give to “sinking ships.” Donors need to know the congregation is spending money wisely to advance the congregation’s purpose and vision.
Christopher also has insightful and challenging chapters on engaging with donors. He suggests congregations find more success when they approach donor engagement more like other non-profits. Significantly we need different messages for different generations and donor levels. Christopher also contends congregations produce missional/narrative (rather than line item) budgets (because money follows mission). Christopher offers more insights and very practical advice which offer much for stewardship committees and clergy to consider.
Whose Offering Plate Is It?
In Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, Clif Christopher challenged churches and pastors to take a lesson from the leaders of not-for-profit organizations: if you want people to give to your church, first offer them a compelling vision of the good that their giving will accomplish. The book encouraged an entire culture change for many in the Christian community in how they viewed the offering plate. It also unleashed a barrage of questions on specifically how to create this new culture while maintaining the foundations of one’s faith tradition and mission.
In this sequel, Christopher responds to these questions in the same forthright manner that he originally laid forth his propositions. He offers simple, strategic advice on such difficult questions as:
“Exactly how do I go about gaining access to the donor records when my church has prohibited it for a hundred years?”
“How do I explain a meeting with just those who are strong givers without alienating those who are not?”
“How can we advocate online giving without encouraging some to abuse their credit cards?”
“What should letters to different giving constituencies look like?”
Whose Offering Plate Is It?: New Strategies for Financial Stewardship Christopher provides further discussion on the importance of vision to donors when he writes: “If you want people to give, offer them a compelling vision of how their giving is going to build God’s kingdom.” Another thought-provoking and insightful book on stewardship for congregational vitality.
Reflections on Stewardship and Giving: A Theology of Generosity
by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
Excerpt: I have always approached conversations around giving with joy and excitement as they are opportunities to discuss God’s generosity and our call to live boldly and passionately into mission and ministries. These are theological and spiritual conversations – the type of conversations I love to have as a priest. The fact that it takes money to fund mission and ministries is part of the theological and spiritual conversations. It is an invitation to reflect on God’s generosity, and our response – out of gratitude, to share that generosity we experience through Jesus Christ. Read the entire article…
Holistic and Joyful Stewardship
by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
Excerpt: St. Paul writes of stewardship as a “generous undertaking” (2 Cor. 8:7). The original Greek can also be translated as “grace.” This grace is the act of giving out of an abundance of faith, gifts/talents, service (time), and finances in advancing the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ. I believe stewardship is about our response to God’s abundance as disciples of Jesus as we orient our lives toward God in Christ. It is how we care for community, others, and all of creation. Read entire article…
Stewardship for the New Millennium
Stewardship for the New Millennium is the Episcopal Church Foundation’s presentation on giving in the 21st century. It has helpful insights on changes to giving in the United States and addressing donors from different generations.
Other High Value Stewardship Resources
Faces of Faith: A Stewards Book of Prayer (Episcopal Church General Convention 2003)
“Money will not bring in the kingdom of heaven, but how we give of ourselves has everything to do with how willing we are to enter fully into the giving nature of God in whose image and likeness we are created. […] God is calling the church into change, and to have funding for experimentation and to further mission in ways that we know are capturing people’s attention is critical. From that we’ll discover what has lasting value.” Reference: The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, 1995 Diocesan Convention Address and 2013 interview on success of Diocese of Massachusetts mission fundraising campaign.