Monday, September 13, 2004

Stewardship Campaigns - God and Money

This week as the gospel lesson in the lectionary has us reading the fascinating and perplexing Luke 16:1-13, where we read that we cannot serve two masters, God and wealth, my mind is turned to the Stewardship Campaign that gets underway in my congregation in November every year. In the United Methodist Church, local churches make a commitment to pay apportionments, money that supports ministries beyond our local church walls. We at St. Paul's have a hard time making these payments - we pay our own bills first, and by the time we get to our apportionments, we usually only scrape out about 50% of what we owe. I hate this fact! I wish we paid 100% every year. But, of course, that means people have to give more money! This past year, the first I completed at a pastor, was the first year I ever pledged in my life, and the first year I tithed from my income. It has been hard. But I know it has been the right thing for me to do.
So, some questions for you who are involved in congregations in some form or another - do you have a successful stewardship plan that you'd like to share? As a pastor, how much do you share about your own financial giving? I've been thinking, this year, of laying my cards on the table to my congregation - this is how much I make, this is how much I give, and this is how difficult it has been for me. What makes people want to give as much to the church as they give each year to McDonalds? I've been looking for some new resources, but everything I've found seems too contrived for my personal tastes. Help! :)

2 comments:

Mike said...

I'll try to make this brief ... but it will be tough. Dealing with money is not just about financial solvency, it's the single most critical spiritual issue for most Americans because it is the primary idol we worship.

A couple things. First off, there's lots of homework to do. You, your leadership and then your whole parish need to look at what scripture says about money ... particularly what the Gospels say about it. Really look at its relationship to discipleship and leading a Christian life. You've got to establish a commonly held theological and scriptural foundation for giving. Otherwise it becomes optional. Frankly, you have to do a lot of work on the role of sacrifice in discipleship -- and about sacrifice being a wonderful, self-defining and liberating thing.

Second, in our campus ministry congregation we have a covenant agreement with everyone in leadership (and, for us, that's 14 different people, myself included). There are four main components. Attendance at weekly corporate worship. Devoting some amount of time each week to service. Taking personal responsibility for pastoral care within the community. AND to at least be working toward a tithe (i.e. - if you're not tithing, have a plan for getting there and be doing the plan).

Third, you have to talk about money and you have to call people to discipleship through their money. It's scary, but I've found that people really respond to it. The fact is that the churches that are growing are the ones that are substantive in holding people to the demands of discipleship (this is DIFFERENT than being dogmatic). They are growing because they ARE substantive. But so many churches are afraid of making demands because they believe it will scare people off. YOu HAVE to talk about money from the pulpit and everywhere else. The good news is twofold -- you can talk about the transformative power of giving it away and also, if your leadership is giving, too, you ALL can talk about it together so it's not just you.

We also push 50/50 giving in our community. That's taking your tithe (or whatever percentage you give) and giving 50% of it to the church community and 50% of it to works of love and mercy outside the church community. Then we as a church strive to do the same ... take 50% of our money and use it for ourselves and give 50% away. It puts the focus where it needs to be (IMO), which is on being Christ in the world among the poor, weak, sick and lonely. It also makes it all seem a lot less self-serving.

THere are great resources out there about this. Go to www.ministryofmoney.org and also The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (www.tens.org) ... your denomination hopefully has something similar.

Hope this helps. I'll pray for you. Remember, this isn't about fundraising, it's about spiritual transformation!

Christ's peace,

Mike+

Brian said...

We have the exact same issue in our congregation. Right now we're only at 21% for apportionments for the year. We've had some unique financial issues (read: disasters) this year, but it is pretty embarassing. I don't have any solutions though. If you find something that works, I'd love to hear about it.