Archive for October, 2013


It’s Stewardship season again in most churches. At best, church leaders and pastors take time to reflect with their congregations on how God has blessed them and on how God calls them to share those blessings (financial and otherwise) to accomplish what God is calling the congregation to do in the community and beyond.  At less than the best, Stewardship season becomes Survival season.  Pastors and leaders bombard the membership with facts and figures, usually including abundant red ink. “If these trends continue, we can’t keep on much longer.”  “It costs $XXXX per day/week/month/year to run this church. That means each member’s share is $X.  But since some people give little or nothing, the cost per giving individual or family is $XX.” (Naturally you’ll give at least $XX if you’re financially solvent and care about your church.)  Abundant begging, pleading, whining, fear, and guilt augment the sincere but desperate and usually counter-productive effort of concerned leaders to generate minimally-sufficient funding to enable the church to cling by its fingernails to the status quo for at least one more year.

Yes, I overstate the case—but not that much. I’m driven to Ranting because I’ve watched too many congregations, including some I’ve served, employ “less-than-best” stewardship practices year after year with minimal success. This is Stewardship Insanity—“repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting a different result”. I’m Ranting because we know better, but we don’t do better. Both pastors and lay leaders in our churches have been taught better.

For example, four years ago nearly four hundred United Methodist clergy and lay leaders in Arizona and Southern Nevada gathered for a whole day with Clif Christopher , currently one of the brighter lights in this field. All that education didn’t change much. Yes, I know some stories of change and growth. But overall I don’t see “stewardship best practices” more widely and consistently practiced. The leaders of too many congregations still ask members to give so that the church can continue to exist for another year at about the same level. The “ask” isn’t, “Help us change the world.” It’s, “Help us maintain this institution”. Sooner or later in such situations,  the issue escalates from support and maintenance to survival. “Help” becomes “HELP!” When institutional survival becomes the stated or publicly perceived mission of a church, pursuing that survival mission will kill the church.

As I’ve watched, listened, and read in this stewardship season, I’ve found myself asking repeatedly, “Show me the difference my gift to your church would make in someone’s life. Introduce me to people whose lives are better because of your church’s ministry. Describe the impact you’re making outside of your own religious club.” I know churches where concern for institutional maintenance and survival out-shouts the voice straining to tell those compelling stories. I know other churches that tell precious few hopeful stories. Their survival struggle has drained them dry. Faithful, hardworking leaders have tried everything and nothing has worked. Somewhere along the way their focus shifted from “What is God calling us to do and to be here and now?” to “How can we keep our sinking ship afloat?” Mature disciples understand that such a shift has a critical, indeed potentially fatal impact on our spiritual health. A survival-based stewardship emphasis will kill your church—perhaps not this year, or the next, but eventually.

So what does a healthy, biblically sound, “best-practices” stewardship emphasis look like? In a few words:

  • Focus on God’s abundance–God provides all the resources that sustain each of our lives. God provides whatever it takes for us to accomplish the part of God’s mission to which God has called us as ABC Church in this time and place. “…God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9;8 NRSV)
  • Faith-, not fear-based; Mission over maintenance/survival, Present and future focus—If we believe the first point, then we ask: What’s God up to in our neighborhood? How can we get in on the action? Are the greatest days of our church ahead of us or behind us?
  • Tell the story through faces more than facts and figures. A few always want to see numbers and spreadsheets. Most people want to see the faces of our ministry and the difference we’re making. Whose lives does our ministry touch? How are our neighbors’ lives different because of our presence in this community?
  • For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8 RSV)Our giving is our generous, free, and joyful response to God’s Limitless Love poured into our lives through Christ. Purge every trace of “ought” and legalism from your public communications. When we suggest that each member’s share is $X, even when we rigidly demand a 10% tithe, we may inadvertently cap the giving of someone who was ready to do much more. We also imply that lesser gifts are less worthy, which is clearly not the case. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and encourage folks into the joyfully free giving that Paul describes.
  • As soon as this year’s stewardship emphasis is complete, next year’s begins. 1) Evaluate both the process and the principles used. How can you move closer to “best practices”? What congregational cultural issues need to be addressed? It will take time to get leaders aboard and make needed changes. 2) How will you teach these principles to the whole congregation through the year? A continuing message throughout the year will be far more effective than a bombardment at the time experienced church folks know they should have their guard up.

END OF RANT—for now. If spreading God’s love through the Church of Jesus Christ is as important as we tell each other it is, why would we ever settle for less than the best of which we are capable? Look your leadership team in the eye, ask one another that question, and dare to answer honestly and prayerfully. For Christ’s sake, don’t let survival kill your church.