Habits for the Generous Church
Part Two in a Series on Stewardship at LeaderWorks
Habits for a Generous Church
As mentioned in first post, a church without adequate resources will soon see their visions become vapors. Money feeds momentum. It is a sign of commitment, involvement, trust, hope, and even worship unto the Lord! It is good to talk about!
That is why developing a culture of generosity in every church is vital. It takes time and consistent teaching, honest accounting and communication, and Christian modeling. But church acutely aware of the biblical principles of stewardship is a wonder to behold. (See this blog post on “St. Archimedes”.)
What can a leader do to develop this kind of culture? Here are ten ideas that might be helpful
1.Tell the Truth. Always
Report openly and honestly about the year-to-date giving in the church. The bad news of a financial deficit is always easy to report. Red is catchy. But some churches don’t report positive numbers and “in-the-black” income for fear people dial down their giving. But it is a risk worth taking. Those who give for the work of the ministry do not give to make a budget look good. Instead, they give to a compelling vision for the work of faith. To build a culture of generosity you first have to celebrate it whenever it occurs!
Make the reporting of financial news, even good news a routine part of the communication efforts in the parish. A simple graph is usually what is needed:
Year to Date Giving = $
Year to Date Expenses = $
Difference = $
2. Preach Clearly Every Year.
Plan a church-wide emphasis and preaching effort on Stewardship every year. Every year. Commit to it. Put in on the Master Calendar. There is no better way to increase the level of stewardship in our congregation than this single, simple act. Spend 3-4 weeks a year to this topic. One week will not be sufficient; two weeks just scratches the surface. Plan for 3-4 weeks of focused attention. More on this later…but the pastoral leader and preacher must take this responsibility seriously.
Leaders of churches should see the cultures’ fixation and emphasis on material goods for what it is: idolatry. We must approach the subject pastorally but firmly at every possible point. We must love our people enough to address their/our addictive traps. Our culture’s love of money should be seen through the lens of the biblical story, as, for example, the Apostle Paul did. Remember that Paul encouraged boldness on the subject of stewardship; he put it in terms of ‘Command’. As he commanded Timothy to preach the Gospel he also tells Timothy to command the rich concerning their wealth. That is engagement! (I Timothy 6:13; 17)
3. Share Testimonies.
Ask a few people in the church who have discovered the joy generous giving to offer their testimony about it. You know who those people are; the ones who just “get it.” They have been good stewards of what God has given them. By God’s grace, giving has changed their heart about giving. They have a story to tell and it will move people.Ask them to write their stewardship testimony for your church. Their witness (written or oral) should answer two central questions: How have I come to see that my/our giving to my church is an expression of my love of God? What has it done for me/us to strive for growth in the area of stewardship.
In the past, I have shared the good news of giving from my own perspective. I have tried to be appropriately honest and transparent about what my wife and I do in our giving to the local parish. But a lay testimony is a better motivator. One honest vestry person told me after a lay testimony (which followed my own), “The story they told about their commitment was inspiring. Yours was great too…but we sort of pay you to be generous…” He didn’t know what he was really saying, but it stuck in my mind as truth. The laity have greater stories to tell…let them tell them!
Ask them to write their stewardship testimony for your church. Their witness (written or oral) should answer two central questions: How have I come to see that my/our giving to my church is an expression of my love of God? What has it done for me/us to strive for growth in the area of stewardship.
4. Get Healthy.
Leader! Ask for healing for any fear you have concerning talking about money. Money, as every pastor knows, is one of the most often mentioned themes in the New Testament. But many of us have suffered from a misguided concern: that preaching on stewardship will turn off fragile listeners. It might, of course. But preachers can disarm their critics on this subject by simply being honest about their hesitancy. “You know, it is not easy to speak about this topic because of so many mixed emotions about money itself, so please give an ear to my understanding of money from a biblical point of view.” Honesty always wins hearers.
But perhaps a deeper feeling lies behind a pastor’s reluctance to preach about stewardship, generosity, and giving. Could it be a fear of conflict and confrontation? This was a big obstacle for me in my early days as a preacher. I wanted to be liked and respected as a leader, as we all do. But I was addicted to the approval of others more than I was compelled to speak the truth in love. I am not proud of that inner-conflict. But I was young and learned to find strength from God. I worked it through.
What does ‘getting healthy’ mean for you, Leader?
5. Tell Stories.
Take your annual year-to-date giving and write a story about it. That is to say, go beyond the numbers and the columns of a cold report and describe what the church is able to do because of people’s giving. It is called a “Narrative Budget” budget and it will help your church see its impact. Here is a resource to help you do it.
In the bigger order of things, what is the offering money used for? What difference do donations make? Tell your church’s story. Show pictures. Describe the lives that have been touched and changed by the ministry of your parish. And don’t forget that one of the most practical strengths of your church’s ministry is the pastor! You!!! You (and whatever staff you may have, paid or volunteer) are the primary vehicles for ministry. Tell the church what you do with your time during the week; how does their giving empower good work. Be specific.
Also, remember that in a full-functioning church, there is no overhead. Business might put staff costs, light bills, carpet cleaning, and administrative costs in a part of the budget called “Overhead”. But if you regard the church as the people, and the people as the delivery system of ministry to others, there really is no overhead at all! Everything is being used for the ministry purpose of fulfilling the vision of the congregation.
Honesty is disarming. Stories are engaging. Fear can be overcome. The pulpit leads the church. These are just a few of the themes that a church can embrace and begin cultivating a culture of generosity. There are five more to come…in a next blog post. Watch for it.
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