Longtime readers of this newsletter will recognize an old friend today, Chick Lane, former director the Center for Stewardship Leaders. He and Grace Duddy Pomroy have recently published a fine new book, Embracing Stewardship. In next week’s newsletter, Grace will share her insight. This week, Chick highlights three first steps for the church to embrace.
I received an email from a pastor I know. The message was simple, “What is the title of your new book?” Happy to be asked, I quickly responded, “Embracing Stewardship.” Within a few minutes I got his reply, “Isn’t that like embracing a porcupine?”
I laughed out loud at the image. I also know that many people would agree with him—the thought of embracing stewardship is something like embracing a porcupine.
Grace Duddy Pomroy and I have written Embracing Stewardship: How to put stewardship at the heart of your congregation’s life because we are convinced that stewardship is a powerful word that properly understood can strengthen both the discipleship of members of a congregation and the mission and ministry of the congregation itself. How can we get rid of the image of hugging a porcupine? Three steps might make a good start.
First, preach and teach stewardship. Many Christians have not come to understand themselves as stewards in a positive sense because they have not really heard what the word means. What if your congregation decided that 2016 would be a year of teaching stewardship?
Boldly proclaim the good news that everything belongs to God, and that God loves us enough that God has claimed us and entrusted into our care some of that which God owns. Invite people to consider how everything they “have” is really God’s, and they have the privilege to care for some of God’s “stuff” as they travel through this life. Encourage people to switch from asking, “What do I want to do with this?” to “What do I think God wants me to do with this?”
Second, expand your use of the word stewardship beyond money. In many congregations, the word stewardship is used only in this financial connection. Be intentional about talking about the stewardship of time and talents. In Embracing Stewardship we talk about a congregation that has added trees (stewardship of creation) and tissue (stewardship of one’s own body) to the list.
Since everything belongs to God, the opportunities to talk about these other t-words should be many. You might want to explore how you could talk stewardship with children and youth, or perhaps multi-generationally, by focusing on these other aspects of our lives as children of God who have been entrusted with so much.
Finally, stop talking about the congregation’s bills and financial situation and start talking more about the congregation’s mission and ministry. There are still too many congregations who base the annual stewardship program on next year’s budget and who use a financial crisis as a regular appeal for generosity. Has anyone on your congregation’s council ever said, “If people just knew how bad our situation is, they would give more”?
I am convinced that when people hear the biblical message of stewardship, understand how life is an opportunity to live generously with what God has entrusted into their care, and believe their congregation is effectively doing God’s work in the world, then they will give more.
We simply must separate discussions of stewardship from conversations about getting the congregation’s bills paid. Until we do that, stewardship will continue to be a code word for what the congregation does to get enough money to pay the bills each year. No one enjoys paying bills, and for many people bill paying is anxiety producing. This stewardship—paying the bills connection has to go. Replace it with conversations about generosity as an important element of discipleship. Replace it with intentionally telling the story of the congregation’s ministry with its members and in the world.
We have written Embracing Stewardship in the hopes that stewardship in your congregation might feel less like embracing a porcupine and more like embracing a walk with Jesus through this life.
Chick Lane is Pastor for Stewardship and Generosity at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, MN, and a consultant with Kairos and Associates. He previously served as the Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary. In addition to Embracing Stewardship, he is the author of Ask, Thank, Tell.
Copies of Embracing Stewardship can be ordered at embracingstewardship.com. Orders of 5 books or more receive free shipping. Orders of 20 books or more receive a volume discount.