Understanding the Shifts in Stewardship

Over the past twenty years or so, the stewardship landscape has shifted significantly.

flowers over psalms

Pastor Charles Lane has been working in stewardship ministry for many years in a broad cross-section of congregations. His perspective on where we have been as stewardship leaders and his encouragement for our work in the future comes from rich experience. 

Many of you are likely in the midst of your fall stewardship work, building a case for the generous response of the members of your congregation. Blessings on this important work!

Catherine Malotky, Center for Stewardship Leaders

Stewardship ministry past, present, and future

By Pastor Charles Lane

In the stewardship world, things have changed – a lot. Over the past twenty years or so, the stewardship landscape has shifted significantly.

Twenty years ago the primary reason people were encouraged to give to their congregation was to get the bills paid. A typical line was, “Our expenses are up. We need you to give a little more to offset the increase.”

Today, there is a much stronger emphasis on giving as an act of discipleship. Stewardship leaders stress the mission and ministry of the congregation much more than the bills. Sermons and articles on the bills have pretty much disappeared. Now, we talk about God’s generosity and our faith-driven generous response. Now, giving is talked about as a faith practice, along with worship, prayer, learning and service. In many congregations the Bible has replaced the bills as the primary motivator for giving. 

This change is welcome! Paying the bills is never much fun, but generous giving connected to faith can bring great joy to a Christian’s life. 

Many people have contributed to this change. I think of biblical scholars including Sondra Ely Wheeler, Douglas John Hall, Harry Wendt, Mark Allen Powell and Walter Brueggemann. I think of those who have focused on the practice of stewardship, including Loren Mead, the Ronsvalles, the Jamiesons, Christian Smith, and Clif Christopher, Adam Hamilton. The list is long.

Where are we now? This is always a harder question than “Where have we been?” Twenty years is not a long time for a culture shift in the church. 

First, especially when money is tight (as it often is in the church), it could be tempting to abandon the more difficult message of generosity and joy. The bills are so quantifiable (and need to be paid), that it can seem easier, and will likely work—in the short-term.

Second, we need more good work to be done in stewardship ministry, both biblically and practically. It is encouraging to see young stewardship leaders emerging. Those of us who have been around a while need to invite their ideas and creativity. If you are a congregational stewardship leader, welcome these future leaders to the table!

Third, we need congregational conversations about faith and finances. Certainly, the preaching and teaching need to continue. The time has also come for congregation members to gather together for learning and conversation about how faith and finances intersect in their lives. Often congregation members are far more ready for these conversations than leaders think they are. Check out Adam Hamilton’s Enough

About the Author

Charles Lane is Pastor for Stewardship at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Previously he was Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary and Director for Stewardship Key Leader in the ELCA. He is the author of Ask, Thank, Tell and Reflections on Faith and Finances, and the co-author of Embracing Stewardship.


For additional work by Charles Lane, see:
Reflections on Faith and Finances.
Embracing Stewardship.

Image credit: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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  • Center for Stewardship Leaders

    The Center for Stewardship Leaders seeks to shape a faithful, multidimensional culture of stewardship in congregations, households, and society. The center strives to consider the full spectrum of stewardship practice and theology, including financial stewardship, holistic stewardship, and leadership. See all posts from CSL.

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