What do you think about financial stewardship? While there are a host of resources for churches on developing giving, it’s important to clarify your own thinking. The clearer you are yourself, the easier it will be for you to offer others a challenge to give.
Leaders need to know what we think about giving, and we need to share that clearly with those we lead. When financial challenges arise, it’s particularly important to work on your own clarity.
Here are some questions to ask yourself. Don’t ask them of others until you’ve done some thinking for yourself:
- Why do you give? For most of us, there is a variety of reasons: our values, our upbringing, our position of leadership, a sense of obligation, love. See if you can untangle some of these threads on your own.
- Why do you give the amount you give? Do you tithe? Why? Do you and your spouse or partner agree on these matters, and how do you make the decisions you do?
- Why do you give where you give? Do you give most of your tithe or other charitable giving to the church, or do you divide it up? Why? How do you respond to those phone calls? Do you give to everyone who comes along, or not? Why?
- What did you learn about giving from your family of origin? I can remember getting a dollar allowance and being expected to give a dime. As a young adult, the first time I chose not to tithe it made me very anxious—I was breaking the family rules. Over time, I had to figure out what I myself thought about those rules.
As you clarify your own thinking, consider how you want to share it with the congregation. It can help others if you acknowledge the complexity of these matters, and that you struggle, too. Stand side-by-side with people rather than pointing a finger at them.
Asking these questions will help you get some distance from the understandable anxiety about next year’s budget. Whether your church has its stewardship campaign now, or not until spring, there’s no bad time to ask yourself questions that will lead to greater clarity about stewardship. Step back from your own anxiety about staffing, your salary and the rocky economy. Figure out what you think. Then, think about what you want to say to the church about what you think.
It’s also important to be clear about your role in the stewardship process at your church. James Lamkin, pastor of Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta, says: “I try to think overtly before we begin the stewardship campaign about my role in this story. For instance, if I’m sitting in on a finance committee meeting, what is my role in this meeting? I’m not on the finance committee, I’m not the chair. My role in this story is to be the pastor.” Last year Lamkin reviewed one of the stewardship letters and felt it lacked any faith component. He suggested the committee add a line: “The financial expression of our covenant relation to each other, to God and to our congregation is through the budget.” He sees this kind of input as a critical part of his pastoral role.
So be clear: in your church, what does it mean to be the pastoral leader? What role functions are important? And what does it mean for the lay leaders, and what do they need to do in their roles? Just asking those questions will lead to some different decisions.
The pastor needs to be the key spokesperson to make a case for giving to the ministry of the church. That can feel awkward because, after all, the giving supports us. But we are paid that salary to be the leader. We need to fill fully the leadership position including the area of financial stewardship. We need to know what we think about giving, and we need to share that clearly with those we lead.
When financial challenges arise, it’s particularly important to work on your own clarity. Robert Hunter, Director of Stewardship at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, suggests, following Edwin Friedman, “Focus on your own functioning first.” He says when anxiety increases, we automatically say, “I wish those people would do more to alleviate this difficult time we’re experiencing.” Instead he says to ask, “How am I going to respond, how am I going to manage the anxiety that inevitably is going to affect me and affect the body I’m attempting to lead, and how might my functioning contribute to building the resilient capacity of this body I seek to lead?”
We can’t solve the financial problems of our churches alone, nor should we. We can’t and shouldn’t carry the responsibility for stewardship alone. But we can take responsibility for our own part of the stewardship challenge by thoughtfully considering our own principles, beliefs, and role. It’s time well spent, even in the busy fall season. We will likely save time in the long run, and give people something substantive to respond to — we hope with giving that is thoughtful, well-grounded, and a real response to God’s provision.
Consider how you can frame your thoughts on financial stewardship in a way that will help others with their thinking and decision-making, rather than trying to cajole or coax them into thinking and behaving in the way you would like. Growing mature givers (including ourselves) takes time.
Margaret is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry (Seabury, 2009). Get her free mini-course, “Five Ways to Avoid Burnout in Ministry,” at https://margaretmarcuson.com.