Leadership for Giving


Lovett H. Weems, Jr., explains how the four cornerstones of effective church leadership — vision, team, culture, and integrity — are all essential when leading a congregation toward greater generosity.


The single most common theme in all studies of leadership is the presence of a powerful common shared vision. A vision is a picture of a preferred future to which we believe God is calling us. How does vision relate to giving? Put simply it is everything. A vision is all we ever have to offer people when we seek giving in the church.

In the early days of Saint Paul School of Theology, President Don W. Holter went to a local bank for a $50,000 loan. The banker asked about collateral. President Holter produced a handful of pledge cards, to which the banker responded, “Let’s be honest, President Holter. All you have is a dream.”

We are not asking people to help an institution survive, or even become stronger, but to give that, through a human institution, all humanity may come to know the abundant life God wishes for all through Jesus Christ.

And so it is that we are inviting people to give to bring about a future that is better than today. We are inviting people to give to a dream, as Langston Hughes put it, “that never has been, yet must be.” That is why we ask. That is why we seek money.

We are not asking people to give to the Consumer Price Index, utility bills, or leaking roofs. We are asking people to give to a dream — that the hungry may be fed, that the sick may be healed, that the imprisoned may be visited, and that the naked may be clothed. We are not asking people to help an institution survive, or even become stronger, but to give that, through a human institution, all humanity may come to know the abundant life God wishes for all through Jesus Christ.


The second element of effective leadership is team. The question here is, “Given this vision, who are the people without whom this vision cannot become a reality?” Certainly leaders must relate to everyone. For the sake of the mission, however, leaders must give a particular kind of attention to the people required to make the vision a reality.

Nowhere is this more true than in financial giving. When we have a vision with a major financial goal, we simply have to say, “Given this challenge, who are those without whom it cannot become a reality?” We need to plan to involve everyone, but we need to find a special way to involve early and often those people without whom the challenge will not be met. This is not to exclude anyone from any of the visions. Rather, it is a way to involve, in a special way, those of whom much is being asked. It is a way of bringing them closer to the vision themselves as they help to find ways to involve everyone else.


The third element of effective leadership is culture. The question here is, “How do we communicate the vision throughout the organization’s culture?” Culture is simply “who we are and how we do things around here.” It is the ethos, language, stories, space, symbols, heroes, recognitions, and daily routines.

Culture is important because it is here that the vision becomes a reality — if it does at all. It is in the culture that the vision jumps off the paper and comes alive, in the same way a movie makes a script come alive. You may have read the script, but it is a very different experience to see the movie.

Why is this important for giving? Because people never make judgments — judgments on which they are going to make decisions about giving — based on an objective analysis of reality. Rather, people make judgments based primarily on perceptions that come from the culture (from the movie instead of the carefully prepared script). It is from these images and perceptions that people base support or non-support.

We must find ways to help that script come alive through images, stories, music, symbols, and celebrations that people will remember. Our neglect of culture is often the reason we find ourselves saying, “Why don’t people give more? We are doing such good work.” Could it be that despite having the clear mission, careful documentation for our program and budget, and pertinent statistics to demonstrate our needs, we have not found ways to move these realities off the page of the script and onto the movie of the culture?


Leadership for giving must be characterized by integrity. In addition to the essential personal integrity of all leaders, integrity also includes institutional integrity of the church. The issue is consistency and coherence. Is there consistency between what we say we are, what people perceive us to be, and what an objective assessment of reality would say we are? Is there harmony? Do people experience us as being what we say we are?

The credibility of the church and its leaders will influence giving far more than a brochure about the church’s budget. Such credibility cannot be separated from the quality of relationships among leaders and members. Indeed, a secular term for fund raising is “development.” The word “development” is not just a euphemism for fund raising. Development is an accurate description of leadership for giving; we are about developing relationships — out of which comes trust — out of which comes giving.


Two hundred years ago, the French educator Alexis de Tocqueville came to study America. In Democracy in America he wrote: “I have seen the freest and the best educated of [people]in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world. Yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow and they seemed serious and almost sad in their pleasures. They never stopped thinking of the good things they have not got. They clutch everything and hold nothing fast.”

When we ask them to give, we invite people who desperately clutch at many things to hold fast to something important.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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