Angela Denker describes how stewardship and giving can be difficult in times of pastoral transition in churches. She says it is critical that stewardship be rooted in faith and in God’s mission, not in the individual pastor’s particular vision.
Transitions are hard. Change is hard. Transitions are often especially hard in the church. Not long ago, I left a beloved call as my family and I followed my husband’s call to a new job in a different state, closer to our families. As my final sermon and Sunday morning approached, I found myself thinking about stewardship — especially at this time of transition in the church.
Clarity of vision and mission
Helping people to grow in their giving relies upon a clear sense of vision and mission. Just as Jesus encouraged the disciples with a clear task at the Great Commission, we as modern-day disciples and church leaders often attempt to encourage giving by reminding people of our mission.
In times of transition, mission and vision can become unclear, especially if they rely too much on individual personalities or business-oriented strategic plans. If a church’s mission is tied to a particular pastor, the mission flounders when the pastor leaves. If people give because of their allegiance to a particular ministry or a particular person, giving is rooted in personality rather than faith in Jesus.
As pastors come and go, ministries change, attendance rises and falls. So how do we sustain stewardship and giving in times of transition in the church?
Stewardship rooted in faith
The key is rooting stewardship in faith in Jesus and in God’s mission, rather than the church or a pastor’s individualized mission. To make this work, people must see the local church as an arm of God’s larger mission in the world. Leaders must connect giving through regular offering, or “general fund,” to the lifesaving and redeeming work of Jesus Christ. We must explain that while the general offering may pay the electric bill, the electricity at church enables us to hold weekly worship, or host families experiencing homelessness overnight.
The church’s mission is bigger than one individual
We must remember to make the church’s mission independent of ourselves as individuals, making it easy to hand off to the next leaders of the church. We must enable ourselves and others to see multiple ways of achieving that mission, regardless of specific leaders or programs.
The heart of stewardship lies in this truth: none of us is individually the mission. Jesus is the mission of the church. We each are merely tools God uses to achieve that mission, and one of our most important tasks is to know how to hand off the mission to the next leader.
In times of transition, to enable steady giving and stewardship in the church, leaders must focus on the future. As I prepare for my own transition and grieve leaving my church, I am reminded of this verse: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope,” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Hope in the future
Notice that the Lord says plans not a plan. God will use many people and many tactics to complete the mission of the church: to save lives and set people free through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many leaders will be a part of that mission. They all rely on those who come before and after.
What we all must cling to in times of transition is God’s incredible promise: a future with hope. It is that future to which leaders must point again and again, reminding people of God’s ongoing mission even in the midst of change and transition at the local church.
This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Used by permission.
- The Right Start: Beginning Ministry in a New Setting Video Tool Kit
- “50 Ways to Encourage Faithful Giving,” a free resource from the Lewis Center
- Pastoral Transitions — Leaving Well by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.