Episode 25: “Toward a Culture of Joyful Generosity” featuring Cesie Delve Scheuermann

Leading Ideas Talks
Leading Ideas Talks
Episode 25: "Toward a Culture of Joyful Generosity" featuring Cesie Delve Scheuermann

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Has stewardship become a dirty word in your congregation? Stewardship consultant Cesie Delve Scheuermann speaks with Lewis Center Associate Director Ann Michel about cultivating generosity through simple practices of gratitude and sharing the good that money can do in the church and the world.

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Intro: Leading Ideas Talks is brought to you by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Subscribe free to our weekly newsletter at www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas. Has stewardship become a dirty word in your congregation?  In this episode, stewardship consultant Cesie Delve Scheuermann speaks with Lewis Center Associate Director, Ann Michel about cultivating generosity through simple practices of gratitude and sharing the good that money can do in the church and the world.

Ann Michel: I’m Ann Michel, Associate Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary. I’m editor of Leading Ideas E-newsletter and I’m also pleased to be the host of this Leading Idea’s Talks podcast, I’m talking today with Cesie Delve Scheuermann, who’s a stewardship consultant to the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. You may know her from her weekly blog, Inspiring Generosity, Changing the Church’s Attitudes Towards Money. I’ve been a big fan of her work for a long time, it’s both very practical and she’s really, kind of a breath of fresh air when it comes to stewardship issues. So, I want to welcome you Cesie.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Thank you!

Ann Michel: Yeah. So I am always excited to talk stewardship with another stewardship person, but you know what I’ve discovered and I bet you’ve discovered it too: that not everybody likes talking about it as much as we do!

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: How is that?

Ann Michel: I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Totally shocking!

Ann Michel: Yeah, but I really think it points to a more underlying problem and that is that, I think we’ve really allowed stewardship to become  a dirty word, something that no body really wants to talk about in the church. So I wanted to talk with you today about how we could move beyond that toward a more positive mindset and some more positive practices when it comes to money and giving and the church. But I thought I could begin by asking you, how do you think we’ve gotten in this place where stewardship is that thing that nobody wants to talk about?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Well, I think it could have, I think there are a variety of reasons, one is your family of origin, what you were told about money when you were growing up. So, for instance, in my family, money was a pretty, unless you were saving your money and, almost hoarding it, you know, because money was security, that was the only time you talked about it and my parents definitely came from that “greatest generation” where they grew up without money. So the thought of generosity, I mean, they were generous to me, as their only child, they were definitely generous to me, but thinking about giving money away to somebody else, that was a total disconnect. They couldn’t figure that out because, or just that was a very difficult concept for them. So I think that’s one area of them, like the family of origin. The second was just the whole televangelist, especially in the church, I think, this is where it became a dirty word in the church. When you have a lot of televangelists, and still out there, the prosperity gospel people, just saying “if you send me some money, your problems will go away.” And so, somehow, the church internalized that and just said “okay, it’s either all or nothing.” If I talk about money it’s going to come off terrible because it’s going to come off as begging, it’s going to be terrible. If I start talking about money, people are going to associate me with the televangelists or a prosperity gospel person and I don’t want to have any association with that. To me, that’s the – those are the two areas, that’s how I think we got to this. I’m sure there are other things, but those are the two primary things of how I think we got into this situation.

Ann Michel: Do you think there are some other mistakes that are commonly made in churches around stewardship ministry that reinforce those negative attitudes?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Well, I think the biggest one is not talking about money.

Ann Michel: Yeah, the conspiracy of silence.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Yeah. If I don’t talk about it, then it’s not going to be – nobody is going to criticize me. So then money becomes shrouded in secrecy, which I just think is, you know, that’s not how God calls us to have our money, shrouded in secrecy, it is part of our spiritual discipline and practice to be able to give to God what is owed to God which is everything, and so, I think this whole “or”, you know, I’ve had clergy come up to me and say well my congregation doesn’t want me to talk about it. So therefore, that could be two or three people have said “I don’t like talking about money in church.” So then it’s projected that everyone doesn’t think we should be talking about money in church.

Ann Michel: Right. I think too, sometimes, what I see happen in churches is that the only time they talk about money is during an appeal, so you’ll have the one Stewardship sermon on commitment Sunday, and so, anything related to stewardship becomes associated in people’s mind with the church asking for money instead of there being a larger conversation that it’s a part of.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right, and then it feels awkward and usually, by that point, the clergy person feels awkward about asking for money because it’s only happening once a year, or they’re only talking about it once a year, so I think that awkwardness and that feeling uncomfortable about talking about money is projected from the pulpit because they’re doing it once a year and it’s kind, and I also see this “I’m really sorry that I have to come to you to ask for money today, but this is how our church does it.”

Ann Michel: So it’s done apologetically?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Yeah, well we have to eat, we have to keep on, we have lights to keep on, and it’s just like Oh my gosh. And the other thing that I’ve seen clergy people not want to talk about money because they’re embarrassed because some of that money goes to pay their salary.

Ann Michel: So they’re afraid of appearing self interested.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right! As opposed to, “okay, I’m about ministry, I’m about…” What you are doing is not only a spiritual practice, but you are giving to ministry to happen in this church and you want ministry to happen. I’m merely a part of it, I’m merely a part of that ministry that’s happening in the vast scheme of things. But anyway, that’s the other part that I see that happens.

Ann Michel: Limiting it really to that “pay the bills” mentality that some people talk about.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Oh yeah. I mean, that, yeah. And that, to me, that crushes my spirit because that, I, who, nobody, I mean, I don’t like to pay my electric bill. But you know what, I really enjoy having a home that has lights, I enjoy having a home that I can see things and, you know, so, if you limit what you’re doing to these really, the lighting bill, the water bill, the picking up the garbage, as opposed to what we’re giving to is ministry, and the church is where ministry happens. And so, I mean, looking at the lights and the water and the electricity and the garbage as all part of ministry because we want to have the most welcoming, open place that we can for people to come to and receive the love of God that they need to get.

Ann Michel: So having it be about the vision and the ministry of the church as opposed to a narrow focus on “we’ve just got to pay the bills.” Just so institutionally centered. It seems like, in these days, people don’t want, people have such an anti-institutional bias that if it’s all linked to institutional maintenance that it’s such a harder sell.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right, and I think that goes back to generational stuff because at one point, it’s sort of, if you talk to the older generation, the greatest generation, they were brought up thinking that you pay, that you give to the church out of obligation because that’s what you’re required to do. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Well, now, I mean, the boomer generation, gen x, they don’t buy into that. That money is an obligation to the church is just not what it is. I mean, they want to be giving to something that they believe in, that they believe in the mission, that they are part of something greater than themselves.

Ann Michel: Yeah, now, I think that’s so true and yet, at the same time, I know, and this isn’t true just in the church, this is true just in other non-profits too, you do have to pay the bills. And so,  I can remember a young couple in our church who was unhappy about how much of the church’s budget went to support the building and they felt very uncomfortable about making a large gift because they said “We just don’t want to have to pay all that money to go into the building.” And I said to them, “how much of your household budget goes to pay for your mortgage and your household expenses?” Anybody who has a place to land in the world, it costs money.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: One thing about this giving out of, this “I’m giving to the building” And I understand that the lights and the electricity all need to be paid for, but I also think that that’s the benefit of doing more of a narrative budget, where you’re explaining the story of the church so that, you know, people can see that the lights, the electricity, pays for ministry to happen. That the building is your ministry. So, I think that’s a really important piece that we tend to just, people see this budget and they’re like “ugh. It’s all about the building, or it’s all salaries.” But I think it’s a re-framing, and that’s the responsibility of the clergy and the finance committee to really help paint the story of what the church does.

Ann Michel: Cesie, for people who might not be familiar with the concept of a narrative budget, could you say a bit more to describe what you mean by narrative budget?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Sure, sometimes it’s actually, I mean, I really think it’s not a good idea just to say “here’s our budget, and I’m going to send it out with the appeal letter, with the stewardship letter.” And it’s all these numbers. I mean, that, nothing is more, I don’t know. I know some people want to have that and they should have the access to it, but I think the majority of people want to know the story of the church, and so, when you send out a narrative budget, you’re telling the story of what your money is going to. As opposed to line items, it’s the general, it helps with the vision, it helps with everything about what you’re doing with the church. It’s more words, less numbers.

Ann Michel: Okay and maybe more pictures and images as well. Some of the ones that I have seen are really beautiful.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Oh absolutely!

Ann Michel: So what are some of the other practices that can help promote a more healthy culture around money and giving?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Well, the two that I really focus on, so I’ll start by saying, one of my favorite stewardship books is called Ask, Thank, Tell, by Charles Lane, it’s an oldie but it’s definitely still in the, one of the classics, I think in helping. And, so, he says “ask, thank, tell,” and I like to say that you start out by doing thank, tell, and then ask. And, primarily, and this is where a lot of my work has gone through non-profits, local non-profits, and local non-profits are so jealous of churches, primarily because they get to ask every single week, for money.

Ann Michel: Right, they have their constituents sitting right in front of them.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: They have their constituents right there, and every week they’re going “now will the ushers come forth to receive our tithes and offerings.” Now, if my local non-profit could do that, they would be drooling to be able to do that. So, I always try to remind clergy that they already have part of this ask thing down. Because they do it every week. So, what they have less under their belt is the ability, the knowledge of how to do thanking and telling really well. So, there’s a sense of this is where, because of the uncomfortableness people feel around money, they don’t talk about what the money goes to, or they do very little thanking to people for giving. I always like to talk about my pastor, when he first came to our church, he started telling us, he started re-framing our story, or telling us our origin story, and, which we, in the church in Salem, which has been around for over 175 years now. And, he started telling us our history of our church and what it meant to our community. So, yeah, we kinda started sitting a little bit more and feeling a little bit better about ourselves because it’s a pretty important church. And then, almost every week, he would say something like “this is a generous congregation. This congregation…” We’d say something and he’d mention the way which we had been generous. And I started thinking, wow, if he thinks we’re generous, well maybe we should start acting generous!

Ann Michel: Yeah. So he was naming a reality for you to live into.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Absolutely! And part of it is because he was recognizing what our contributions, both all our volunteer work, all our spiritual prayers, and our financial resources, what an impact it had had on the church. In the past and now. I mean, he would point out certain things every week and say, you know, the work that you’re doing with homeless people in the community, I mean, what a generous congregation.

Ann Michel: That’s the telling piece, telling the story of people’s generosity and action.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Correct, absolutely, and then the thanking piece is also really critical, you know. For a long time, our church would have a quarterly statement that would come out, and it would look like the church had gone to a bank and printed out statements.

Ann Michel: Or like they were sending a bill.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Or like they were sending a bill! And some of it would say “still due” or something that I’m just like… It just left a bad taste in your mouth. We started doing something that was so simple which is just adding a third of a page, some of it was just testimony of, it was a combination of thanking and telling, which is often what happens when you’re telling your story, you’re thanking people. It would tell a story of somebody who had been impacted by the church and what impact it had and how they were so thankful for the church. And then it made you feel pretty good that you were giving to the church.

Ann Michel: Right, so that’s going out with your quarterly statements, so that’s one of the ways that you’re thanking people. What are some other approaches to the thank you piece, because I do think that churches do so neglect that. And part of that is the conspiracy of silence around money. If you can’t talk about what people give, if there’s no transparency or no knowledge, it’s really hard to say thank you.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right. Right. So, I think there are a couple of other things that are, I mean, and all they sing, something, they take time, right? This isn’t just something, I think if you’re looking to increase generosity in your church and you’re going to try and do it without investing any of your own time or effort into it, it’s not going to work. Because it does take a little bit of time. So I’ll tell you a couple of things, so around a holiday time, around Christmas time, or particularly around, when people aren’t expecting it, around Valentine’s day, St. Patrick’s day, or even April Fool’s day, to send out a sweet thank you, or just a way that you, you know, I remember a clergy person sent out little valentines cards, and they weren’t even personalized, but I mean, as to “dear John” or “dear Mary” But she wrote on every card, just a little bit, a different note, and asked them out after a service one Sunday. And people were just so touched by that, and surprised, and, to me, the better part was that she wrote back to me and she said “You know, I found myself loving my congregation again.” We did something at our ad council meeting, our administrative council meetings, where people took five different church members that were regularly giving, they each got five names, they wrote a thank you for your generosity and for your faithful giving, we prayed for you tonight and thanked God for you tonight. It was a three line note, and we did pray for them and we did thank God for them, and people were just like “wow.” It’s just that sort of surprise, and to me, in one hand, that’s so awesome, and yet, it also shows “wow, we don’t do it enough.” And the impact of doing those little things.

Ann Michel: Mmhmm. Well, since you mentioned that some of this does take time, it certainly takes attention and intention to begin to implement some of these practices, I think one of the things that I struggle with in my congregation is that there’s just so much bandwidth. There’s only so many minutes in a worship service, there’s only so much ink in the newsletter, there’s only so much time that the staff and leaders have to spread across so many different things that it’s just, it’s almost not possible to implement all the good ideas around stewardship that a consultant like you might think about, so what do you think are some of the things that are most important to start with?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: So with the clergy, I think, to me, there are two things that they could do and when I have this thing that I like to call a stewardship calendar that says “here’s something that you can do, here are some things that you can do every month and you can either check them off or ‘Okay, that’s too much.'” But the two things that I always say that I think are really critical is that perhaps, every Monday morning, the Clergy person sits down and they write three thank you letters, just three lines, I mean, it doesn’t have to be a lot, but three thank you letters to people and their congregation. Just to even start that notion of gratitude. So that’s one thing. And then the second thing is what I mentioned before was that every week, I think you need to thank the congregation and it’s thanking and telling at the same time and mention one of the ministries that’s happening in the church that can only happen because people are so generous with their financial resources.

Ann Michel: Well those are two great ideas because they’re so specific and they don’t take a whole lot of time. I mean, but it’s just a matter about instituting it, getting in the habit of that simple practice.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right.

Ann Michel: To me, a large part of this question has to do with theology and I’ve spent a lot of time, I teach stewardship here at Wesley Seminary, I spend a lot of time working with my students around theology of stewardship, and I think, so often, the theological lenses that people bring to this, it’s all talking about the biblical concept of stewardship, which, for people who have lived in the church their whole life, but people who maybe are new or less, don’t really understand stewardship from a biblical perspective. Or, there’s talk about tithing, which again, people outside the church, that’s a very very unfamiliar language. And I’m always encouraging people to think more broadly about generosity in scripture, and how God uses generosity. I think shifting the theological language that we use sort of helps move us away from obligation because stewardship and tithing, you know, they come across as legalistic and obligation whereas when you start talking about generosity and gratitude, it’s just so much more gracious conversation.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Yes, absolutely, and I think people understand, I’ve read Mike Slaughter’s book The Christian Wallet but what I love about that book is the title alone: The Christian Wallet. Because I think if we think about all that we have and all that we are owned by God. That really starts shifting the picture. And, for me, what I, for years, I went to a church there in Washington, D.C. called Church of the Savior and we had a liturgy that we did every week and every week, before the offering, we would say “God is the owner, I am the ower.” And it, you know, I would say I went to that church for five years before I moved and it took me like four and a half years to start really internalizing that concept. And, to me, that is so powerful as a Christian to be thinking, “God is the owner of everything and I am the ower.” So, to me, that’s the overall, to me that’s the overall theology. Is, if I can remember that my wallet doesn’t really, really belong to me. It belongs to God. And so, how do I use my God given resources to exemplify the love of Jesus in this world?

Ann Michel: Well I think it’s interesting too that you said how long it really took for you to internalize that understanding because I think a lot of people don’t appreciate, because the beliefs that Christians have about money and generosity are so counter cultural, you know, our culture teaches us that we deserve what we have, so to get people to move from that into a mindset that God is the owner and they are the ower, it takes a lot of reinforcement. Something we have to be talking about and integrating into our practices constantly. So, as someone who spends a lot of time on stewardship, what’s new or exciting right now. I mean, are there any new trends or possibilities or ideas that are capturing your attention or that you think have promise?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: You know, I work in stewardship, and I work a lot in the non-profit world and what I see is more of the attention being on the donor and what we call “donor love” and thinking about how, getting the people in the pews, and then in other non-profit organizations, to see how they are an active participant in what’s happening in the organization and, in this case, in the church.

Ann Michel: Right.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Because I think people can often come to church and they’re engaged in worship, but it can also feel very passive if that’s the only time that they come to church. Now we hope that everybody is far more engaged than that and they’re going to small groups and they’re going to bible study, but they may not be. And so, how, to me, that was a big, there’s a great person, her name is Penelope Burk, who’s sort of started this whole donor-centered fundraising. And how do we make the people in the pews feel engaged with what’s happening in the church and, so, to me, that goes back to the clergy person being willing to say, or having somebody, a lay person, every week coming up and saying “here’s what your gifts are doing in the world.” And this is the difference that it’s making. So to me, that’s kind of exciting, the whole electronic giving, we’ve still got a lot of people who are working on trying to engage in getting younger people to give via credit cards in the church. That’s something in a lot of rural churches; they just can’t do that sort of stuff. So that’s more for the medium sized to larger churches. And I will say that if you engage in electronic giving, I think it’s great, do not just think it’s going to be the millennials who are going to want to use it. One of the people in our church, every week he comes up and designates, he’s about 85 years old, and he designates to a different, he just loves the technology. So, the understanding, you know, thinking that the only people who want electronic giving are the “younger people.” It’s not true. So.

Ann Michel: Yeah, one of the things that I think is interesting about electronic giving is that once you have a foot hold with being able to accept contributions electronically in some way, then it’s, it sort of begs the question then, how do we use electronic communication to invite people to give because, you know, I mean, in this world, so many of the sophisticated fundraising appeals that you get are multi-media, they’re through social media, they’re, and most churches I know haven’t quite figured out how to do that well. So there’s such a potential there, you know. If they could figure out better how to reach people through the communication methods that people most connected to today.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Well, I think there’s two things too, I’ll just put in a plug for paper. Research in the fundraising development world has shown that paper is still going to outperform electronic giving in a vast majority, percentage of the time.

Ann Michel: It’s not an either or, for sure.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: It’s not an either or, yeah. I was just working with a clergy person and he was only going to send out an electronic piece of mail with a link to where you could give. But I suggested, if he could, you should send paper in addition to that. And he couldn’t do that, then send to his top 20 givers, because a letter is going to hang around a lot longer than an email that shows up and people kind of tune it out immediately. So, anyway, I just wanted to make sure I put in a plug for paper, which has not gone away. And it’s not going away.

Ann Michel: Yes, that’s a very good thing to remember, and especially when you think about what a high percentage of dollars in churches tend to come from older generation people.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Absolutely, and that’s who mostly, even in the general non-profit world, that’s who’s generally, who reads the mail, who’s someone in their 70s, 65 and up, and they’re interested in what you have to say. And they’re less interested in looking at the electronic, and they may give that some look, but it’s very different than getting something in the mail that you can hold onto.

Ann Michel: Right, yeah. Or that personal. Personal is always, always, the gold standard. To draw this to a close, I wanted to ask, kind of a vision question, and a lot of times, I think congregations, and this makes sense, it’s logical, they have kind of an incremental approach to this. They do a little bit here, they do a little bit there, a new idea pops up, you know, and hopefully they’re moving in the right direction, but I also think sometimes it’s helpful to have a vision of what you’re aiming for, and so, if you could kind of paint a picture of a congregation that really did have a healthy stewardship culture, what would be some of the things that you would see in a church like that?

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Well I, culture change is not easy. So I’m going to say that right off the bat. If you have had, if you’re part of a church that has been embarrassed about asking for money, or it’s a silent topic, it’s going to take some work to change that culture. And so, for me, I might, primary thing is, you change, you figure out the why. Why you exist. If you exist just to exist, that’s not very inspirational. And that’s, not many people are going to want to give to that. Not many people are going to want to come to your congregation. If you don’t have a sense of why you are a congregation and what God is calling your particular congregation to do in your community. So that’s one really key thing. The second thing in changing the culture would be to make sure you have a strong scriptural and spiritual understanding of what’s that. And you may, that may require doing a congregational study around a book like The Christian Wallet, something that’s fairly simple or, so I would suggest doing that and finding out those scriptures that are really important. To change the culture is about wanting to be joyfully generous. That this is not something that somebody is yanking you out having to do, but you are excited about what your congregation is doing, not only internally, as a focus of worship, but externally, how it’s making a difference in the world. It really is creating that vision of who you are and how money can make such a positive difference in the world. And then that, to me, that’s where the joy comes from. Is that you feel confident in where your money is going, you know that God is using it in a really great way. And you know that you are blessing others as a result.

Ann Michel: Yeah, so, what I’m hearing, I think is the vision for a congregation that’s healthy in terms of stewardship is very intricately connected to a congregation that has a clear sense of vision overall. That understands what, why it’s doing what its doing and the difference that it makes and can help people understand how they relate to that.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann: Right, who you are. I mean, that is really critical. Who you are as a congregation will help you set, will get you on the right trajectory right off the bat I think.

Ann Michel: Well, Cesie, I’m grateful for you. As I said, I’m a big fan of your work, you’ve been so generous in sharing a lot of your ideas with our readers of Leading Ideas and now with the listeners of our podcast, so I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

Outro: Leading Ideas Talks has been brought to you by the Optimizing Annual Financial Campaigns video toolkit. Did you know that congregations that seek annual financial commitments have significantly higher levels of overall giving? Learn best practices to make your annual financial campaign more effective with Optimizing Annual Financial Campaigns available at churchleadership.com/shop.

On the next episode of Leading Ideas Talks, Bishop Robert C. Wright of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and Lewis Center Director, Doug Powe, share insights for leading struggling congregations through change.

We have to ask ourselves, “do we love these people?” I think it may sound cute or trite, but I think that any change that can really happen comes at least in part, and I would say lion’s share, if the people get a sense that you are genuine in your affection. Paul says that, “be genuine in your affection.” And I think that ends up being the conduit for some of the work that we can do in the congregation. So we offer the Word, understanding that we only have part of truth, always only part, and that there’s as much truth sitting out there in front of us in the congregation, so we hold our part gently, we occupy our authority gently. So we’ve got to really do our own soul searching about how we correct. And sometimes the preacher is the one who can learn the most from the people about how to be gentle in correction.

Thank you for joining us and don’t forget to subscribe free to Leading Ideas at Churchleadership.com/leadingideas.


About Author

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing and a lay leader in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She blogs at Inspiring Generosity, and you may connect with Cesie at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.