As I wrote in part one of this series, a church without adequate resources will soon see their visions become vapors. Money feeds momentum. It is a sign of commitment, involvement, trust, hope, and even worship unto the Lord! It is good to talk about!
That is why developing a culture of generosity in every church is vital. It takes time and consistent teaching, honest accounting and communication, and Christian modeling. But church acutely aware of the biblical principles of stewardship is a wonder to behold.
What can a leader do to develop this kind of culture? Here are ten ideas that might be helpful
1. Tell the Truth. Always.
Report openly and honestly about the year-to-date giving in the church. The bad news of a financial deficit is always easy to report. Red is catchy. But some churches don’t report positive numbers and “in-the-black” income for fear people dial down their giving. But it is a risk worth taking. Those who give for the work of the ministry do not give to make a budget look good. Instead, they give toward a compelling vision for the work of faith. To build a culture of generosity, you first have to celebrate it whenever it occurs!
Make the reporting of financial news—even good news—a routine part of the communication efforts in the parish. A simple chart is usually what is needed:
Year to Date Giving = $
Year to Date Expenses = $
Difference = $
2. Preach Clearly Every Year
Plan a church-wide emphasis and preaching effort on Stewardship every year. Every year. Commit to it. Put in on the Master Calendar. There is no better way to increase the level of stewardship in our congregation than this single, simple act. Spend 3-4 weeks a year to this topic. One week will not be sufficient; two weeks just scratches the surface. Plan for 3-4 weeks of focused attention. More on this later…but the pastoral leader and preacher must take this responsibility seriously.
Leaders of churches should see the cultures’ fixation and emphasis on material goods for what it is: idolatry. We must approach the subject pastorally but firmly at every possible point. We must love our people enough to address their/our addictive traps. Our culture’s love of money should be seen through the lens of the biblical story, as, for example, the Apostle Paul viewed it.
Remember that Paul encouraged boldness on the subject of stewardship; he put it in terms of ‘Command’. As he commanded Timothy to preach the Gospel, he also tells Timothy to command the rich concerning their wealth (1 Timothy 6:13, 17). That is engagement!
3. Share Testimonies
Ask a few people in the church who have discovered the joy of generous giving to offer their testimony. You know who those people are; the ones who just “get it.” They have been good stewards of what God has given them. By God’s grace, giving has changed their heart about giving. They have a story to tell and it will move people. Ask them to write their stewardship testimony for your church.
Their witness (written or oral) should answer two central questions:
- How have I come to see that my/our giving to my church is an expression of my love of God?
- What has it done for me/us to strive for growth in the area of stewardship?
In the past, I have shared the good news of giving from my own perspective. I have tried to be appropriately honest and transparent about what my wife and I do in our giving to the local parish. But a lay testimony is a better motivator. One honest vestry person told me after a lay testimony (which followed my own), “The story they told about their commitment was inspiring. Yours was great too…but we sort of pay you to be generous…” He didn’t know what he was really saying, but it stuck in my mind as truth. The laity have greater stories to tell…let them tell them!
4. Get Healthy
Leader! Ask for healing for any fear you have concerning talking about money. Money, as every pastor knows, is one of the most often mentioned themes in the New Testament. But many of us have suffered from a misguided concern: that preaching on stewardship will turn off fragile listeners. It might, of course. But preachers can disarm their critics on this subject by simply being honest about their hesitancy. “You know, it is not easy to speak about this topic because of so many mixed emotions about money itself, so please give an ear to my understanding of money from a biblical point of view.” Honesty always wins hearers.
But perhaps a deeper feeling lies behind a pastor’s reluctance to preach about stewardship, generosity, and giving. Could it be a fear of conflict and confrontation? This was a big obstacle for me in my early days as a preacher. I wanted to be liked and respected as a leader, as we all do. But I was addicted to the approval of others more than I was compelled to speak the truth in love. I am not proud of that inner conflict. But I was young and learned to find strength from God. I worked it through.
What does ‘getting healthy’ mean for you, Leader?
5. Tell Stories
Take your annual year-to-date giving and write a story about it. That is to say, go beyond the numbers and the columns of a cold report and describe what the church is able to do because of people’s giving. It is called a “Narrative Budget” and it will help your church see its impact.
In the bigger order of things, what is the offering money used for? What difference do donations make? Tell your church’s story. Show pictures. Describe the lives that have been touched and changed by the ministry of your parish.
And don’t forget that one of the most practical strengths of your church’s ministry is the pastor! You!!! You—and the staff—are the primary vehicles for ministry. Tell the church what you do with your time during the week; how does their giving empower good work? Be specific.
Also, remember that in a fully-functioning church, there is no overhead. Business might put staff costs, light bills, carpet cleaning, and administrative costs in a part of the budget called “Overhead”. But if you regard the church as the people and the people as the delivery system of ministry to others, there really is no overhead at all! Everything is being used for the ministry purpose of fulfilling the vision of the congregation.
Honesty is disarming. Stories are engaging. Fear can be overcome. The pulpit leads the church. These are just a few of the themes that a church can embrace and begin cultivating a culture of generosity.
6. Be Guilt/Shame Free
Never write a negative letter to your church asking for money. Never complain about how people give, how massive a church debt may be, or when things need to change before you close the doors forever. Shame and guilt and fear are terrible motivators for generosity. They may produce a financial response once as a ‘guilt offering’…but never again. Why? Because people won’t give for fear or guilt. People give for reasons of faith, worship, hope, and joy. Christian giving produces joy! Paul reminded the Corinthians, “God loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Corinthians 9).
Over years and years of mistakes and missteps, I have developed a promise-oriented approach to stewardship and generosity. I preach the biblical truths of stewardship and try to show people where this truth will lead them. What kind of life is promised in the Bible when we do what it says? What joy can I expect to experience when I give out of a willing and generous heart for the work of God in his church?
The Apostle Paul doesn’t use shame or guilt when he reminds the Corinthians to fulfill their pledge commitment. He motivates them with a vision of the Macedonian churches. To paraphrase his argument in 2 Corinthian 8:1ff, ‘You guys are behind; you need to step it up like the Macedonian churches have.’ Yes, there is a slight edge to his words, but the tone is uplifting. Paul is showing the Macedonian joy and hope and promise and abundance in the hopes of spurring the Corinthian church.
No guilt, just joy.
7. Use Humor
The truth is that most people fall woefully short of a biblical vision of giving. Even more, most people fall woefully short of their own personal giving goals. All have sinned…especially in this area. Scolding them about this will not help. When most people begin to understand their giving in light of the Bible, they start out in a hole. They are NOT being faithful. They know it. You know it. So how can we talk about something that most people are failing at without creating a defensive wall around the human heart?
Solomon’s wisdom is helpful here. It takes the pressure off taking responsibility to correct someone’s behavior by force. The Preacher wrote: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). What wisdom! A soft answer! And from my own experience, there is no better way to soften the heart than to use humor. In preaching and teaching, humor can blunt the edges of bad news and open up the heart to see the good news that is available and offered. Humor, when spoken in love, will diffuse anxiety, guilt, or residual ennui in a congregation.
I am not the first to think about this. There are examples of humorous bible stories, illustrations, and anecdotes that allow people to understand a larger message of generosity. Perhaps we (today) tend to read the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) with too-serious ears. The first-century audience would have hooted out loud and slapped their knees at the reversal of fortunes of the main characters. It is the poor man who makes it big in the Kingdom and the rich man who ends up in Hades. The lesson is clear: be generous.
And isn’t the story of the Widow’s Mite a bit wry? No doubt it happened exactly that way it is described in Mark 12:41. But the story is bathed in irony and wit: the rich Pharisees trumpeting their giving and, at the end of it all, were out-classed by the poor widow who gave it all.
My point here is to show that human, earthy stories (humus = humor) and truths about generosity have a long partnership; they go together. Lots more on this here.
8. Pastoral Touch
The pastor/minister in any church should make 20-25 personal connections (phone calls, visits, hand-written letters) a month, every month. (I write here about Ministry by Emoji. Don’t!) These outreach moments are to people who have shown exceptional giving in time, commitment, and financial resources. Find out who is giving and who is volunteering their time in generous ways. Get a list!
Then thank them! Honor them with a phone call, a personal note, or a quick meet-up somewhere. You don’t’ need to ask them for money; you don’t need to ask them for more time on another project. But when a leader, as with a parent, will focus their attention on an attitude they want to see strengthened, they will usually see it happen as they lend their authentic attention. In other words, the axiom is this: you get more of whatever you pay attention to.
9. Train the Vestry
Establish Biblical generosity as the standard of leadership for your Vestry or Board. There are usually denominational requirements about who can serve in the leadership roles of the church. They must, for example, be a member of the congregation! That makes sense. Of course! But you must admit, it is pretty low bar.
It makes better sense to train every nominee or potential candidate before the parish election or appointment. Let the candidates know what it will cost them, so to speak, to be an elected or appointed leader in the church. Give them an option to opt in or out once they ‘count the cost’ (Luke 14). Offer a clear teaching on biblical stewardship for all prospective candidates (along with more mundane training in by-laws, polity, etc.) Let them know what it means to join the Vestry. But then ask a single question of each potential leader: Do you get the vision of tithing and sacrificial giving and will you present your life AND your labor to the Lord in meaningful, sacrificial, and generous ways.
I have taken a Saturday morning about a month before our Vestry elections to gather the nominees to lay out the vision for the parish, the role of the Vestry, the Rector’s role, and a few relevant by-laws and canons, etc. But I also would make sure that I presented a few biblical principles on stewardship that Vestry members were asked to support. It was an awkward moment, in a way. I passed out a policy statement on giving and generosity for the leadership of the parish. Everyone had a choice. Some—sometimes, more than a few—would remove their names from consideration. They counted the cost and decided to pull back. I fully respect that. But those who stayed in the process and were elected knew the expectations.
As I wrote here, the Rector or Sr. Pastor is the one responsible for this training.
10. Be Generous
Be generous on every occasion that you can. It will establish your leadership on the subject and help form the DNA of your church. Generosity begets generosity. There is no question of that. (Luke 6:38) Leaders will realize the power of ‘modeling generosity’ as they start to act generously; as they offer their valuable resources for the work of the church. Not surprisingly, the act of generosity on the part of the leader will produce more resources. It motivates, models, encourages, and shows others how to give.
Here are two posts on the subject of leading with generosity. The first is about my wife giving away all of our ‘baby-shower’ gifts….and the impact of that for a generation to come. The second is about a man who has leveraged his offering in surprising ways. Both stories should inspire you.
The topic of stewardship and giving is essential; often times leaders simply need a fresh approach. Hopefully, these ten ideas have given you a base on which to build something that will work in your context.