Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stewardship Dissonance from Debt

I know that stewardship in the congregations I serve as an interim pastor is going to be challenging. The data I collect and observe is letting me know that my methods of stewardship need to change.

According to Crabtree and Weese in the book "Elephant In The Boardroom," the average congregation in transition can expect on average a 15 percent drop in offerings received (especially if they don't plan for transition). Add to this variable a struggling economy and the challenge for congregations in transitions is greater.

In the congregations I serve we have offered Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Regardless of what you think of Dave Ramsey, his politics and theology, through this course I have heard some harrowing stories of debt of all kinds of people in congregations--and I have seen transformation. I have also been a part of financial help courses through Thrivent Financial For Lutherans and its predecessor organizations, and I did not see the transformation that I have seen with FPU.

For my nearly 12 years of ordained ministry, I have not feared stewardship, because I have been taught by good theologians and congregational leaders. I have also seen the stewardship of others directly affect me and my life on more than one occasion. I have never seen stewardship as an effort that disappears into thin air. For me, stewardship is a part of my faith's lifeblood.

Because I see transformation in people, households and relationships in Financial Peace University, the place from where people come is frightening. For years I have operated under an assumption that if I am clear, faithful, compelling and persuasive in stewardship campaigns that congregations will be equipped with the resources to follow their calling and share good ministry.

I was wrong. A good stewardship campaign and good stewardship education is important, but household debt is what is crippling stewardship for congregations, not bad campaigns. I think there are bad campaigns out there, and some congregations don't even bother to intentionally ask people to give. However, I continue to see evidence that household debt is a key element for congregations' struggle with stewardship.

Household debt and a struggling economy is a two-headed beast for healthy congregations and their stewardship. For a congregation in a pastoral transition, stewardship becomes a three-headed beast. Something has to change, because there are callings from God to be fulfilled.


  1. Budgets are moral documents. Call me Captain Obvious. Until we, both as individuals and as a community, decide 1)what we really need; 2)what would really be helpful to have; 3)what we want but don't need; 4)and what we are really willing to pay for all this, we will continue to drown ourselves in debt and then seek escape from that sad reality by buying stuff we don't need with money we don't have at prices we can't afford to alleviate the pain of being in debt in the first place.

    Don't even get me started on "the system" itself. Capitalism American Style encourages this sort of thing. Another easy criticism. But what to do? My solution? Two words: Jubilee Year.

    Good post.

  2. Thanks for your post. I actually don't believe that budgets are so much a part of the problem for congregations. My observation is that congregations are adept at controlling costs. I'm going to have to do some digging for this, but I remember an article that addressed congregations and other non-profits. The costs a congregation holds go up at a rate that is higher than the increases in giving by donors. Congregations and nonprofits are in holes in which they are not generally equipped from which to emerge. The major problem ends up not being budgets, but mortgages. Congregations seem to have a notion that singular building ownership is a birthright. We will see more shared ownership/usage in the coming years--which brings its own set of problems. However, I see one of the top crippling factors for ministry is large mortgages. FLCC doesn't have a completely unmanageable mortgage--but that debt is challenging to growth.