Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Congregational Stewardship Not Made In October

I don't need to look at a calendar, or even the weather to know the time of year.

Direct mail campaigns from public broadcasting, food ministries, charities and congregations let me know that I might miss my opportunity for a tax deductible donation unless I place a check or my debit card number on an envelope and mail it to that given organization (even easier to do online, and the organization would be glad to set up automatic payments). Often included with the envelope are statistics, facts or photos to remind me of the worthiness of investment.

I feel a little slimier each year during a congregational stewardship campaign. Why?

  • Not because I fear speaking about money like a preacher might be afraid to utter a four-letter word from a pulpit. 
  • Not because I am afraid that people will be cantankerous about frequently asking for "their" money. 
  • Not because it feels strange asking people on fixed incomes to increase their giving so I can have my annual raise.
Sometimes I have felt compelled to speak if only to drown out the misguided messages that could be shared by a variety of people in the congregation:
  • It takes $______________________ to keep the heat on during the winter.
  • If each household gave $______________________ more per month, we'd be able to meet our goal.
  • The congregation is failing, and people aren't giving enough.
  • Look at this congregational box score, our giving is bad.
  • The church needs the money.

Too often, pastors will speak about money because it appeases council/board members who are worried about the budget (for good reason) and it presses leaders toward knee jerk reactions in October.

Stewardship is not made in October.

October and stewardship have strong links in my tradition. I remember early on in my ordained life that I appreciated talking about stewardship in congregational life (I still do), not only because I have received good mentoring and teaching on the subject, but also because I have received so much from God and God's people. I want to live my life as a thankful person, and October seems an especially good time to say it. Programs are gearing up, there is a renewed energy toward learning, people are returning from their summer outings and appreciate the reconnection with friends. We have images from our history (and in rural communities, real and present) about the autumnal harvest time that inspire us about resource gathering.

Emphasizing relationships is a popular trend in this day and age of the church. One doesn't have to go far in my tradition before someone says, "it's all about relationships." Stewardship is also a reflection on the relative quality of relationships. A fall campaign for pledges doesn't mean much without relationships with God and others throughout the year. I say relative, because my late grandmother used to give money to television ministries. Why? They were with her in her home when she was home bound. At the time I couldn't understand why she would give a portion of her fixed income to TV preachers, but it makes sense. They were the presence of God to her. Their request matched their relationship. That relationship didn't seem like high quality to me, but to her, that ministry meant much.

It takes prayerful and faithful attention to strengthen relationships. There is no "Relationship In A Box" program with October crescendo that will spiritually produce a 7% budget increase. Without strengthening relationships with God and others, an October stewardship appeal doesn't mean much. People will invest their resources on what they value. Invest in relationships with God. Invest in relationships with others.

What is it in your community of faith that prevents that investment in relationships from happening? Share your comments, and these roadblocks will be covered in future posts.

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