Stewardship, Generosity, and the Leader
By Bruce Barkhauer
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 21, No. 3 in 2019. You can access the full issue here.
Leaders, this recipe may be helpful for creating the best possible conditions for a flourishing culture of generosity:
5 Parts Vision
Vision clarifies everything and is the focus of your other work. Vision determines how resources flow, what type of staff is needed, what training and equipping is offered, how structure and governance is organized, and what you say yes to (and perhaps just as important, what you say no to) as far as mission and ministry engagement is concerned.
3 Parts Communication
The kind of message sent (positive, inspiring, challenging) and how it is sent (pulpit, print, social media, email, image, and language) matters. The words you choose are important. For example, collect communicates a very different idea than receive when talking about the offering. Use encouragement and opportunity to motivate people. Describe resources and abilities as means to fulfill God’s calling. Use the same channels of communication that your members do to share information. Connect money with mission and ministry. Tell stories that illustrate living the vision.
2 Parts Education
Teach stewardship and generosity as spiritual disciplines that are as important as study, worship, prayer, and service. Preach about generosity more often than during the annual stewardship emphasis. Teach stewardship in Sunday school or at small group meetings. Talk about the discipline of giving in your new member and baptism/confirmation classes. Help people learn to be responsible with their money and to lower their anxiety about managing it.
1 ½ Parts Expectation
Ask boldly. Nurture a culture in which your congregation expects to be challenged to collectively and collaboratively be faithful to God’s call as agents of the realm of God and workers for transformation; where money is understood in terms of generosity and purpose; that money is no different from any other part of spiritual life; and clergy have access to information about giving.
1 Part Trust
Establish the best financial practices. Transparent reporting and adherence to well-crafted policies develop trust that gifts are properly used and protected from theft and malfeasance. An annual audit or review maintains accountability and oversight. Maintain an open budgeting process.
4 Parts Gratitude
Say thank you enough so that those who contribute have clear sense that their gifts are appreciated and valued. Use the thank you as a time to tell another story about how your congregation is transforming lives and changing people and/or circumstances for the better. Use quarterly statements, annual confirmation of pledges/commitment/estimate of giving cards, and reports from mission and ministry teams to speak a word of gratitude for the gifts and to name how those gifts are being faithfully deployed. Thank persons for special gifts for camp scholarships, mission trip expenses, and special ministries. Invite your mission partners to communicate their gratitude for the work you support at home or across the globe.
6 Parts Secret Ingredient
Without the special secret sauce, a Big Mac© is just another hamburger! The generosity of your leadership is the ingredient that can give your congregational generosity its unique flavor and be a catalyst for additional participation. Leadership that is not committed to practicing generosity is like trying to light a fire with wet wood: things never progress beyond a lot of smoke producing little heat or light. Generosity of your leadership begins with the pastor and other staff. In part, it is about credibility. People know when they are being asked to do something by someone who is not practicing what they preach! If you are personally invested, you develop passion for the project. A leader who is practicing generosity and who is committed to grow in generosity can faithfully share her/his story. It is the most important ingredient in creating a culture of generosity.
Scripture challenges leaders to be faithful managers of their resources. Among the qualifications for elders and deacons in the epistles of Timothy and Titus is the need to be good managers of the household and not a lover of money. (1 Tim. 6:10) Jesus talks a great deal about money and possessions and the importance of understanding our relationship with these things. A good leader will spend thoughtful and prayerful time considering how to respond to money and wealth and how it defines her or his values. A leader’s heart will be found where his or her treasure lies. Money can be employed as a servant, but to serve it is to give our lives over to something less than the Divine.
A leader who is growing in generosity can challenge others to join them in the quest to reach or exceed the tithe. Early in my pastoral ministry, I began the practice of seeking the wisdom, experience, and support of the lay leadership in my congregation. Those conversations led several of them to consider their own giving practices and whether or not they had arrived at, or were progressing toward, their goals for their financial commitments. The church grew in every way as the core leadership’s participation grew.
Once key leaders are moving toward their genuine capacity to support the work of the church, the challenge can be extended to the next level of leadership, and so on. The more people are investing, the more they exercise passion for the work. The more passion for the work, the greater the capacity of the church to fulfill its mission and vision. The closer the church comes to reaching toward its calling, the more enthusiasm there is to share with others the faith that has been awakened within them. Generosity begets generosity, and generosity grows the church.
Generous leadership is the key ingredient—don’t keep it a secret! Share your faith and your motivation for giving, even as you continue growing. Others will find encouragement from your honesty and openness, and you will discover support for the work or which God has called you to lead. Follow this recipe for fruitful stewardship, generosity, and leadership, and watch what happens next.
The Rev. Bruce Barkhauer is minister for faith and giving for the Center for Faith and Giving for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at email@example.com.
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