Lead by example to elevate the discourse of stewardship

Giving to the church is a mindset and worldview that should be fully communicated by leadership.

By Doug Turner

There is a perception that we use the word “stewardship” only to create an end-around to raise funds for the church. Unfortunately, perception can become reality. While it is a fact of life that the church needs financial resources to make ends meet, we do a disservice to the beautiful reality of a God-given gift when we reduce stewardship to a fundraising gimmick.

Stewardship is an acknowledgement to live enlightened to and by the grace of God. It is certainly more relational in nature than functional. Stewardship is grasping, seeing, understanding and clinging to profound invisible realities that guide my life; shame on us if we only make it about paying the bills.

Stewardship is not simply a checklist activity of giving 10 percent of our income. Stewardship is a mindset and a worldview; it is the prism that shapes how I see and understand the Christian life. In the truest sense of the word stewardship is about living transcendent.

Elevate to true understanding

A pastor recently told me that he has decided to abandon the word “stewardship” entirely because it is so tainted. I think that is an unfortunate mistake. If church leaders don’t elevate the discourse to a true understanding of the concept, who will? In reality, stewardship is about the joy of giving one’s whole self. Ironically, secular culture is helping the church to reclaim a holistic view of stewardship.

Particularly in regards to the environment, the idea of stewardship is being used to express the importance of caring for and even improving the environment. In the same way, biblical stewardship is about caring for and improving the lives of others as we offer ourselves to Christ.

While stewardship does call Christians to give money, it also involves the giving of time and talent to the church. Only by giving our whole lives to God can Christians become the true stewards that he intended for us to be.

Reframe the definition of stewardship

In order to create a culture of stewardship within your church you must reframe the definition of stewardship. This requires more than simply talking about stewardship during a Sunday morning message. Church must become as much about serving as about believing.

Church members will learn by putting the stewardship principles of time, talent and treasure into action. Leaders should encourage them to plug in and create opportunities for them to test the ministry options the church provides. Some may be able to give more than others but if every member was giving even just a little, your ministry would be overflowing and needs would be met.

Bill Hybels, lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Barrington, IL, uses the phrase “speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Good leaders lead by example. From Jesus to Paul, the challenge wasn’t to simply do as I say but as I do.

Don’t be defined as a position

I think one of the greatest hindrances of pastors to lead by example is to be defined as a position, not as a person. Pastors cannot lead by example if the role is a CEO of the ministry only and not a servant leader. We have created ministry caricatures that do not resemble real people. Maybe it is time to stop feeding the caricature.

Troy Gramling, senior pastor of Flamingo Road Church, Cooper City, FL, just finished an interesting experiment. In what he called “My Naked Pastor” (don’t worry, he wasn’t being literal) his congregation was invited in to see how he managed his life, 24/7.

Taking a page from reality television he had a camera follow him around for a period of time to see how he interacted with family and friends. He was willing to be vulnerable, perhaps revealing times when he might not be patient with his children or less than civil with a waiter. Personal stewardship is a lifestyle that spills over into all areas of your life, including but not restricted to, your professional identity.

Stewardship cultures are clearly asking leaders to lead in this area as they do in every other spiritual discipline. Find ways to demonstrate stewardship that will inspire and motivate others to give. As in any organization, finding the initiators/early adopters in your congregation will give a sense of momentum for the rest of the body regarding stewardship initiatives.

Ministry action plans

Stewardship expectations should be managed using a planning system, much like a well-written business plan. We refer to this as a ministry action plan or MAP. Ministry action plans are effective and often used in the primary stages of development because they contain a clear set of directions on how to reach certain goals and why those goals are necessary for the organization to accomplish. This planning process will answer the why and what questions. Plans are not a legalistic strait-jacket; plans can act as a compass for the churches on their stewardship journey. To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”

There are challenges and frustrations that come with leading a church. Often, you are expected to lead with limited resources. Sometimes resources are not necessarily lacking but instead people don’t always know how their giving impacts others. Frankly, are you communicating the effectiveness of your ministry so that your members understand the return on their giving investment? Often what seems like scarcity is simply people not understanding how their giving will impact the lives of others.

When it comes to creating a stewardship culture, communication is vital. In the area of stewardship, communication is most effective when it is understood in the context of vision and not simply grasped as a household chore.

An atmosphere of conversation

Also the environment for communication tends to be driven by presentation formulas, such as one-way communication with someone in leadership telling the congregation to give. Stewardship will more likely thrive in an atmosphere of conversation rather than presentation. Create opportunities for people to process information by asking the tough questions necessary for them to commit deeply to the vision. Generosity does not grow in an atmosphere of presumption.

Time can be one of the most valuable resources a church member can offer. Different from all our other resources, time levels the playing field for everyone. We all have the exact same amount of time; 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Time can be one of the hardest things for people to offer. When asking for volunteers, make sure to communicate the type of task and the time commitment required.

Finally, information breeds confidence in the area of finances. Churches often struggle because redundancy is not part of their communication strategy. In other words, communicating an update on the ministry requires so much more than one announcement or newsletter article.

It’s about life change

Be intentional about over communicating your financial health. Make access to information easy for those seeking it and creatively communicate in every venue you can. Worship services, small groups, printed material and Web sites are all opportunities for stewardship clarity, particularly if you have made this more about life change than about money.

Celebrate not only the final end-goal but also the little steps along the way. One of the easiest steps in developing a stewardship culture is to simply say “thank you” as sincerely and often as you can. Look for opportunities to thank people for giving of themselves first and then of their resources.

Stewardship is essentially about connecting with God in a relationship, but it is also crucial to connect the body of Christ to your unique vision. In my experience, few things in the life of a church will unite people around a common future like grappling with the true meaning of stewardship.

Doug Turner is president of RSI, Dallas, TX, a stewardship consulting group, and a former senior pastor. RSI has worked with more than 17,000 large and small congregations nationwide to raise more than $8 billion through capital campaigns. [rsi.viscern.com]

This is your life: time, talent and treasure

RSI has developed “REVEALED: The Life You’ve Only Imagined,” a 30-day, church-wide stewardship study of time, talent and treasure, which emphasizes accountability through small groups to unite the entire congregation. Church Executive spoke with Doug Turner, president of RSI, about the new program and how it can help churches.

Why was REVEALED developed?

We wanted to do something that really went deeper to address what the culture of stewardship is that churches need to wrestle with. So from our vantage point that’s not just about money, it’s about time, talent and lifestyle. Stewardship is about people wrestling with hard issues and identifying issues. People need to view what God wants them to do with their lives and that can’t be reduced to better budget planning and line items.

How is REVEALED an extension of stewardship programs?

I was convinced that we needed to grapple with the idea of a better application of stewardship than just the one shot kind of approach to a capital campaign. Capital campaigns are still a great way to energize people around what God’s called your church to do in a very unique environment.

I was convinced though that we needed to help churches deal with a broader issue of stewardship and whereas we work with anywhere from 450 to 500 churches a year doing capital campaigns, there’re 300,000 churches who might need to deal with stewardship and so that’s a broader audience for us to impact.

Up to this point what has been wrong with the approach to stewardship by churches?

It’s hard to say there’s something wrong for the church across the board. Some churches do a very good job with stewardship; they talk about it, they weave it into the normal conversation of their ministry life.

I think the biggest problem churches have with stewardship is that it’s nonexistent in conversations and they don’t deal with it. The second issue is the problem that it becomes a buzzword for money and that feels at some level like a means to an end. We talk about it because we need money. What REVEALED will do is to remove this out of a budget cost. Move it out of a fundraising gimmick and more into a sense that this is about a lifestyle before God. This isn’t an activity that I do; it’s wrapped up in the identity of who I am.

What would it look like if a family of four wanted to implement this?

It could definitely be done; it’s probably not designed to just be a family approach by a family in isolation. If a family decided that as the church went through REVEALED they were going to do a family devotional around it as well, it would enhance the experience tremendously. I could see with my family that we would sit down and talk about some of the issues that would come out of this.

How would you do this program in your family?

For us it would be about helping them look at the cultural cues that they wrestle with all the time. Not just to slap down the culture, but help them start thinking about how they integrated the Gospel in the midst of their culture.

REVEALED will not take somebody who has a lot of money and shame them into giving money away. I think it’s an issue of understanding how do you wrestle with material things in the midst of the spiritual realities of the Gospel. That’s the conversation I would have with my kids.  — RK


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