Rev. Terry Oliver, ABCNW Stewardship Consultant and Pastor of New Community Church in Union, WA
National studies of financial giving patterns of congregations report that churches which conduct an annual stewardship education and commitment emphasis receive about twice as much of the percentage of per capita giving of its members as those which don’t. However, not many congregations have continued to use this practice, except under special circumstances like a building program, or in situations of dire need.
We’ve all groaned under the old paradigm of church stewardship programs rolled out each year from the “home office” designed to shore up the budgetary needs of our congregations. However, “Scribes of the Kingdom,” Jesus said, “know how to take out of their storehouse things both old and new!” (Matt.13:52) In other words, doing an old thing in a new way is a grace for those of us who would be “growing healthy, mission-focused churches that multiply disciples and churches”! Let’s face it…people don’t become disciples by hearing a sermon, and neither do disciples become faithful stewards merely by hearing a message. Growing cultures of generosity in our congregations requires a well-balanced emphasis of teaching, small group sharing, mentoring, personal witness, and invitation. When done in a gracious way, well balanced stewardship education encourages people to take steps of faith in shaping their use of finances around their commitment to Jesus Christ!
As Tom Bandy has pointed out, the vision, values, beliefs, and mission that shape our practices make all the difference in the world. This is especially true of stewardship education. Old paradigm patterns often followed an unarticulated but driving vision focus on the needs of the “club”, i.e., the church. The values were to maintain a balanced budget, believing that every member ought to do their part, so that the programs of the church could be maintained. It’s no wonder that folks came to dread these approaches, for while they had some success, there was often a lot of guilt, shame, and negativity accompanying it.
In contrast, I believe that new paradigm approaches to stewardship growth have a vision focus on the needs of believers and even unbelievers, rather than the needs of the church. The values accompanying this vision are then shaped around the issues of spiritual growth and financial freedom for our people. The new question then becomes, “What do our people need to help them frame their lives around the call of Jesus Christ, and thereby, experience the joys of contentment and generosity in their finances?”
The bedrock beliefs supporting this approach are thoroughly Biblical. We teach that not only is God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all, but also the owner of all. (Not necessarily new stuff!) But with that goes a belief in the abundance and sufficiency of God’s provision rather than the mindset of scarcity which grips our culture and churches. The theology of grace and gratitude trump a mindset of legalism, guilt, and even “responsibility”! God loves a “hilarious giver,” said Paul in the oft quoted 2 Cor. 9:7, and talk about giving needs to be light hearted, honest, truthful, and most of all, fun! Yes, tithing is an important Biblical principle, but it is to be shared as LIFE not law, blessing rather than a curse.
The mission of new paradigm stewardship takes our eyes above the needs of the church to the work of Christ in the world. People want to know that their giving counts to change lives in the world Christ has called us to reach. People don’t get too excited about giving to buy toilet paper or keeping the lights on in the church edifice. But when the purpose of our generosity is to join Christ, the Hope of the world, in His work of redemption throughout the world, I believe there will never be a lack of support for the ministries of God’s people through their local congregation.
E. Stanley Jones once said, “God’s work done in God’s ways will always have God’s provision.” I truly believe that we are all about God’s work, and I believe that we can experience God’s abundant provision for our ministry as we seek to do old things, like stewardship education, in a new way that honors God’s activity in our world today. Please email or call me if I can be of help to you in your situation. God is faithful!