Stewardship! O Stewardship!

Like every other organization that relies on the generosity of others, the church I serve is struggling during these economic times. We are not alone in this reality — but sometimes we act like it. Earlier this week, I sat down with the Senior Pastor and the Moderator to talk turkey. The Church Council entrusted the three of us to come up with a plan. In our discussion, I shared my heartfelt concern that The Church has not figured out how to talk about stewardship as an act of discipleship. (Hat tip to the Lewis Fellows.) This turned into a big part of our conversation. We talked about how uncomfortable we are to talk about money. Obviously, that means we avoid it — which results in panic when there is a large gap in the budget or (for example) the economy tanks twice. With every disaster, there is a silver lining. The economy might not yet have recovered but this is when we get to talk about stewardship as an act of discipleship.

We three wise people decided that we needed to start with the Church Council itself. There will be a committee (the second of its kind actually) that will look more in depth into our financial future, but we have to start with the governing body of the church. We have to pay attention to the fact that this is an act of faith — which means that this isn’t a conversation only for those people that know something about numbers. This is a conversation for everyone that seeks to have a life of faith. So, I volunteered to lead this first exercise at our Church Council meeting. The intention of this exercise is to invite the church leaders to consider their own feelings about giving. I offer it here in the hope that it will be improved upon and shared. If you use it, or if you have suggestions, please add your comments.

Total time: 25 minutes

Introduction (2 minutes)
With an offering basket in hand, begin by addressing the Church Council in this way:
Imagine yourself in worship. A minister — whose salary depends upon your financial support — offers an initiation to give your gifts, your tithes and your offerings. The music swells…

Turn on recording of organ music from CD player and continue:

And the basket is passed among the worshipping community. Tonight, as you imagine yourself in worship, I invite you to pay attention to how you feel as the basket is passed.

Place an offering envelope in the basket from your pocket and pass the basket to the first person who continues to pass the basket around the table. When the basket goes around the table and returns to you, turn off the music.

Reflecting (10 minutes)
Having shared in this experience, what did you notice? How did you feel?
With these two questions, invite members of the Church Council to respond about how they felt. Urge them to stick to feeling words. You may also want to have a copy of this familiar poster of feeling words for those few people that don’t know how to talk about their feelings. Record all of these feelings on newsprint or a blackboard.

I fully anticipate someone indicating that they felt they had to put something in the basket because that’s just what we do. This is when you move to the next step.

Expanding (8 minutes)
Imagine you didn’t grow up in the church. Imagine this is the first time you’ve been to church in a really long time. Maybe this is even the first time you’ve been to church. The minister never said anything about how this money was being used. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So, how might you feel as this first time worshiper?

Record these feelings on the same newsprint or a blackboard in a different color.

Concluding (5 minutes)
As you look at this list of feelings, what do you believe God feels about giving?

Circle those words that are of God.

The objective of this exercise is to delve into those feelings. From this exercise, we will actually build on this conversation by asking the question: What do you feel are the barriers for giving? This exercise is designed to answer that question organically. And, of course, it’s only the beginning. At the next Church Council meeting, I’ll lead an exercise on asset mapping so that we can celebrate what we do have. It will be a slow process but it’s these small steps (and the grace of time in-between to absorb these experiences) that allow us to grow in faith.

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