Remember that old game called “telephone?” You gather with a group in a big circle and you whisper a message to the person beside you, who quietly passes that same message along to the next person and so on. The fun, though, is that by the time the message has come back to the beginning, it’s rarely anywhere close to the same as the one that began. Today’s writer shares a story of a sort of stewardship telephone in his congregation, but it wasn’t a game anyone thought they were playing. As you’ll find out, though, the end is a surprise just the same.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Doing Your Homework
Andrew C. Whaley
I arrived at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia in August of 2016. In calling a pastor in my denomination, a congregation completes a Mission Study to analyze their history and look to their future. The Mission Study for RCPC identified the goal: “God is calling us to vision and utilize a new model for stewardship in our Church.”
Finding the Spark
The church had struggled financially in recent years. In fact, I was told upon arrival that in 2014, they had reduced their annual benevolence budget to $0. There was quite a bit of shame around this decline in mission giving. The church had bought into a self-identity that we were an inward-focused neighborhood church who was more interested in preserving ourselves than participating in the in-breaking Kingdom of God in the world. There was anger about this too. But there was also hope, a call to try a new thing.
Utilizing materials from the Presbyterian Foundation, leaders in this effort sought to steer the conversation away from “stewardship” and toward a theology of “generosity.” Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and as one committee member put it, “I don’t have to explain stewardship to my children. They know generosity when they see it.”
Fresh eyes see things that institutionalized eyes miss. In my first months, I realized that we were a far more generous congregation than we recognized. We took a monthly hunger offering and a different monthly offering to help people with emergency utility assistance. We had $100,000 available annually from our endowment that was required to be used for mission. We put up alternative giving Christmas trees for people to support local ministries and overseas missions.
Our problem was not that we were not a generous congregation. Our problem was we had so many disparate ministries operating within their own arenas, we lacked a collective sense of how much we were doing for the kingdom of God. We were striving to restore 10% of total budget giving to missions as though that was the only generosity we possessed within the congregation. In fact, that number was far greater.
Is it more complex to figure out how generous your congregation is when you utilize all of these different sources for mission giving? Absolutely! But churches are complex bodies of disciples, and church leaders do well to learn the quirks of the body and maximize ministry within that unique scenario. Pastors have a teaching responsibility to help the church see their ministry as the holistic work that occurs throughout the year and not just what’s in the balance sheet each month at the Finance Meeting.
Celebration, Not Pride
We totaled the numbers and discovered our total mission giving for 2016 was over $250,000! Calculating all the monies that came through the church in one form or another for the year, it turns out we gave 25% of our total dollars away. We were, in fact, an incredibly generous congregation seeking to support the work of God in our community and around the world. We had bought into an identity that was a lie, and because we had not looked at the facts, we believed it.
We’ll be celebrating this generosity in the coming weeks, to try and help our people to see the truth of what God is doing among. Some will feel like this is prideful, to share this kind of information congregation-wide. Money is still taboo and intimidating to many, and to others it will feel like we are measuring God’s faithfulness in dollars and cents.
It’s true we do not measure God’s work in financial spreadsheets, but we are called to rejoice and to celebrate the good things of God. We are not celebrating ourselves so much as celebrating the power of God to turn us toward lives of grace and generosity. It just took a little digging to find that it was there.
Andrew Whaley is the Pastor, Head-of-Staff at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia where he and his wife Rebecca and two children bought an eighty-year-old house that has wonderful charm and needs constant repair. Andrew enjoys running, playing golf, sleeping through the night, and cheering for the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
Upcoming Stewardship Education
Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 1-4, 2017. For more information visit: Lake Institute or Lifelong Learning.
Lakeside will present the Generosity and Stewardship Conference on August 6-9, 2017. Major keynote speakers include: The Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith, Executive Pastor of Generosity at Church of the Resurrection, J. Clif Christopher, author and founder of Horizon and Bishop Ivan Abraham, former Presiding Bishop of Methodist Church in Southern Africa. Lakeside Chautauqua is located in Ohio along Lake Erie with a beautiful backdrop of spiritual opportunities, educational lectures, cultural arts performances and recreational activities. www.lakesideohio.com/generosity