As a leader you can embody and encourage prayerful discernment by asking God to bless it.
Generous Prayerful Discernment
"And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21
In the foreword to the Congregational Leaders Series from Augsburg Fortress (Augsburg 2002), one passage describes a peculiar congregational behavior. To paraphrase, "How often do we start a ministry and then ask God to bless it, regardless of whether the ministry was God's idea in the first place?"
Be completely honest as you answer these questions:
At my congregation, how often do we ask God for guidance before we act?
What might be different if we asked for guidance even more than we do?
What mistakes might we have avoided if we asked more questions?
When we look at questions like these they seem very obvious, and it's not much of a leap to start asking, "What does this have to do with stewardship?"
Every congregation wants to grow more generous givers. Generosity, which Galatians 5:22 names as a fruit of the Spirit, almost always requires the involvement of someone other than ourselves. Think about it. It's much easier to develop habits of generosity when we reach out to someone else.
So by asking God to guide our decision-making, we set the stage for not just generous giving, but holistic, whole-life generous living! And God makes this promise: "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7). You may remember that from Sunday school, but do you really rely on that truth?
Imagine the impact on your congregation if every member asked in prayer for God's help to grow in giving. You might pray, "Lord your word guides us to ask, search and knock. Please show me the secrets of being generous in the life of faith. Since that often takes more than one person, bring the right people into my life so that I can be generous to them. Thanks Lord. In Jesus name. Amen."
If every member of your congregation committed to learning to be generous according to God's plan, you might have to re-name the stewardship team. Can you imagine a Generosity Team? Or what about a Munificence Ministry? (Just so you know, munificence means "bestowing: lavishness characterized by great generosity" according to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, 2001 edition.)
But here's the scary part. Not only would every member of your congregation have to pray, but every member would have to listen to what God says as well.
What questions does your congregation ask God during prayer times? If your congregational leaders spend quiet, private time in prayer during meetings, praying for each other, but how could you build on that idea?
That does put a premium on our relationship with God, as "There is a difference between knowing the Lord and knowing things about the Lord."
One crucial piece of information is missing. "Test everything; hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
So how do you test what God is saying to you?
How do you know where God is leading?
Here's the test: Do the things that you feel God is leading you to do happen?
Are your prayers answered?
Prayerful discernment is a change in orientation. Living by faith rather than by sight can be a troubling way to make decisions for congregations that have gotten out of the habit. But it works, and if you need reassurance look at 1 John 5:14: "And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." There's no better reassurance than that.
Stewardship Resources Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.
Salt Writer, March 2004.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.