Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2003

Preaching Stewardship

Preaching stewardship can be a joyful experience for both the preacher and the congregation. Just ask Gary Langness, '68. A  retired pastor since 2002, Langness continues to share his passion for stewardship. He serves on Luther Seminary's Stewardship Council and is a frequent contributor to the Stewardship for the 21st Century Web site.

For Langness, preaching stewardship happens year round, is a joy-filled process, and begins even before the pastor steps foot in the pulpit. Here, he shares some basic principles. But first, he lays the ground rules.

First and foremost, provide pastoral care.

To begin with, it's not just about preaching stewardship, says Langness.

"I always start with a personal philosophy of pastoral care, which is at the heart of preaching," he explains.

"Preaching stewardship begins in the hospital rooms, in homes, in caring for people in crisis. It's how you earn the right to be their pastor and preacher.

"So when I got in the pulpit, people listened because they knew I cared about them. If you have a pastor's heart, they will listen. If you are there when people are broken and hurting, they will connect with what you say in a real way. This is the basic premise to start from: first and foremost, provide pastoral care.

It's God's, not ours

Hand-in-hand with pastoral care, Langness believes in a basic theological premise: God is the owner, we are the stewards. "If we believe this, then we understand that we have an obligation to preach about stewardship," he says. "We have an opportunity to help folks grow and learn the joy of being a generous giver. And we have the privilege to ask. To understand stewardship from what Christ has done for us--why not give out of a grateful response?"

Steps to Preaching Stewardship

Begin with prayer. Before penning a single word, or clicking one key, pray for insight and understanding into the Scriptures. Pray for an open heart and an open mind.

Preach stewardship often. When do you preach on stewardship? At the very least whenever the texts appear in the lectionary. Some of the most meaningful times to preach on stewardship are when you are not in the middle of a stewardship program. Those who are reluctant to hear about stewardship during a fall program may well listen with different ears at
other times, says Langness. "Certainly you will preach about stewardship during the stewardship program and when you do, speak about the mission and ministry of your congregation and not about the budget. Focus on outreach. A preacher's task is to help create a bigger vision of the world in which we live; to make people understand that being generous makes a difference in the world."

Use the Bible. Looking at the biblical texts,Langness always tries to understand what it is trying to tell us and what the writer or Jesus had in mind. "Why is Jesus telling this story? What happened? Paint a picture for your congregation that fleshes out the story. You've got to have fun with this!"

Use illustrations. Look for ways to help people see how stewardship relates to the congregation, as people of God. Langness has found compelling illustrations in copies of Golf Digest, Dear Abby, and always through the stories of those who have taught him along the way. Help people understand by telling your own stewardship story. Perhaps you think your story is not very interesting, or, maybe it's a shaky one, maybe you don't like the story, says Langness, but it will have an impact, and people will listen.

Don't make excuses for people not to give. In your preaching do not make excuses for people, they have enough of their own, Langness likes to say. "I know it's been a difficult year..." is not a good way to begin a sermon! "Understand that some people are never happy about giving and some may even tell you not to talk about giving. You must tell them it is part of the gospel story and to leave it out would be unfaithful and would do a great disservice to God and to them as people."

Always invite others to give. In addition to speaking to the text for the day Langness has always asked or invited others to speak to the joy of giving and the need of the giver to give. From the very first book of the Bible, the image of God is one of an abundant, lavish giver. If we were created in God's own image, then to deny that, we're not allowing ourselves to be what God has created us to be, Langness says. "Think about people in your life. Joyful, happy people are generous people, generally. Misers aren't joyful. They don't know the freedom of 'Hey, it's not mine, I can give this stuff away!' It is a privilege as pastors to invite people to give." And make it personal. Langness would usually state something like, "Carol (his spouse) and I invite you to join us in learning and growing in our stewardship."

Encourage people to share their many talents. "They do not need to be the best at something. There would only be one of everything if there can only be one best. It's about being the best that they can be to their own ability," says Langness.

Say thank you! Don't shame people into giving. Preaching stewardship should never be about scolding or laying the blame, Langness exhorts. "Always say thank you, for what they have done, what they are doing, and for what they will do in the future as they grow toward becoming a generous and joyful giver." But always couch this within the climate of the congregation, he adds, in order to set a positive tone for people to hear the stewardship sermons with willing ears and open hearts.