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"They Don't Know What They Don't Know"

Assumptions do not serve the church well. I once filled-in as a guest preacher in a congregation, and after the children’s sermon indicated to the kids that they could go back to their pews. But they wouldn’t budge. So, I walked back up to the pulpit. When I got there, I looked down, and the kids were still sitting up front. Nobody told me I had to say a special prayer, and have the children respond in their traditional way, before it would be understood that the children’s sermon had actually ended.

This week, Pastor Hans Dahl considers what we might wrongly assume about stewardship. Especially for longtime readers of this newsletter, it’s a helpful reminder that, indeed, we “don’t know what we don’t know.”

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

"They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know”

Hans Dahl

When I was a kid, around Thanksgiving our family’s copy of the big old J.C. Penney catalog would arrive. As soon as I got my hands on that catalog, I’d start perusing the pages, making note of the items I hoped would find their way under our Christmas tree. One year, I remember coming across the bikes in that catalog, and there I found the gift of all gifts: a Schwinn dirt bike. All tricked out with hand breaks, trick posts, and handlebars that could rotate 360 degrees. This was a sweet bike and a huge improvement from the hand-me-down girl’s bike with the banana seat I had.

As Christmas approached, I remember writing a letter to Santa. I told him exactly what I wanted: I wanted that bike. I told Santa all about it and how great a kid I had been that year. I remember thinking: I’ve got this one in the bag. Santa’s got my back.

Come Christmas morning, I remember just like it was yesterday running downstairs knowing -- knowing for certain -- there would be a bike for me under the tree. But, guess what? No bike. No bike!? I was distraught. How could this be!? I’d written to Santa. He knew. What happened?

There was a problem, you see. As a late bloomer who still believed in Santa, I neglected something: I neglected to share my Christmas wish with my parents. True story. I believed in my heart of hearts that Santa would take care of me. Years later I remember crabbing to my parents about the “year I didn’t get a bike.” And, I remember their response: “What? You wanted a bike? We had no idea.”

Plain and simple: They “didn’t know what they didn’t know.”

I believe the greatest issue in stewardship today is that the good people in our pews “don’t know what they don’t know.” A generation ago, Douglas John Hall put it this way in his book The Steward: “It can no longer be assumed that generation after generation will be eased into our churches by the sheer force of social convention.” People aren’t just going to come. They’re not just going to know.

In our preparations to be pastors we were taught to expect certain things of our congregations -- and much of it just isn’t true. We were taught that every member would find an adult forum about Martin Luther riveting. Everyone would know who Dietrich Bonheoffer is. All would be able to find the book of Luke in the Bible. But, folks, you know none of this is true. When we’re honest, our people “don’t know what they don’t know.”

And the same goes for stewardship. So here’s my question to you: What assumptions do you make about your congregation’s understanding of stewardship? I bet you have members who think the costs of your ministry are underwritten by some greater church body, while others have no clue how much they should give and they would actually welcome your help figuring that out. Few know what a tithe is. Many are confused about all the funds listed on your offering envelopes. Most wonder why you don’t have automatic or online giving. And, when you use the word “stewardship,” I’ll bet a whole lot of your people have no idea what you’re talking about. They “don’t know what they don’t know.”

What assumptions do you make about your congregation’s understanding of stewardship?

Go easy on your people. Remember,“They don’t know what they don’t know.” Just love them and then start talking faithfully about money. Jesus talked about money a lot. Maybe that’s a sign that we should too.

Thank you for all you do!

Next week Hans explores Three Thoughts on Stewardship.

More Information

Hans Dahl serves as the Lead Pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria, MN.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Bicycle" image by Michael. Creative Commons licensing on Flickr.

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