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What does the Reformation have to do with Stewardship?

I don’t know about you, but I rarely venture far without my smartphone. A few weeks back, I stopped to think how much I appreciated the power, capabilities, and battery life of the tiny device. It helps me connect to people, to find new locations, and even donate electronically. All was well, until Apple announced that an even better iPhone was on the way. As soon as I saw the new phone, my old one seemed, well, old. It’s the exact same phone, but it feels different. (Plus, it may be my imagination, but the battery life isn’t so great any more.)

Today’s article is on change -- stewardship change, new and old. Many thanks to Lisa Ahlness for sharing her wisdom, including a handy resource from the field.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders


What does the Reformation have to do with Stewardship?

Lisa Ahlness

As we near the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses, it seems around every corner lies an opportunity to relearn the creeds, reacquaint ourselves with our faith, and refresh our memories about the Reformation -- what it was all about and what it has to do with us all these years later.

In the midst of the Reformation Day observations this year and the glimpses of the many and glorious 500th commemorations to come, I’ve been considering connections between Reformation and stewardship. A Reformation motto came to mind: Semper Reformanda. Always reforming. The Church is always being reformed. It is changing with the times, of course, but is also being reformed in the sense of always being called to what Martin Luther and others saw as the bedrock that was being ignored in their time: Scripture alone. Faith alone. Grace alone.

This noted, I know many congregations whose the approach to stewardship hasn’t been reformed, well, for a very long time. Stewardship letters often haven’t been updated in years. Teaching about stewardship (whatever that means in a particular context) often hasn’t changed much either.

In a greeting I gave at a Reformation celebration this year, I began by asking, “So, has anything changed around here in the last 499 years?” One person in the front row loudly said, to much laughter, “No!”

What to Change?

Sometimes change for the sake of change doesn’t work. For example: we decide to use a pre-packaged stewardship program that will surely solve all our giving doldrums, but we don’t engage as many people as it calls for in the structure of the program. Then we are discouraged when it falls flat. 

Or it is decided that we will consecrate our pledge cards on a certain Stewardship Sunday. But since pledge cards have never been used in the church before (not to mention we’re not very clear what “consecrate” actually means), growing suspicion leads to a weak return of cards.

Suspicion was a key factor for one of my colleagues as he contemplated how to talk about stewardship in a parish where there was great distrust of even the word. It meant “talking about money” in this parish, and there was such a taboo around talking about money that stewardship efforts were stymied.

So, Pastor Steve Olson decided to try a fall stewardship emphasis using completely different language and a new approach.

One Sunday, he talked about some of the marks of our faith: worship, Scripture reading, prayer, generosity, service, and mentoring someone in the faith. He handed out cards for members to post on the fridge, or their mirror, or wherever they would see it regularly. The card was a place to fill in their personal plan of what they would like to do in prayer and worship, in service, and in financial giving. It was not to be turned in to the congregation; it was for their personal use alone.

The next Sunday, he talked about rededicating ourselves to God and to our faith. Another card was available that simply had a prayer of rededication on it. These cards were not signed or personalized in any way. They simply contained the prayer. Those who desired were invited to place them in the offering plates or bring them forward to the altar.

As he reflected on this experiment, Pastor Steve said that the approach was received very well, people were engaged, and that many of the cards were returned. It is not a way to get financial estimates by which to plan a budget, but if deepening one’s faith and reforming stewardship are your aim, I commend his approach to you. See Pastor Steve Olson’s description of the plan and copies of the two cards here.

More Information

Pastor Lisa Ahlness serves as Assistant to the Bishop for Stewardship, Western North Dakota Synod, ELCA.

Pastor Steve Olson serves as interim pastor of Grace Lutheran, McClusky and Peace Lutheran Goodrich in ND.

Upcoming Stewardship Event:

December 14: Wisdom from the Field: Digital Churches + Online Giving Webinar from The Center for the Ministry of Teaching. 

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

"Luther's 95 Theses" image by Keren Tan. Creative Commons image via Flickr.

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