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Stewardship vs. Funding the Church -- Part 2

In the early 2000s, president George W. Bush used a particularly apt, catchy phrase in an education policy speech: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Bush was making an argument for higher educational standards across the board, and not just for white, well-off students in “good” schools. I’m not sure what the stewardship version of that phrase would be, but Steve Oelschager’s post reminds me of it. Steve calls congregations out of the stupor of low expectations -- for stewardship, yes, but more broadly for discipleship. Steve argues stewardship leaders should aim for real, ongoing, spiritual growth, and I’m grateful for Steve’s high expectations addressed below. 

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders   

Stewardship vs Funding the Church -- Part 2

Steve Oelschlager

Last week I wrote about the difference between stewardship and funding the church, and how we need a plan for the latter to avoid it being equated with the former by default. I provided an analogy of how a farmer might go about boosting production, including to increase the number of plants; grow better quality, more fruitful plants; and improve harvesting efficiency at the end of the growing season. I then explored the first opportunity. I claimed for the church to see growth (more plants), it needs to help people realize here and now that following Jesus in a community of faith is about abundant life, and the life that truly is life.

Beyond plant quantity, modern farming increases production by helping each plant to “bear more fruit.” Farmers can significantly boost overall output through optimum hydration, nourishment, cultivation, and pruning. In the church, faith formation and discipleship are the analogous processes that move a follower of Jesus to yield more, from say 30 to 60 and then to 100 fold and beyond.

One way to envision this progression is the movement of a person from no engagement, to acting for the first time, to regular involvement, to behaving as a tither, and ultimately growing even further in generosity. A different way to think of this succession is for a person to mature from roles as an observer to a participant, then to a partner, to a leader, and then to something like a developer.

If your congregation is typical, around 20 percent of the members do 80 percent of the giving (or serving), and higher-yielding, older plants are not being replenished by younger generations. Is it safe to say that all we do as a church is dependent on keeping the pipeline of emerging disciples full? Isn't our institutional wellbeing fundamentally a function of how well we move people from spiritual infancy to adolescence and, eventually, maturity? How do we have a greater sense of urgency around more effective ways to grow?

The last way a farmer can produce more is to increase harvesting efficiency. Again, all other things being equal, bringing in 90 instead of 80 percent of what is grown means boosting total output. With more than one million non-profits in North America today, the harvesting environment is competitive as every organization understands that constituent support makes mission possible. We need to have an awareness of and curiosity about prevailing practices. How well we teach, inspire, ask, and thank our supporters is critical, and so are the convenient tools we provide to facilitate giving.

I believe that God’s calling to be co-creators of God’s Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven,” is the pathway to meaning and purpose and abundant life. It is a way of life that helps us to understand the significance of our being not as an end in itself, but instead as a conduit of the love, grace, mercy, and blessing that God dispenses through us. I'm grateful to the church for helping me form this understanding of stewardship. I hope that my farming analogy might be useful to you and your ministry as you think about the opportunities to better fund God's mission through the church.

For More Information

Steve Oelschlager is the stewardship program coordinator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as the director of engagement and generosity for Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Libertyville, Illinois. He has spent more than 20 years as an entrepreneur offering consulting and marketing communications services, and his whole life as a layperson and leader in the Lutheran church. He is energized by ideas about life, faith, religion and money, and hopes to be a teacher and leader of life-giving change through his work.

Join us on July 25-27 for three days of conversation and exploration at Rethinking Stewardship: From Solemn Obligation to Inspired Choice. More information here.

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

"Moldova_field" image by michieru. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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