A spirituality of stewardship

[Note: a version of this post originally appeared on laurastephensreed.com.]

We're coming to the tail end of the traditional stewardship season, and it's highly possible that your church is sweating pledge numbers that currently fall short of its ministry dreams for 2019. (This is common across congregations - you are not alone! - and even moreso during pastoral transitions.) You might also have a treasurer, bookkeeper, or ministerial staff person anxiously reminding members how much people need to give between today and the New Year's ball drop to end 2018 without a deficit.

Here's the thing: we as individuals and churches will always struggle with money - and our feelings about it - as long as it is only a means to an end: "We've gotta make our budget so that..." It's not a sentiment that will make people whip out their checkbooks and credit cards and smartphones with money transfer apps. But you know what might? "God is calling us to do this exciting thing, and we don't want you to miss out on being part of it!"

This is what renowned minister and author Henri Nouwen called a spirituality of fundraising. He approached the ask not as an unfortunate necessity to be apologized for (a tack that makes so many stewardship sermons cringe-worthy) but as an invitation to others to join in the work to which God has called us. As such, fundraising is relational and community-building, not transactional. For Nouwen, fundraising was a “call to conversion,” an opportunity to re-orient our focus to the world beyond ourselves - to begin to see things as God sees them - as well as to transform our relationship to our own resources. In the process, we partner with God in bringing the reign of God here on earth. In taking this loftier view of fundraising, we are free to make the request out of our sense that we are ministering not just to the people we might serve with the money but also to the givers themselves. To me, that is a compelling message. It is inclusive. It is formational. And it recognizes that those with resources have needs that can be met by relationship, so all parties involved are both giving and receiving.

This is all well and good, but what do stewardship and a spirituality of fundraising have to do with pastoral searches? Often churches regard the time between settled ministers as an opportunity to save money by getting as little external help as possible (e.g., supply preachers or part-time interim clergy). The compilation of the new pastor’s compensation package can trigger debate about how much salary the congregation can afford and how much the incoming pastor actually needs. Both of these tendencies derive from an approach to money based on shrinking the vision to match what we already know about our assets, not from a freedom in God to dream and to invite others into that dream. And both prevent the church from moving toward its next chapter of ministry with enthusiasm and the most motivated leadership.

So as you come to the end of this year and the brink of the next, I encourage you to view stewardship and fundraising as opportunities to grow disciples of Christ and to attract the most qualified and energetic ministerial candidates as we all move together into the future God is compelling us.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash.