What are the attributes of a generous church and how can you build these into your congregation? A guest post by By Dr. Michael Reeves, Director of Strategic Resources at St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Plano, TX
How do we discern “every wind of doctrine” from true theological revelation?
How can the diverse community of faith distinguish passing theological fads from lasting and relevant spiritual insights? Surely, sincerity of conviction should not be the standard. On the other hand, using conditional and tentative language to sow such absolutes seems to be disingenuous at best.
John Wesley suggested that practical theology should be built on scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. So, this is one approaching the subject. And the subject demands attention! Whether it is provoked by the impact of the “great recession” behaviors caused by affluenza, the connection between our faith and our money and time and talents is an ever present, relevant continuing issue.
The explosion of discretionary income in the prosperity of the last fifty years in the United States is unparalleled in history. Unfortunately, this wealth has brought some significant challenges. While discretionary wealth has grown, proportionate giving declined. We have more and give less of it. Corporately, the church has also seen a general decline in giving beyond the fixed expenses of the overhead of “doing church.” Rather than addressing this challenge from a perspective of spiritual and cogent thought, the leaders of the church have most often gravitated to fund raising rather than connecting faith and money. Leadership has most often been characterized by fear rather than Paul’s admonition that we should not have a spirit of fear, power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Another major issue that has had direct negative impact on the culture and shaped the terrain is the emergence of easy credit. The “Great American Dream” has been defined by acquisition and financed by credit. One theologian put it this way: “The two goals of the culture seem to be the pursuit of personal affluence and personal peace.” And within this issue is “the elephant room” – the excessive use of unsecured credit in the form of credit cards to finance a self-indulgent lifestyle. One pastor put way: “we spend money we don’t have to buy stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t know.” The result has been the loss of the joy of salvation to the voluntary enslaving of ourselves and our future to financial bondage. In this reality, what does generosity look like?
How can we divine God’s direction in connecting our faith and our money? Is the best analysis of generosity seen in the church “meeting the budget?” Although a common default mission, no one ought to intentionally express the mission of the church this way. So the purpose of this paper is to begin to consider the attributes of a biblically generous church.
Ten attributes will be addressed but the list is not intended to be comprehensive or complete. Our expressions could always be worded differently different audiences or might include additional attributes depending on the local spiritual community. However, these ten at seem to capture the essence of generosity across many different communities of faith. It will be surprising to some that tithing one of attributes considered. While tithing is generally stated as the goal or standard of giving by many churches and denominations, tithing is seldom confused with generosity. Tithing is also complicated by historical Christian behavior. Tithing has been the exception and not the rule since the time of the early church. A verbalized concept or emotional catharsis about tithing does advance the consideration of what a generous church looks like. So the subject of tithing must wait for consideration by others
1. Biblical stewardship and generosity are seen as whole life issues (time, talent, and treasure) in a generous church.
Generous church leaders see biblical stewardship as a whole life issue rather than being just about money. The church works to develop skills, experiences, and gifts God has given the lay members. Members are taught about the importance and effective deployment of spiritual gifts. Leadership models generous service in the church and community and encourages members to do the same.
This has to do with ownership and the nature of God. The word Lord is exalted language and indicates authority – complete absolute. One of the first attributes is how the church sees the issue of Lordship. Is God really the creator – owner? Is all that I have, all that we are, all that we hope to be God’s? In the western culture, the issue of ownership is huge. One of the dangers of the holistic perspective is the notion that we need to address all of these subjects as one. However, scripture has definitive passages address each of these issues – not as one, but individually. A great number of churches assert an expectation of participation in holistic terms: Will you support this local church with your prayers, presence, gifts and service? Unfortunately, these variables are often presented as a multiple choice of discipleship. The truth is that biblical stewardship and generosity are relevant in each. He usually the result of theological imbalance when one aspect of Christian life and thought is pressed to the disregard of others Therefore, a biblically generous church holds our time, our God given talents and service, and our earthly treasure in balance which are all important to our maturation as a disciple.
2. The concept of biblical stewardship is woven into the culture and values of the generous church.
Interested visitors would quickly see that biblical stewardship is a core value of the generous church. The Senior Pastor and other church leaders appear to be comfortable teaching and modeling biblical stewardship. Stewardship related information is easily found in various places around the church, including the web site. Giving opportunities are widely promoted in the church. Church leadership should work to ensure the congregation is appropriately connected to the financial state of affairs of the church.
Stewardship is not seen or approached as an adjunctive issue. The old dysfunctional paradigm is that stewardship is at best an issue where appeals are made in some sense of financial need. The annual “lamentation of desperation” is a well used model that is not well integrated into the DNA of the body. The attribute of the generous church is that stewardship is a part of the spiritual formation and values of the church. It is not adjunctive to core values of discipleship – rather, it is a core value of discipleship. The well worn phrase “all they talk about is money” reflects at least two realities. One is that the speaker is not making the comment from a generous heart and second, the church has not effectively woven the message of stewardship into the expression of faith.
3. Stewardship has strong support from a generous church’s leadership.
The Senior Pastor and church leadership clearly and consistently model biblical stewardship and generosity. Stewardship is recognized and distinct ministry within the church. The generous church budgets money needed to achieve the goals of our stewardship ministry. There is concerted prayer support for the stewardship ministry. The various church departments, programs, and/o ministries take the initiative to partner with the stewardship ministry.
One of the issues that must be addressed is the vetting process for identification, recruitment and equipping of leaders. The Pastor or someone designated needs to make sure that leaders are generous in their financial contributions. Because giving cloaked in secrecy, some non-generous members have been appointed to positions of leadership. They often offer no spiritual or faith in matters of stewardship because it is foreign to their current state of spiritual immaturity. This must be an intentional expectation, openly discussed in an appropriate setting. There also needs to be an intentional consideration of spiritual gifts task at hand. For instance, a CPA or banker might well be suited to serve on a financial leadership role, but not be qualified stewardship role of educating, motivating, and equipping. Finally, it is simply foolish to enlist a leader who has inadequate time to give the task at hand. If a person’s work schedule or other obligations preclude participating in an established meeting and tasks, then the person should not be enlisted until those restrictions and expectations change. Strong support from church leaders cannot be achieved without these primary considerations.
4. There is widespread understanding and application of biblical stewardship principles among the congregation.
Generous church leadership works to understand the level of understanding and application of biblical stewardship practices in the congregation and implement strategies to increase both understanding and application. Members are encouraged to grow by taking advantage of resources that would help them grow in their understanding and application of biblical principles of stewardship. Principles biblical stewardship are an integral part of membership and pre-marriage classes.
Evaluative criteria often present a challenge in theological expression. What could be considered widespread understanding application? How is understanding defined and what constitutes understanding. Is the evaluation of widespread application meeting the church budget? What is the field of consideration – formal church membership, adherents, attenders, those who financially? Under application, a subjective issue is seen in the member who speaks of being generous and gives an annual is a very small percentage of income. What is their understanding of generosity? When three people in a church have a sim profession, economic ability, and radically different experiences in generosity – how is understanding and application evaluated.
So, some objective evaluative criteria needs to be established for what widespread, understanding, and application means in context of the culture of a local community of faith. It might be different on the basis of age, gender, family, region, etc. The temptation to use tithing as a universal standard exists as a part of this conversation, but should not be elevated to sole criteria Tithing in the church since the time of Christ has been a very subjective consideration and a minimal experience for the church issue needs to be addressed from a clear statement of expectation with the foundations of those expectation being expressed local church.
5. Giving opportunities and generosity are reflected in the prayer and praise of the church.
Stories of generosity with time, talent, and treasure are shared regularly at church events and worship services. Generous church leadership prays regularly for those in need and prayer needs within and outside the church are shared with the congregation. Stewardship teaching is regularly a part of the worship service.
The visual and spiritual impact of return on investment stories has a place here. The celebration of how the church through stewardship has individually and corporately touched lives is a critically important educational experience. This should not equivalent with the old board placed in the sanctuary that lists offering amounts, or a bulletin insert that gives a dollar assess weekly or monthly reporting. And this should also not be confused as appeals for funding. Instead of an ask, this experience openly raises the level of discourse about the understanding and application of stewardship as an expression of faith.
6. Generous lifestyles are lived throughout the congregation.
Church leaders model biblical stewardship in the use of their time and life gifts. A significant number of the congregation give generously of their time as volunteers in our church. Members of the congregation regularly generate ideas for new service outreach ministries for the church and community. There is an overall attitude of cheerfulness in giving throughout the church. When Paul encourages the Philippians to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ, this attribute is a part of that challenge. dentist uses vacation time to provide mission dental care in an underserved area, or a young person serves in a mission field raising their own financial support, or when a member uses half of their annual vacation to volunteer in vacation bible school observing a generous lifestyle. When the staff and finance committee continue to initiate and fund new ministry ideas and opportunities despite a challenging economy, when a member continues generous giving while experiencing diminishing in when church steps out in faith with a ministry budget, this attribute is again visited. When the casual leadership conversation do more with blessing and abundance than limitation and scarcity, generous lifestyles are seen
7. There is a designated stewardship leader to champion the cause of biblical generosity throughout the church.
The generous church has a staff member or lay volunteer in place and dedicated (i.e., a stewardship leader) to facilitate the stewardship of our church among the staff and congregation. This role has a clearly defined role and responsibilities and the full support senior leadership of the church to do his/her job.
While many in leadership might have a commitment to biblical stewardship, this attribute of a generous church takes the idea to a new level. This is not the finance chair who also has fund raising as a part of the responsibility. This is not just the Senior Pastor who has personal conviction and distinct leadership role. This is a person with both gifts and commitment in the specific area of stewardship. This is also not the youngest leader or least experienced. This is the E F Hutton who has credibility and when they speak, everyone listens.
8. A well developed stewardship strategy with clear success measures is in place in the generous church.
The generous church has a clear, well-articulated stewardship vision that is aligned with the larger vision of the church. There is a clear place to achieve that vision. Programs are in place (teaching, training, communication strategies, etc.) to move closer to the goals. Progress toward becoming a biblically generous church is monitored and discussed on a regular basis and changed when needed. Too often, stewardship is an after thought that comes up on the basis of need or calendar but not from an intentional visionary approach. This limits creativity and diminishes effectiveness. With regard to a stewardship strategy, activities can be used measuring stick. The number of thank you cards sent, the number of lessons developed, financial courses taught, sermons preached all could count in evaluating strategy. But the real evaluative criteria are more difficult and revolve around two basic principles is the increase in the number of those who give of their time, talent, and treasure and the other is how the quality of the giving increased. In the area of finances, the two criteria would be the number of new donors and how the existing donors had cont grow. While the stewardship leader and other leaders can only measure their activity level, it stands to reason that the right combination of activities should result in qualitative analysis as well.
9. Stewardship and biblical generosity are taught as a part of the teaching and training of the church.
The church has a thoughtful strategy to ensure they are presenting good teaching and training regarding biblical stewardship congregation. Church leadership is clear about the stewardship message they want to convey to the membership (i.e., what t them to understand, believe, and do about stewardship). Time is set aside each year to teach/train members on biblical stewardship. Stewardship teaching is available for all age groups (adolescent and adult) in the church.
There is a theological imbalance when we fail to address the sheer quantity of stewardship teachings through the Bible. If w we should teach about believing, everyone would agree – after all there are almost 300 verses that address that subject. The could be said of prayer with almost 400 verses or about love and justice where over 700 verses could be identified. What is of avoiding financial stewardship when there are well over 2,000 verses? Education should not be confused with asking for contributions. Again it has to do with Lordship and relationship. This must be incorporated into a spiritually and theological perspective of discipleship values. When the church only speaks of stewardship at the point of need instead of consistently throughout Christian education, the church has missed the mark of this attribute.
10. Church needs are abundantly met.
The operational and capital budget needs of the church are consistently and well met. The congregation enthusiastically sup growing missions and outreach budget. In times of economic uncertainty and turbulence the church financial needs continue well met. The needs of those who are financially challenged or are in need (poor, widows, single parent families, etc.) within church are met.
The church budget is a variable tool valued differently in different settings. The measure of a church is not whether they “make budget” but whether the expenses of their ministries are well met. To often a chart of accounts line item budget is misused a vehicle of communication for a church member. A narrative budget is more appropriate and effective in seeing stewardship holistically instead of a mathematical tool. When the budgeted needs of the church are well met, it means that funds are ava pay for what God has called us to do. One challenge in this area is hearing the voice of the Lord in capital development. Th experienced when wide awareness and support is found in a church for a project. Too often a small group of leaders have a vision and it is not effectively communicated beyond the small group. Leaders lead, they don’t issue unfunded mandates wi enabling the funding. When David prepared for Solomon to build the Temple, the leaders modeled giving and the people re gave willing with a whole heart. Debt is not a reflection of the lack of faith nor is it forbidden biblically. However, excessive that adversely impacts ministry funding is another example of imbalance.