If you are pastoring a church in need of revitalization, then it is likely that your church has a stewardship issue. Now that is a bold assumption, but it is one I do not make without some experience.
In most cases, these churches have not done well in stewarding the facilities, the finances, or the mission in their community. When you look at it that way, stewardship is a big deal.
Here are six ways you can emphasize stewardship on all levels in the church family and hopefully raise the awareness.
- Model it. Church health rises or falls with the pastor. If you are not giving sacrificially with your finances, if you’re coming in late to the office or misusing church property as your own, then you are in no place to hold the church to a higher standard than you are living. One way I keep myself in check on this front is to remember that I work for Christ. He knows how I am handling the resources of the church. Even if I have an account that is set aside for little benefits, I try to use it in light of what other needs the church has. So this means I typically buy my own books, use my money to buy others’ meals, and drive my own vehicle to far-away trips.
- Teach it. From the beginning, God was intent on us managing His creation well. Stewardship is what we as humans do. We steward the garden, the church, and our families. Showing your church from Scripture that we are glorifying God when we manage our personal and church assets is powerful.
- Rethink what has always been thought. When helping a church in need of revitalization, one of the first things I lead them to do is to look at the budget. I hold to the rule of thumb: “It’s not about income, it’s about expenses.” So I look at every line and ask: Is this something we need to spend money on? Can we get volunteers to do this? Can we find a better contract? Do we still use this stuff the way we first thought? Has technology changed this service? Churches of any size should have enough adults to clean up after themselves. They should have enough adults to care for their facilities. So rethinking the underlying assumptions that are enshrined in a budget is a good way to keep things in check.
- Be transparent. You need a finance degree to read the budget of most churches. Often, budgets include words and abbreviations that almost no one uses. What people really need to know is simply how much money came in and how much was spent. They would like to know what percentage of the budgeted receipts have come in so far this year and what percentage of the budget we have spent. They need to see the bigger picture. I’ve always led churches to produce two budgets. One is simple and easy to read; my 10-year-old can understand it. One is printed out by the accounting software and, to be honest, I don’t even know what it says. We need to be extremely transparent with the finances of the church. It is the church’s money. When the report is not good, tell them and tell them why. When it is great, celebrate! A side note: I don’t put it in the bulletin. Guests don’t need to know that. Each month, we email it to members.
- Challenge them to give toward mission, not just overhead. When we talk stewardship, most people (pastors included) think primarily about finances. And for good reason: the Electric Company does not take warm wishes and prayers as payment. So once I have taught, illustrated, and been transparent, I make no apologies to ask (maybe tell) the church to give sacrificially for the mission and ministry of the church. I think sometimes we are afraid to ask because we feel like we are asking for our own paychecks. In some cases, you may be asking newer church members to pay on debt they had no part in incurring. However, we actually are asking them to give to children hearing the gospel for the first time. We are asking them to give so people might hear the gospel in their own language. We’re asking them to give so churches can be planted and replanted. They’re giving to disaster relief and orphan care. And, when it comes to those things, I have no problem asking people to give.
- Celebrate. This again is one of those things that seem to be odd to talk about, but when a giving goal is reached, let everyone know. When you renegotiate the loan or the electric bill or the copy contract, let everyone know. The church will do what we celebrate. So celebrate stewardship! And not just in finances. Celebrate the way a group of people is caring for the grounds and the way another young volunteer was picking up the trash stuck in the hymnal racks without anyone asking. That is all stewardship, and it is all worship.
Churches can be led to steward the resources (people, energy, money, time) well if they are (1) led in that direction and (2) if the whole of our efforts are seen to be acts of worship. When we put stewardship solely in the realm of money, we miss the motivation of why and the rest of a big, glorious picture.