Stewardship in the midst of congregational transitions

I have started receiving a number of questions about stewardship and leadership in congregations. I respond to these questions directly and individually, but given that some of them seem to come frequently and from different places, it seems that it might be worthwhile to share that wisdom on the blog. So with these questions in mind, I am going to experiment with a weekly post entitled, “Dear Deacon…” I might change it to “Dear Stewardship Guy….” but for now, we’ll try the first one. To get us started, here’s a question I received in advance of a recent stewardship event in Nebraska. 

Dear Deacon,
Our congregation is in the midst of a time of transition. Our long time pastor recently retired, and we are currently being led by a transition or interim pastor. I’m wondering, how can we best work on and develop stewardship related ministries during our current time in the life of the congregation? 
Thank you for your insights! 
Council President

Dear Council President,
Thank you for your question, and for your service in leadership in your congregation. First of all, working on stewardship in the midst of transition is possible. I wouldn’t recommend necessarily trying to do everything and anything, but I think there would be value in considering a few points. These points are particularly useful to consider with the help of a trained transition or interim minister, as they will help clarify the mission, vision, and values of the congregation and how the congregation sees itself as part of God’s mission and work in the world.

In terms of stewardship, I would focus on the following three areas:

1. Story

An essential part of stewardship ministry is telling the story. Obviously, it starts with telling God’s story- a story of creation, promise, purpose, death, life, and resurrection. But this story, God’s story, is also an on-going story which we are all a part of, at least in some small way as Children of God, and God’s people called, gathered together, and sent.

Telling this story is essential. But to articulate this story can take some time, reflection, and discernment. Some helpful questions to consider:

  • Who are we?
  • Why do we exist?
  • What has God done for us?
  • What have we done together as God’s people, and a part of God’s work?
  • What might God be up to now?
  • What are we currently doing?
  • And what might God be calling us to be a part of next?
Take a look at this picture. What might the things in this picture say about the story of this particular congregation? Some ideas: Red for Reformation, and gratitude for God in the Holy Spirit’s constant presence, promise and challenge. Signs of thanksgiving and harvest at the base of the altar for gratitude of God’s creation and abundance. School supply bags about to be blessed and sent with Lutheran World Relief to those in need of supplies around the world. The cross, baptismal font, and meal on the altar. Signs and sacraments of God’s love and promises.

There are many more questions that could be (and probably should be) reflected upon. Questions like this though help to surface the story. In so doing, you start to more deeply recognize what God might be up to in, among, and around the life of the congregation. This recognition will help paint a picture of the on-going story of God that the congregation is a part of. This story then, serves as the narrative for stewardship. One might say, “By being a part of this community, we have seen and experienced lives changed through God’s love through ______________.”  That sort of a story is one that people are excited to be a part of, and want to be a part of it.

If this story can be surfaced and shared as a communal activity amid a transition or interim process, it also makes the story about the life of the whole congregation and not one person. This is especially helpful in overcoming a common tendency to make ministry something that revolves around a pastor, when in reality ministry involves the work and call of all the people of God. If needing a team to help facilitate this process of developing or articulating the story, that could be developed and facilitated by a church council as a whole, a stewardship team or committee, or a special group or task force formed to especially focus just on the story of the congregation.

2. Thank You

How are people thanked in your congregation? What is the strategy for saying thank you to people who share their gifts in many and various ways, and often quietly through service behind the scenes?

One of the things that congregations take most for granted is saying thank you. It’s pretty clear in the scriptures that a hope for us at the heart of our relationship with God, is a sense of gratitude. I trust we say thank you to God weekly in worship, and I hope for each individual Child of God it’s at least a daily occurrence. But how might we say thank you to one another, and those in our larger community? (For some more gratitude tips, check out this starting list.)

Thinking about and establishing a gratitude or thank you policy or strategy could be a wonderful thing to focus on especially in the midst of a time of transition. That way it becomes something that is a part of the DNA and culture of the congregation, regardless of who the pastor, deacon, or leader of the congregation might be.

3. Inviting to be a Part of It

Friend and stewardship expert Chick Lane wrote the book Ask, Thank, Tell. It’s probably clear by now some of these principles are shaping this response to your question about stewardship in the midst of transition. But one other particular point of emphasis comes to mind.

In stewardship, we tell the story and thank people for being a part of God’s work. We also ask or invite them to consider and join in this work. Usually this is directed for any member of the community, but in the midst of a time of pastoral transition and change, this invitation or call could be a part of an invitation to a potential new pastor, deacon, or leader to be a part of your faith community, accompanying it in doing God’s work.

If you are clear on the story of how God is at work, and how you might be being called to be a part of God’s work today; if you know how to give thanks and praise; you might be that much clearer about what your hopes, dreams, and needs are for someone to come alongside and accompany as a minister with you in God’s work. And when you are clear about this, an invitation might be all the much stronger to come and see, and be a part of it. Many a good leader and servant would be excited to see such a story and to be invited to be a part of it. 

For my two cents, if you are working on these pieces, you are probably having a very effective time of transition and change in your faith community. And to answer the other underlying question, most certainly yes, stewardship can be worked on and grown during this time in the life of the congregation. In some ways, perhaps it might be a time of truly growing spiritually as disciples and stewards of God’s love, and becoming clearer about what that might mean for each member of the community, and the whole congregation.

Thank you for the question, and for your ministry and leadership.
Your partner in ministry,

p.s.- Transition or interim times are also important times for establishing or re-establishing stewardship best practices in your congregation. (Like always having at least two people count and handle the offering.) For a list of some more best practices check out this resource.

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