Random Thoughts on Stewardship

Should a pastor know who pledges?

Have been reading some recent articles presenting the pros and cons of clergy knowing who and how much congregants pledge.  While I didn’t ask for official access to pledge information, I couldn’t help but know in general terms some of the pledging patterns of church members.  Having some access to pledging patterns can provide important information in managing operational budgets.

What I would ask for as a pastor is information on pledges with names redacted so I could review and analyze general pledge patterns spanning a number of years.  Some examples of what I was able to learn:

The highest or top pledge(s) were consistently on the short list of top ten pledges for a number of years.  I could tell from analyzing the list of top ten pledges that these contributions made up almost 60% of the budget.  I could only assume these were probably the most active of members. At the same time, one of these persons I know was a homebound member close to 95 years old who told me what he was giving.  In fact, a number of members chose to visit with me about their pledge.

Another examples:  without knowing what this member was giving, she came to me to share that her pledge would be lowered because of some personal struggles.  She offered to wash windows and clean flowers.  Other church members offered to do some painting to offset what they couldn’t put in the offering plate.  This actually caught on with several members helping with basic custodial and office management responsibilities.

In looking at the numbers with names redacted, I could learn from year to year to year how many pledges were increased and or decreased.  From this information I could glean patterns.  If there were a significant number of lowered pledges the question “why” becomes extremely important!  Increases sent a positive message that members were generally satisfied with how things were going.  It is always important to look at how giving patterns change from year to year.

Always frustrating was the fact that a significant number of pledges were for $25.00 or $52.00.  Some of these low pledges could be coming from children or youth or members on disability or fixed incomes.  Without judgment, I found it appropriate to preach on occasion on the value of tithing or proportional giving.

I also know of a few members who would pledge a certain amount – usually pretty generous.  In looking at the records (with name redacted) I learned that this pledge was rarely paid.  It is important for church leaders to know that some who pledge may never get around to paying what they hope to give.

It is always positive watching pledges grow from year to year i.e. a pledge year one for $520 grow to $624.00 year two to $780.00 year three = a pledge that grows from ten dollars a week to fifteen dollars a week.  This person or persons must be feeling pretty good!

More recently I found it helpful to look at and preach about our “capacities” to give or pledge based on our personal assessment of gifts and blessings  received.   There are many ways to preach positive messages on giving back to God in proportion what God has been so generous to give.

Another topic in this blog of random thoughts — the mechanics of giving.  I am seeing more and more churches relying on electronic, digital giving.  While this takes away from feeling like I am presenting a gift to God on Sunday morning, it is but one way to assure reliable, steady giving.

Finally, a worksheet that was developed to help our church management (finance) team analyze pledge information:

FORM:  2011 Stewardship Report — This report completed each week while pledges are received…

# of Pledges
Pledge Cards Returned
Pledge Cards Still Expected
Pledge Cards Returned Last Year
Pledge Cards Sent Out This Year
New Pledges
Increased Pledges
Decreased Pledges
Unchanged Pledges
Cards Returned With No Pledge
Lost Pledges Due to Death or Transfer
Dollar Amount of Pledges To Date
Estimated Dollar Amount of Pledges Still Expected
Total Anticipated Pledges      ($77,458 – $7,564)
Dollar Amount of New Pledges
Dollar Amount of Increases in Pledges
Dollar Amount of Decreases in Pledges
Dollar Amount of Lost Pledges

Just some random thoughts to blog about…..

 

Making A Difference

I’ve been thinking about this sermon[1] (http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2015/110115.html)  by Shannon Kershner now for a couple of weeks.   It’s still with me!

This was a stewardship sermon delivered from the pulpit of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago – a memorable message that reminds me that my giving to the church really makes a “holy difference” not only in with those who are served by the church but also in my life. I do feel the joy in giving as a holy experience of God presence in my life.

Pastor Kershner asks this important question: “What kind of holy difference does our giving make in us?”   Do we experience God’s “holy presence” through what we give?  Seriously!  Think about the holy things God does through us and the blessings we receive through our giving generously for the benefit of others.

To quote the sermon:

So this week, as you continue to prayerfully consider what you will pledge, give, to this church for God’s work in this world, for the building up of God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s community of love, or as your reconsider what you have already pledged, take into account what kind of a holy difference your gift will or will not make in your life.

[1]   Give, Grow, Become!  Joy and Generosity, Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, November 1, 2015.

Stewards of Global Change–Earth Day 2015

“The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  Psalm 24: 1

The President in his weekly broadcast tells the world, on the eve of Earth Day, “we only have this one world”.   The concerts on the Washington Mall with a quarter million people in attendance project the same message:  THIS IS THE ONLY WORLD ENTRUSTED OUR CARE!    For those of us in the church:  What are our plans as stewards of “everything in the world and all who live in it”?

Remember filmstrips?  It was back in the 70’s I shared with a youth group a filmstrip produced by the Presbyterian Church.  If I recall correctly, the title of this filmstrip was “The Big Blue Marble”.   In my memory as a pastor, this was one of my first attempts to sensitize those around me in the church to become stewards of the world around us.  Stewardship isn’t just about our use of time and talents and money in building up the church.   In specific ways, we are called be activists for this beautiful globe God has entrusted our care.  So my question:  Are we ready to re-commit as advocates in caring for the earth?

I write this blog because I am frustrated.  It is spring and everything is slowly turning green.  I am looking out my study window watching a handful of neighbors working on their lawns.   I am also well aware that many in our world are limited when it comes to a basic resource:  water.  This has become a clear issue for me in watching my 2 year old grandson living in California playing in one inch of water in his little pool.  It’s a given that water cannot be wasted!  He is learning how to dive into a pool of plastic balls instead of a pool of water.  It’s also a mandate that those living in California cut back water usage by 25%.   What have we done (or not done) in caring for thus beautiful earth?

I am also frustrated because this issue of climate change has become a political grenade…being tossed back and forth waiting for the next natural disaster to strike.  With the issue of global warming in the political arena, there can be no winners.  There will always be a “right” and “left” in assessing blame for this crisis.   Is there a place for the church in reconciling some of the differences we find between the “right” and the “left” on the political spectrum?

And then we have the issue of what we teach in our schools?  Who’s at fault for this deterioration of our world’s natural resources?   Are we going to depend on FOX NEWS or MSNBC for our information?   What are we going to hear from our pulpits about this issue?  What twists and turns are we going to hear these next 18 months as the our nation electes a new President?  I have lot’s of questions!

I see very little that is positive emerging from the political arena when it comes to protecting this “Big Blue Marble” for future generations – our children and grandchildren to enjoy.  I am frustrated because the depressing fact remains:  The “Big Blue Marble” is fast drying up and turning brown!   But this doesn’t have to happen!  I still believe there is power to be found within the church — faith communities drawing upon our spiritual resourcefulness in attacking this issue of climate change in caring for this earth.

It is a good thing that the church is recognized earth day on many of their liturgical calendars.  I know this is the case in the Presbyterian Church.  This is the weekend many in the church will be promoting positive change in the use of natural resources—those things we can be doing as stewards of this beautiful earth.

I ran into a good article by Rebecca Barnes titled “Caring for God’s Creation” that talks of a certification process for churches pledging to care for the earth.  This pledge emerging from the 1990 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church says,

God calls us  to cherish, protect and restore the earth, and it focuses on four areas: worship, education, facilities and outreach. It encourages environmental education and public policy that supports environmental protection.  It emphasizes stewardship so that God’s holy creation will be sustainable for all life and future generations.[1]

It’s time to shift conversations about climate change and care for our world away from the politicians and back into the church.  It’s time to look at the care for our world as an issue of stewardship in demonstrating that “people of faith” know the problem and how to solve it….in caring for the holy ground God has entrusted our care.

Some of the eleven suggestions (paraphrased) from the Barnes article for “Earth Care Congregations”:[2]

  1. Celebrate Earth Day in worship
  2. Vacation Bible School programming
  3. Home energy audits
  4. Purchase of fair traded products
  5. Insulation blankets on water heaters and pipes
  6. Thermal shades on windows
  7. Automatic controls an faucets
  8. Recycling
  9. Reusable supplies
  10. Purchases from local vendors
  11. Stewardship of resources with local plantings

I hope and pray that God will enter our hearts as we gazed upon this beautiful world of blessings God has entrusted our care.  I hope and pray that we all find ways to take one or two steps forward in making this a better world in which to live.

May God bless us in these efforts….

 

Two Presbyterian Church Resources:

www.pcusa.org/earth-care-congregations

www.pcusa.org/environment

 

[1] Rebecca Barnes, Presbyterians Today, Vol 105, Issue 2, March 2015, pg. 30)

[2]   Ibid.

Journal: The Joy of Giving

Something inspirational that Nancy and I experienced last Sunday in worship as church members (and non-members) came forward to place our estimates for giving in a basket. This physical movement forward, together with fellow congregants, was visually symbolic of our collective response to God in sharing our blessings for the benefit of the work of the church we all love.

“Estimates of Giving” forms were mailed out the previous week.  The pastor reminded us through a children’s message and sermon of the JOY that comes in returning to God from blessings received.  As the members and friends of the church came down the center aisle with “Estimates of Giving”, I found myself watching and contemplating the importance of sharing our blessings – time and talents and money – with God with every step we take and every breath of air we breathe.  It is a genuine joy to return to God from blessings received.

The symbolism of this physical motion was not lost.

  • We joyfully give to the church so we can participate, together, in worship in giving glory to God.
  • We joyfully give to the church in order to hear and respond to inspirational sermons.
  • We joyfully give so the children and youth can learn more about God and Christ in Church School
  • We joyfully give so that those who are hurting or in need of special help can receive pastoral care.
  • We joyfully give so that people who are less fortunate can partake of many blessings through the mission work of the church.
  • We joyfully give so that the church, as a large family, can enjoy being in fellowship together.

This final thought: A blessing really doesn’t have much value for me and my family unless I can find a way to share it with others.   Giving to the church is an excellent way to share our blessings with others.

In what ways have you found to share your blessings with others through the work of the church?

**  Nancy and I are now worshipping 007at the Second Presbyterian Church of Saginaw, MI. 

“I Wanna Be Rich” by Rev. Jao Cho

 

http://justiceunbound.org/carousel/i-wanna-be-rich/ 

“I Wanna Be Rich”

The Kingdom of God and the Myth of the Americdan Dream

By Rev. Jao Cho, Tampa, Florida. 

I anjoyed this article by Jao Cho from Tampa, Florida. had an impact on me.   We are called within the context of community to be stewards of all God has entrusted our care.  We are called to be stewards of all life.  Rev. Jao Cho says:

Thankfully, through my experience at Church of All Nations, I have learned a new way of understanding what it means to be rich. I have found a treasure that “neither moth nor rust consumes” and that can never be bought or stolen from me. I have discovered the joy living together in intentional Christian community.

Which world do we chose to live?   The profit-driven, individualized, high tech “I want to get rich” world?    Or the God-driven/Christ centered world where we learn to place our resources next to those things God calls us in life to value?   Enjoy this article that comes from a young pastor who os “right on” with what he has to say!

For readers of this blog: Specifically, in what ways are you giving glory to God? I have been thinking about this question. Have I been using what God has entrusted my care? These are questions I have been contemplating after reading what has become my “favorite quote for the week”. Written by N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, and found on FB on April 30th:
“Glory is not simply a kind of luminescence, as though the point of salvation were that we would eventually shine like electric lightbulbs. Glory means, among other things, rule and power and authority; as other writers (notably Saint John the Divine) make clear, part of the point of God’s saving his people is that they are destined not merely to enjoy a relaxing endless vacation in a place called heaven, but that they are designed to be God’s stewards, ruling over the whole creation with healing and restorative justice and love.”

GLORY TO GOD ALONE (updated May 1, 2014)

Glory to God Alone

Stewardship Sermon

October 22, 2013 {updated May 1, 2014}

                                                                                              

 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen.  Romans 11: 36

 Psalm 126

A Harvest of Joy

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,*    we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,    and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations,    ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ 3 The Lord has done great things for us,    and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,    like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5 May those who sow in tears    reap with shouts of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping,    bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,    carrying their sheaves.

 

Ephesians 5: 18b-20

…….18be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 16: 25-27

25Now to God* who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom* be the glory for ever! Amen.*

SERMON

There are pastors who are quite vocal in saying they don’t like to preach “Stewardship”!  I am quite the opposite.  I have always felt such avoidance of this topic of stewardship is paramount to avoiding the gospel.   The gospels speak clearly and often about our returning to God from the abundance of blessings, including life itself, entrusted our care.  

As we celebrate all in life that belongs to God we gather to worship in giving glory to God for everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) God has entrusted our use and our care: 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!   GLORY, ALONE, TO GOD!

Our scriptural grounding for this stewardship season in the church comes from Ephesians 5 verses 18b-20:

…….18be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Give thanks for everything in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We do this each week in gathering together for worship in this sacred place to sing to God:

“Praise God for whom all blessings flow

Praise God all creatures here below;

Praise God above ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

                                              (#592 Hymnal)

Or as another hymn we often sing says:

 “We give thee but Thine own,

What – e’re the gift may be;

All that we have is Thine alone,

A trust O Lord, from Thee

                                                          (#428 Hymnal)

In giving glory to God for blessings received, I will be preaching these next few weeks on what God has entrusted our care and what we return to God with our tithes and offerings.  Today I will be focusing on the traditional categories the church has used for years in thinking about stewardship….

First, our returning to God a portion of the “time” God has given us,

Second, our use of “talents” from God given skills and talents, and

Third, our use of “money”, in returning to God a portion of what has enriched us financially.

Lastly, what do we return to God from what God has placed in our hearts?  The “heart-felt passion” we have for Christ’s Church!

And yes, this is what giving glory to God is all about!  According to biblical scholar N.T. Wright in his book Surpirsed by Scripture: 

 Glory is not simply a kind of luminescence, as though the point of salvation were that we would eventually shine like electric lightbulbs. Glory means, among other things, rule and power and authority; as other writers (notably Saint John the Divine) make clear, part of the point of God’s saving his people is that they are destined not merely to enjoy a relaxing endless vacation in a place called heaven, but that they are designed to be God’s stewards, ruling over the whole creation with healing and restorative justice and love.” FB post 4/30/14

 So in getting started:

 II. Stewardship of Time

 

Stewardship of timeTick-tock, tick-tock!  One precious gift God gives all of us in equal proportion from the time we are born until we die:  TIME.  

 

An interesting comments I hear concerning time:    “I just don’t have enough time!”  or  “I can’t find time to do one more thing!” or  “I’m too busy!”   And I hear this often in this church:  “I’m too old!”  In all honesty, do we ever lack in having enough time for the things we truly love or impassioned to be doing?  

 Stewardship of time.  Each of us has to make decisions each and every day as to how we are going to invest or spend or prioritize the use of our God-given time.   We all take time for sleep.  We take time for meals in bringing nourishment to our bodies.  We value time spent with family and friends.  We also enjoy time in drinking that favorite cup of coffee or reading that favorite paper or book.  There is time spent with a host of activities, whether at work or at play, that is “discretionary” – things we choose to do or want to do as opposed to time spent in things we feel obligated to be doing.

 An example and not to embarrass anybody, we have two individuals who come down to this church almost every week to do some cleaning.  This is not a glamorous job.  These two individuals put in countless hours in keeping this building looking good.   Not speaking for these two individuals, but I wonder to what extent ANYBODY feels obligated to come to this church to do all the many things all of you do to serve their Lord?  I know this is discretionary time.  These two individuals could probably find other things to be doing in different places.  But they are here.  They are stewards of the time God has given them returning a portion of this time to the church!

 I could give a dozen examples of those of you who do the same…..who come to this church to do things behind the scenes as stewards of time.  I am guessing, if they didn’t truly love this church, they wouldn’t be here!

Stewardship of time.  One of the most valuable gifts we can return to God is the seventh day, the time we invest with God and worship.  In fact it doesn’t cost a cent to clear our schedules to take time for worship in giving “Glory to God” for blessings received. 

Seriously, one of my greatest fears for you and this church in this time of transition:  All the leaders of this church who will be spending countless hours in helping this church through the transition in searching for a new pastor, will need your support simply by being here for worship.  There will be lots of different things to do with our various ministry teams, but nothing can move forward without a total commitment to be together once a week as a church family….in worship….in giving Glory to God for this church and all the blessings we have received through this church.

From Psalm 95

 “2 Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods…..6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For God is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.”

 III.  Stewardship of Talents

 Stewardship of Talents.  Closely related to the time we offer God are the talents we use as an investment in helping the church.  The two volunteers who help clean, the members of ministry teams making phone calls to secure guest preachers;  the session in holding special meetings;  deacons making extra calls – I give thanks to God knowing that so many of you are using your talents in making sure this transition is as smooth as possible.  And for those of you who feel you can not longer do anything?  Just picking up a phone to call someone to say they have been missed in worship – what a wonderful gift!  

Have you heard me refer to a “Talent Bank”?   Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church has its own talent “Talent Bank” and all of you have already made deposits!

 Literally, if God has given each of us talents to deposit in our personal “talent bank” account for future use, what portion of these talents do we use in support of the church? 

We often think in terms of giving tithes and offerings when it comes to money.  What about the tithes and offerings we offer God with the use of time and talents?

Some illustrations on what you can do in using some of your talents:

+      If you have a passion and some talent to share in helping this church make plans for the future, consider joining one of the church Ministry Teams. 

 

+      If you have a talent in working with children, you can find a few hours to help with the nursery or church school. 

 

+     If your talent is in working with finance, you can join with others in helping out on the church Management Team

 

+     If your talent is fixing and repairing things, I am sure Charles and the Facilities Team could use some help.

 

+     If you like gardening or doing outside work, we have plenty of outside work that needs to be done around the church.

 

+     If your talent is office work, there is plenty you can be doing to help out Melissa around the church office.   We also have a team that meets once a week just put out the newsletter.

 

+     If you have any passion for worship we can always use your “talents” as ushers and greeters and worship leaders.

 

+     If you like being together in fellowship, we can always use help with coffee hour hosts and church meals.

 

+     If you like calling your friends and writing notes, consider becoming a deacon?  If your talent is “TALKING ON THE PHONE” – I can get you a copy of the church directory!  J

 

I honestly believe there is something any and all of you can be doing in sharing a portion of the time and talents God has given you!

 

 Stewardship of Financial Resources—Money

 

Stewardship of Money:  I don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time preaching on this subject.  This is the day we pass out pledge cards.  Only one thing needs to be said.  We can tithe our time and talents for use of the church.  We can be perfect in worship attendance!   We love this church and what this church does in the community.  This fact:  Our mere presence and work and love for the church doesn’t, by themselves, pay the bills.

 

We are adults.   You know what this church means to you.  The two main questions I ask you to consider in making your pledge to support the church in 2014:

 

(1) Will you continue to give as generously as you have in the past?

(2) Will you consider doing more?

 

It is pretty much known by most of our members that we have a small endowment fund that helps to support the operating budget of the church.  These investments are also used to help out with emergency expenses.

A significant part of our operating budget comes from these investments.  It is also important for you to know that at the current rate we are using these investments – they cannot/will not last forever!  Simply, we are spending more from these funds than they are growing.  The best way to slow the trend of being dependent on these investment funds is for each of us to do what we can to sustain or increase what you give.  In fact, if you can, we really need to see “increases” in pledges to cover the losses in pledges that occur naturally.   

I know that money is tight.  I know that a large number of you are on fixed incomes.  I also pretty much know that all of us can do more! 

 

Which leads to my final point:

 

  1. Stewardship of our Passions

 

We love this church.  I will always love this church even though I am not longer going to be your pastor.  This final point:  Are we going to give to God from the bank of resources in helping this church move forward in serving Christ?  Does what we give in the form of time and talents and money match with the “passion” and the “love” we have for this church and for each other? 

 

I often say from this pulpit that stewardship is placing our gifts next to those things we truly value.   It is that time of year to ask:  Do I value what God has (and is) giving me through this church?  What can I do in response to what God has given me?

 

The church needs your time and talents.   The church needs your financial support.  We give glory to God for all the blessings received and used to further God’s Kingdom on this earth and through the work of Christ’s church.

 

May God continue to bless us in the important work we have been called to be doing in remembering these words from Romans: 

 

“For from God and through God and to God are all things.  To God be the glory forever.  Amen.  Romans 11: 36

 END