Trying to keep stewardship “alive” within a congregation throughout the year is a challenge unto itself! Our parishioners have, quite often, grown to expect the annual campaign for the church operating budget with less than stellar delight.
Prior to beginning this work in church stewardship, my longest ministry was in a historic Virginia church dating back to 1780. The old Virginia joke which Virginian’s love to tell is, “How many Virginians does it take to change a lightbulb? About 10, one person to stand on the ladder and change the bulb and 9 others lamenting the fact they liked the old lightbulb better!” Their words not mine! Change was something we implemented thoughtfully, cautiously and within keeping of the church culture.
In regards to the church operating budget, semantics is where we started. We made it clear to our parishioners that their gifts were not made TO the budget but THROUGH the budget for the various needs and ministries of the church, community and world.
We applied the principles described in Clif Christopher’s book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, of developing a narrative budget rather than a line-item budget for the church.
The most wonderful addition to worship each week was something we called “Dedication of Gifts” which followed the offertory and singing of the Doxology…yes, it was a pretty traditional church.
Dedication of Gifts was designed as a 45 second reflection of and prayer for a specific ministry which had taken place the week prior. It went something like this:
“I dedicate your gifts to the glory of God and in grateful thanks for the 150 children who attended Vacation Bible School last week. Of those children, 20 were from financially disadvantaged homes who have taken home new backpacks stuffed with school supplies for the new school year…all because of your giving. Thanks be to God, Amen!”
A little back story to this opportunity was that we realized, as a church we did a pretty good job of promoting upcoming events but a terrible one at celebrating the good work of those events.
The Dedication of Gifts allowed us to celebrate these ministry highlights using lay people who were engaged in the respective ministry or clergy. The individuals offering the Dedication of Gifts changed almost weekly, and certainly the message did as well…but 45 seconds was their limit.
We knew we were doing something right when a parishioner in October said “I’m not sure we need that series of Stewardship Sermons this year…we get one every week with the Dedication of Gifts.” Of course, there’s more to biblical stewardship than a dedication of gifts, but it’s a great way to implement a stewardship focus weekly in most any worship tradition.