Thursday, August 18, 2005

Faith Works 8-20-05
Jeff Gill

If This Is August, It Must Be Time To…

Would you believe that your pastor is working on planning Advent and Christmas services right now? Have you noticed that the children’s musical folks are already collecting costume materials for the shepherds?

September is almost too late to get started for all of the Christian liturgical and traditional folderol that packs December tighter than a seven year old’s stocking on the chimney. If your church or faith community is going to do all of the things they intend between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, they are already hard at work.

Actually, this phenomena is widely noted and well understood. Less well known is work that probably began months ago for the annual fall stewardship campaign. Church treasurers, financial secretaries, board chairs, and clergy have been reviewing the first six months giving from ’05, matching trends over the last few years, projecting fixed expenses for church life into ’06, and thinking about how to communicate these prosaic points in a useful and encouraging manner to the congregation.

Christians tend to call this aspect of church life "stewardship," the process of looking at what God has given to us as individuals and as a faith community, and discerning how to faithfully use those talents, those gifts and graces, to do the work that church is called to do.
Some places use pledge cards and the newsletter to communicate, others have been accustomed to informational mailings separate from the usual print material to highlight specific needs, but use no "commitment card" or other written follow-up.

A few church bodies have very high expectations as to percentage giving for people in leadership, or for the entire membership. Many simply want to encourage members to "up" or increase their giving, an inelegant point which created a legendary bulletin blooper from a stewardship chairman. "I increased my pledge last year, so up yours!"

No, this is not a process which encourages humor or irony, and may even stifle the awareness of how ludicrous it must appear to God that we see ourselves in a struggle when we are surrounded by so much abundance.

This is where an awareness of global and local missions, if not a sense of humor, is so helpful to an effective stewardship education and communication plan. When a congregation is used to hearing about how shockingly poor church groups in the developing world not only support their immediate needs more readily than Americans do, but then offer to send "50 goats for the orphans from the World Trade Center disaster," the outreach budget looks different.

When all the membership is aware of individual missionaries and the challenges they face in ministering to global south communities where AIDS is running at 40% of the population, our own giving gets real real fast.

If the average pew sitter has heard, or better yet heard directly from, a life transformed right here in Licking County because of the
activities that church supports or is involved in, they are more ready to respond. They want to hear more about that, and they want to be part of it in any way they can.

Oh, and the best mission speakers I’ve heard always know how to see the humor in even the most challenging situation, which is a message about the stewardship of our attitudes as well as an encouragement for giving cheerfully.

How does your faith community do stewardship education?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply pastor around central
Ohio; send your tales to while you take a break
from making this year’s shepherd costumes!

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