How Congregational Stewardship Benefits Within the Context of the Pastoral and Lay Servant Leadership Model

As most pastors know, inculcating a servant leadership model is an effective way to lead a congregation.  After all, Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, was he not?  (John 13: 1-17)

How does this leadership model work, however, when incorporated into a congregational stewardship effort?  I would suggest to you that it works extremely well, and benefits everyone involved–the donor, the stewardship committee member, the stewardship chair, and yes, the pastor.

Servant leadership is defined by a relationship wherein those with power (real or imagined) lead by providing the necessary resources and encouragement to those who follow.  An example, in its most basic form, is a CEO who is constantly asking the Vice President “what do you need to be successful?”  That question is parroted throughout the company, and the role of the leader is to provide the tools with which the worker on the assembly line has the tools necessary to produce a widget in the most efficient manner, but also provides opportunity and satisfaction.  Endemic in this model is a shared respect between management and labor.

To be sure, the pastor is not management and the parishioner is not labor.  There are parallels, however, which when introduced can improve mission, ministry and finances in a congregation.

Stewardship–the act of sharing God’s blessings with others–is one of the most important ministries that occurs in a congregation.  It is most certainly NOT just an effort to raise money to keep the doors open.  It is a spiritual exercise which, when done properly, motivates parishioners to focus on mission within and beyond the local community.

How does a successful stewardship effort look within the servant leadership model?

Education of leaders is key to stewardship.  The pastor and the stewardship chair should budget time and money to learn stewardship techniques annually.  They then must come back to the stewardship committee and share what they have learned.  This is a basic tool for success.

Clarity.  The pastor and stewardship chair must recruit committee members with clear job descriptions.  Those job descriptions must state precisely what the volunteers are being asked to do.  The job descriptions must be clear that committee members will be asked for their written financial commitment before they will be allowed to ask others for theirs.  There should be clearly defined mission goals for the congregation provided to the committee members so that they are able to elucidate the precise case for support.  Nothing that happens during a committee member’s tenure should be a surprise.

Vision must be shared and in the process must motivate.  A servant leader must exude excitement about what could be if the mission plan were fully funded.  Additionally, the pastor as servant leader should not save the “stewardship sermon” for the second Sunday in September.  Stewardship is a topic that should be addressed all year long.

The donors–members of the congregation–must be given time to learn about the mission goals, and must be given enough information to make comfortable decisions.  Information must be clear and in various formats–temple talks, social media and website, newsletters, etc.  In this case, information is the tool that will make the widget better.  Similarly, none of the information shared should be a surprise to a parishioner, since the planning was exhaustive and inclusive.

Another tool to provide the donor is a clear and specific request.  No donor should have to wonder what is being asked of them.  Are you asking for a written pledge this year?  Are you asking for a 5% increase over last year’s giving?  What is our  financial goal as a congregation?  Are you asking me for $25,000?  Again, clarity equals respect.

What tools to make my gift are available?  It is important to provide your donors with a number of ways in which they may make their gifts–electronic fund transfer, gifts of appreciated stock, IRA disbursements just to name a few.  These are the tools that servant leaders provide.

Last but certainly not least, a servant leader gives–or at least shares–credit.  Donors must be thanked meaningfully, frequently, and by the pastor as well as the stewardship team.  Just because we are sharing the gifts that God has given us does not mean we do not deserve thanks.  One line in a business office giving receipt is not proper thanks.  There should be thank you letters, phone calls, handshakes (hugs?) in the narthex, and appropriate recognition.

How does your congregation compare?  Is stewardship a way to pay the light bill, or is it a vital part of your ministry?  Does your leadership provide the tools necessary for meaningful giving that excites and encourages?  How could you become a better servant leader when it comes to stewardship?

Don’t Hang Up Too Soon

A donor called to make a $5,000 gift in memory of her recently deceased mother.  The donor was interested in what people today are concerned about—effectiveness of our programs, our efficiency rating, the people we serve.

We discussed a number of possibilities regarding how the gift could be used. After asking a number of questions about our organization and its programs, she decided where she wanted her gift to go.

She was ready to hang up when I asked her to tell me about her mother.

She was caught off guard, but proceeded to tell me what a loving mother and wife she had been, how dedicated she had been to her church, and how uncomfortable her mother would have been to see the big fuss everyone had made over her at her funeral.

We visited about her mother for 20 minutes, she on the east coast of the United States and I in the west.  I asked questions about her mother’s life because I was interested. She found some catharsis in sharing stories about her mother.

As development people, we are about people and ministry.  We are not just about dollars.  We seek funding because of the difference that funding will make in the lives of those less fortunate, or those who are hurting, or those needing guidance and comfort… and because of the difference those gifts will make in the lives of the donors who respond to God’s grace by giving gifts.

I could have hung up the phone after we determined how the $5,000 was to be used.  That would have been a somewhat cold transaction,  By asking about her mother, and listening to the story of her life, this woman was given another opportunity to share the story of her mother… and celebrate the life they shared together.