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 Publish Bad News

I was a visitor at a worship service several months ago, and among the announcements in the bulletin was this line:

Received last week: $2,238.53
Needed each week: $2,750.00

After the service, I asked a member of the congregation if that deficit announcement was unusual.  She said, “No, we’re always behind.”

If you see this kind of announcement in your church bulletin, or even in the monthly newsletter, please try to get it eliminated. Why? It creates a negative image and does nothing to increase offerings.

Dividing the annual budget by 52 Sundays just gives inaccurate information, particularly during low attendance months. Neither income nor expenditures are exactly the same over the course of the year. Members wonder how they can see a deficit all year and then the deficit miraculously goes away at the beginning of the next year.

How, then, can we adequately report the financial status of a congregation? The amount received can be reported along with a sentence or two about a ministry that offerings help support. I also recommend giving updates in quarterly financial statements rather than bulletins or newsletters for the whole world to see. If I am looking for a new church home, I’m not going to be inclined to join a congregation that advertises it’s in debt.

Transparency is important, so financial statements prepared for council meetings can also be made available for those who are curious or have a need to know about the details of how the money comes and goes. I also recommend to finance committees who absolutely obsess about “being behind” to go to individuals and ask them to make up the perceived “deficit,” beginning with members of the finance committee. That usually gets them off that subject.

14 Steps to Creating a Climate for Giving in Your Congregation

  1. Carefully and prayerfully select a stewardship committee and recruit. Do not ask for volunteers.
  2. Thank people
  3. Share ministry stories
  4. Share personal faith stories
  5. Ask for written pledges (commitments)
  6. Thank people
  7. Conduct an organized program every year
  8. Use envelopes and distribute them monthly
  9. Promote electronic bank drafts
  10. Send quarterly record of giving (financial statements) in which you give figures and also THANK PEOPLE
  11. Offer financial management workshops
  12. Put a “steward’s corner” in the newsletter focusing on good news
  13. Use humor whenever possible
  14. Take 20 minutes of each committee meeting to study a chapter from a book or article on stewardship