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Creative storytelling illustrates God’s generosity

 

Stop the boring number-crunching

By Rhonda Myers | Presbyterians Today

I’m not a big fan of seasonal stewardship campaigns, as they’re often driven by gimmicks. And neither gimmicks nor fundraising ever nurtured faithful givers.

In the church, our calling is to grow engaged stewards who give generously from the heart rather than begrudgingly from the wallet. I like to tease that the Presbyterian version of stewardship is not “sexy” enough.

Laugh and call me crazy, but it’s not hard to see that we approach stewardship from a linear fashion, with bottom lines and fair shares, while God created us to connect with matters of life and faith on a more sensory level.

When the psalmist declares, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” the point is not to make us crunch the numbers so we can pay our rightful share to the Lord. The point is to help us see God’s goodness and to respond to that goodness by giving generously from the heart.

Years ago, I became convinced that if we connected Christ’s disciples with the rich mosaic of generosity evidenced by God, rather than simply putting black-and-white budgets in the hands of members with a plea for support, we could open the way to spiritual renewal. I also became convinced that if God were to use me to embark on a new manner of stewardship, I’d best enlist the aid of an imaginative cohort.

With God as my guide, I reached out to someone who had no interest in numbers or in discussing money. I reached out to a master gardener.

“No. No. And no,” she said. “I’m not traditional. I do crazy stuff. I love plants.”

“But you’re what we need,” I countered. “We need someone to engage the creative side of stewardship, to try some new things and take a few risks. We need someone with an artist’s eye who can paint a picture of what it looks like to give generously; someone who can help us see the treasure that is our God and lead us to respond with thanksgiving.”

Somewhat begrudgingly, Susan Gaul joined me in attending a Stewardship Kaleidoscope, an annual conference offering useful tools for encouraging giving. She was open to the idea of a new ministry but remained skeptical that it was her calling.

She went expecting to hear a sales pitch; instead, she heard, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” As the words of gratitude from the mouth of the first speaker filled her soul with joy, Susan heard God invite her on a journey awash with laughter, color and vitality.

When fall came that year, we offered a weekly Generosity Ministry Testimonial — with Susan leading off the effort. Moving slowly down the center aisle that first Sunday, sporting a black hooded cloak, she glumly declared, “It’s that time of year again. Fill out your pledge cards. Give money, will ya?”

The congregation sat in stunned silence.

And then, suddenly, they heard the voice say, “No, wait. It doesn’t have to be this way.” Off flew the cloak, exposing an aging ballerina in purple tights and a big orange tutu. The silence gave way to riotous laughter, and our Generosity Ministry was born.

Each year, we highlight a different generosity theme. But the theme is merely a segue to telling our story. We tell of who we are as children of God and what we do as a church. We tell of lives transformed by the gifts of a generous congregation — lives nearby and lives as far away as Haiti, Costa Rica and the Philippines. We invite stories of being touched, or of touching others, with generosity. We tell stories of compassion and hope, and of despair turned to joy.

To meet the needs of our electronic givers, we have designed weekly offering cards to replace offering envelopes. And we’ve created a narrative budget to accompany our line-item budget, with graphics and photos that paint a picture of how the church’s ministries are empowered by generous hearts. “Translating” raw numbers into pie charts and pictures helps the sensory brain “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Like other congregations, we still must steward our resources carefully. But a focus on generosity has opened our eyes to the wonderful work that Christ is doing among us. And, to quote Susan, “To think, it all began with an unlikely person in an orange tutu. Praise God!”

Rhonda Myers is the pastor of Chapel Lane Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan.

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