Theology and tactics for stabilizing stewardship in times of crisis

The Presbyterian Foundation’s ‘Best Stewardship Practices’ series explores foundational principles

by Erin Dunigan for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Maggie Harmon and Rob Hagan are Ministry Resource Officers for the Presbyterian Foundation.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — More than a year into this new pandemic world, we are still in uncharted territory where answers are elusive and plans can be hard to make.

In such territory it is more important than ever to maintain an attitude and orientation not of scarcity, but of abundance, suggest two of the Presbyterian Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officers, Rob Hagan and Maggie Harmon.

In the second of a three-part webinar exploration of foundational stewardship principles, Hagan and Harmon discussed the importance of stabilizing stewardship principles, especially during this pandemic time and beyond.

“Generosity concentrates on abundance rather than scarcity,” said Hagan, MRO for the Northwest. Abundance, Hagan said, is not a prosperity understanding of the gospel but rather living a life of vitality and wholesome living that is rooted in a reformed understanding of the Christian life as an offering of oneself to God.

What makes people want to give?

In examining what motivates giving, Harmon, MRO for the Southwest, suggested that it is a gratitude for what God has done for us that invites us into a life of abundance. “When you are living in abundance you start to understand that everything you have is from God,” Harmon said. “It is in this faith that God will provide that we are led toward love and compassion for others.”

Of course, what motivates one person to give is not what motivates someone else, so it is helpful to have many ways to talk about giving. Some people give based on a belief in the mission and ministry of the church. Others give because they want to share what they have and help take care of those less fortunate. Still others give as a strategic method of receiving tax benefits — a reason that Harmon suggests churches don’t overlook, as this can be a way to maximize resources.

In addition to the theological underpinnings of stewardship, Hagan and Harmon reminded those gathered for the online webinar that tactical and diagnostic questions can be important to ask as well. These questions range from:

  • Is your congregation’s approach to stewardship stuck in a rut?
  • What might we want to do differently?
  • Are we stuck in a state of scarcity and longing for abundance?
  • Are we struggling with what we don’t have, rather than working with what we do have?
  • Do you long for your church’s members to enjoy the spiritual rewards of a generous life?

To such questions Hagan and Harmon offered not answers, but strategies. “Probably the most important thing you can do, and not just in stewardship season but all year long, is to tell impact stories,” Harmon said. Impact stories are not a Minute for Mission on why it is good to give to the church, but rather the impact that the work of the church is having on people’s lives. “This is an opportunity to lean into the excitement of the impact we are having and invite people to be a part of it,” Harmon said.

Rich in the blessings of Christ

Another important strategy is simply talking about money. “If we preached about money as often as Jesus talked about it there would be 17 sermons a year that dealt with money,” Harmon said. Talking about money isn’t just about giving and pledging.

In our society, money is a part of how we define ourselves and how we move through the world, for good and bad. It is an area that we need to invite into the conversation, Harmon said. “Money is fungible,” Harmon said. “It isn’t good or bad, but it is your relationship with it and what you do with it that is important.”

Both Harmon and Hagan emphasized that these conversations should not be limited just to stewardship season but should be a regular part of the life of the church. “Ask people to participate with their time, their talent and their treasure in different ways that engage them as givers,” Harmon suggested. And, most importantly, don’t forget to say thank you, often.

“We need to reframe what it means to be rich, understanding that we are rich in the blessings of Jesus Christ,” Hagan said. It can be easy to say, but sometimes hard to recognize or embrace, especially in times of crisis.

The final webinar in this series, Best Stewardship Practices, will be on May 19. Register here.

 Erin Dunigan is an ordained evangelist and teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. She serves as a photographer, writer and communications consultant and lives near the border in Baja California, Mexico.

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