By Rosemary C. Mitchell
Talking about stewardship is what I do and from time to time I have a stewardship conversation with new pastors. There have been a number of times when new pastors have expressed their frustration that they are not allowed to know what members give or pledge. Either the Session or the church treasurer will not allow it. That can be very disheartening. Of course, there is also the ongoing debate on whether a pastor should know what members give or pledge. I want to suggest a more substantial approach to the conversation that provides more depth than just the dollars.
As a pastor consider this:
Select a time of the year to make a pastoral, one-on-one, confidential one-hour appointment with each member of Session. Ideally the appointment would be in their homes. Be sure that you are clear about the purpose. The purpose is not to discuss their giving. It is not about their pledge. You are not asking them for a gift.
The purpose of the conversation is, as their pastor, to hear and learn about their relationship with the church.
Here are some suggested questions to get the conversation started:
- Why are you a Christian?
- Why are you a Presbyterian?
- Why do you value your congregation?
- Why did you respond to the call to serve as an elder?
- What motivates your giving? (not only to the church, but to any organization or issue)
Here are some rules for the conversation:
- Remember this is a pastoral conversation. Allow for silence. The person may have never been asked these questions.
- Provide the space for the person time to think, reflect and respond thoughtfully.
- You may want to send the questions in advance.
- You may want to take notes. However, remember this is a confidential conversation. It is critically important that, as the pastor, you maintain that confidentiality.
- Do not accept any gift from the Session member. Even if they have a check written out direct them to mail it or deliver it to the church on Sunday. This is the most important rule! This is why it makes sense not to schedule these visits during Stewardship season.
Here are two possible outcomes:
- These conversations are really about discipleship. A Session member, who has never had this type of conversation with a pastor previously, may circle back to the pastor in a couple weeks to go deeper.
- From these conversations the pastor will have what, in some organizations, could be called a feasibility study. The pastor will learn some fundamental information about a person, their household, the history of the congregation, and other matters that would probably not emerge in a group discussion.
A new pastor has a great reason to announce they want to do this: to get to know the Session. An experienced pastor can also announce they are doing it to build deeper relationships.
The information gained can inform how the pastor talks about the ministry of the church, what is highlighted, what truly matters to people in the life of that specific congregation.
Here is one last thought. A way to truly deepen this exercise is for the pastor to answer the questions before beginning the process. Maybe find a “stewardship partner” or a mentor for the conversation. Be as honest as possible. By doing your own work first, you will have a clearer lens to truly hear (and not react) to the responses of your Session members.
Blessings in your ministry. It is a challenge every day. Please let me know how it goes!
The Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell is senior director of Mission Engagement and Support for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.