The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.
In my church, this is the time of year when we start thinking about nominating people for various ministry teams and committees for the next church program year. Invariably, we tussle with who to ask to be on the “Stewardship Committee.” I feel like those two words should be in some kind of Halloween font with spider webs and creepy things attached to the letters. Or at least that’s how the words feel to many congregants. Something they want to stay as far away from as possible.
No wonder really. In many churches, this committee is known as the group that begs for money. Some do their ministry well, sure, and have a wider perspective than that. But for a lot of us, we just don’t know what to do with the goals of this group especially when it comes to fundraising. There is the hard reality of church budgets and there is also the spiritual concept of generosity, and we don’t always do a good job recognizing how to handle either one.
Maybe it’s time to re-frame the conversation and re-imagine the Stewardship Committee.
Here are some things I have heard over the years when the word “stewardship” is mentioned:
“Stewardship is about paying the bills.”
“The church is a business.”
“I give of my time so I don’t have to give financially.”
“It’s my money, I earned it, you can’t tell me what to do with it.”
The conversation has clearly gone awry. On top of that, churches today often struggle with a mindset of “scarcity”—we don’t have enough money, enough volunteers, enough worshipers in the pews—add the pandemic to all of that and it gets really scary. The Stewardship Committee, in reaction to a pervasive sense of fear, might get caught up in tactics that try to cajole or manipulate: “If we don’t give more, the doors will close.” “Send in your pledge—We need to keep the lights on!” I even heard one suggestion that the pastor lock the doors to the church one Sunday morning so people will see what happens if they don’t give more. Probably not the best plan.
What can counter the focus on fear and scarcity? Certainly, God does not call forth stewardship in order to keep the lights on. God does bless us. Abundantly. God does call us. Faithfully. God gives us what we need to answer that call, and when we focus on the power of that mission and ministry, we come to know stewardship as an act of generosity. Generosity is at the heart of discipleship. Sharing God’s love and grace with the world is a key aspect of following Jesus. Generosity is the way God’s love flows through us and makes a difference in the world.
So what if we worked at re-framing the conversation to include the practice of generosity as key to discipleship? What would that look like? Beyond money, generosity is a way of life, an attitude, a particular perspective about the world and our place in it as followers of Jesus. The work of the Stewardship Committee would look completely different as it learned what it takes to foster generosity in the hearts of disciples. For one thing, generosity begins with gratitude not scarcity. What would happen if the team’s focus was on nurturing both generosity and gratitude? And so maybe the Stewardship Committee needs a new name. The “Generosity Team” or “Gratitude and Generosity Committee.” Just remember that changing the word without changing hearts and minds isn’t going to do it. We need to re-frame the conversation and re-imagine the stewarding ministry we do.
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.
For more information on The Generosity Project, contact Rev. Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org