Beyond Better Preaching: Stewardship through a Community Organizing Lens

By Andrew Foster-Connors

It was high up in the glass-encased office of the CEO of one of Baltimore’s large corporate players that my mind started drifting to stewardship.  It was an odd time to be thinking about stewardship.  The Baptist bishop, the Catholic priest, the city school teacher, the organizer and I were in this office to find out whether this CEO was willing to exercise leadership among his peers to support a campaign to rebuild Baltimore’s City School facilities.  This would be the true test of whether his words about young people were just words, or the stuff of true commitment.

from the BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) website

We laid out the vision – political leaders, corporate leaders, religious leaders standing alongside teachers and young people calling on the MD General Assembly to change existing revenues to make it possible to leverage $500 million dollars this year toward the $2 billion need.  This, we said, was our “kairos moment.”  The CEO stopped to write this down – “How do you spell that word?” he wanted to know.  He asked a few questions then we moved to commitment – Would he stand with us in calling on the corporate community?  Yes, he would.  Would he call on other corporate leaders to use their leadership to support the legislation?  Yes, he would.  “This is what’s best for our kids,” he said.  And it was true.

But I was thinking about stewardship.  Like a lot of pastors, I never really received any training in stewardship other than the theology behind it, roughly summarized as this: because God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ, we respond out of gratitude.  Stewardship naturally grew out of this theological training.  When stewardship season rolled around, I preached some stewardship sermons, and people would, presumably, give out of their gratitude.  The first several years, the budget went up by a few percentage points.  Not bad, but not inspiring either.  So I did what any theologically trained pastor would do – I improved my message.  I labored over the sermons, and preached some really good.  I waited expectantly, but the budget numbers didn’t look all that different from the previous year.

Desperate, I turned to our lead organizer, Rob English, for help.  He diagnosed my problem immediately.  “You know what your problem is,” Rob said to me not waiting for me to give him permission to speak, “you preach these sermons and get these people all worked up, but you haven’t given them anywhere to go.  You want them to give money for the ministry?  Then you have to ask them for it out of the relationships that you have.”  “But I shouldn’t have to,” I protested.  “I mean, according to Presbyterian polity, it’s not really my job.”  He shook his head in disappointment.  I was a difficult case.  “I know what you’re going to say,” I said, “I’m living in the world as it should be instead of the world as is.”  His face brightened.  Maybe I was going to get this.

The next campaign, I met with about 20 families and asked them directly for a specific amount connected to a specific need.  Surprisingly, not only did 99% of the people with whom I met seem to enjoy talking with me about the church and all the exciting plans for the future, I learned things I had never learned about them before; stories about important people in their lives who had instilled a value of generosity, or why the church was so important to them.  In my first campaign, despite my ineptitude, I helped raise six figures for a capital-style campaign in our then 250 member church.

But here in the office of the CEO, I realized where I had failed in that initial campaign.  Rather than cultivating leaders to share the burden of the work, I had taken a lot of it on myself.  Not only had I generated a lot of work for myself, I had deprived others the opportunity of developing relationships, and deepening their own leadership.  My instincts had been partially right– my job wasn’t to raise money for the church.  My job was to help raise leaders for the church.  Just as we were calling on this CEO to call on his friends to commit to God’s work of nurturing the children of Baltimore, I needed to be developing leaders in my congregation to call on their friends to commit to God’s work in and through the church.

The next year, I identified people in the congregation who knew something about inspiring generosity in others – the development director for a local school, the grassroots campaign masterminds who unseated one of Baltimore’s machine politicians through their face to face work, a membership director for a local club, a jovial philanthropist, and one of my skeptics who, nonetheless is listened to by many when she speaks.  I met with each of them individually and asked them to serve, teaching us all in the process about how to connect the joy that people feel in our mission with their generosity to the church.

It took me 6 years of broad-based organizing experience before I came to see that organizing is not about politics – it’s about relationships that can be organized to build all sorts of amazing, grace-filled agendas for God’s work in the world.  Raising $500 million dollars for justice in the schools isn’t all that different than raising a money for a church’s mission.  Call it a kairos moment.

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Andrew Foster Connors is senior pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD where he also serves as clergy co-chair of BUILD, an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the oldest and largest community organizing network in country.

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The Future of Our Connectionalism

 

 

First things first: we hope folks have weathered Sandy OK. Be safe.

by Dr. Ed Brenegar

As the chair of the Stewardship Committee of my presbytery, I am concerned by the practice of congregations withholding of funds from the PCUSA as an act of principled protest.  Regardless of the reasons, I’ve come to see it as a political act that weakens our connectionalism. Here’s what I recently spoke during our recent presbytery meeting.

We are the Presbytery of […] . There is no “they.” Regardless of the presbytery you are in, it is essentially a volunteer organization of members from local congregations.   Look at your Nominations Committee list of those to serve on committees, councils and mission teams. They are men and women volunteers from churches.

Our Connectedness as a Presbytery isn’t just Spiritual, but Financial. My presbytery does not “charge” a per capita fee to churches. We, the presbytery, trust in the spiritual commitment of churches to make financial contributions to the support of the presbytery and the other councils of the church. In effect, what is happening is that small churches are funding the per capita payment of those larger churches who withhold funds. How ironic that in our modern day we see Paul’s perspective in 1 Corinthians 12: 22-26 gaining relevance.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Just to be clear, there are small churches who also withhold funds, and the large churches who are extraordinarily generous in their giving to support our presbytery’s work, including its ministry with small churches. Size is not the primary issue, connectionalism is.

Our Connectedness as a Presbytery isn’t just Financial, but also Missional. From my vantage point as Stewardship Chair, it is the shared mission work of our presbytery that is the heart of our connectionalism. It is the only thing that cuts across all the social and institutional boundaries of the church to unite people from large and small churches in the worship and service of Jesus Christ in the world.

Our Financial Future as Congregations and the Presbytery is not our Past.  We can no longer count on the tried-n-true stewardship practices of the past to sustain local congregations and presbyteries in the future. Developing a dynamic missional connectionalism provides a way for more members of churches to participate and contribute in the life and ministry of the church.  From this position, churches and presbyteries can adapt to the economic realities that we all will be facing in the future.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time. Find Ed online at: Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.

Funding Realities and the Future Church

by Dr. Ed Brenegar

The question crossed my mind, “What if non-profits are no longer fundable? What does this mean for churches and presbyteries? How will we fund the church in the future?”

I have been asking these questions in the places where I serve as a leadership and stewardship consultant and teaching elder. Until recently, I was a fund raiser for campus ministries in North Carolina, now I am an interim pastor of a small church.  Also, I chair my presbytery’s stewardship committee and leadership division of committees, am a member of its Administrative Board and the presbytery’s Transitional Task Force, which is looking, in part, at the future funding structure of our presbytery.

In each context, questions about the future funding of the church and presbyteries are becoming more focused and urgent.

What am I seeing? The funding of the church and presbyteries is in transition. This year, 2012,  has been the worst year for fund raising that I’ve seen in 30+ years of involvement with churches, non-profits and fund raising campaigns.  I see a change in the way people are managing their charitable dollar. Our assumption about the importance of the deductibility of non-profit and church donations as a solid reason for people to give is no longer as certain. In a disruptive global economic climate, cash in hand means more than a tax deduction. Other people may see something different, but this is what I see.

What then distinguishes givers from non-givers? I believe it is fairly simple. Givers have a clear sense of mission and a spirit of generosity.  They are focused in their giving, and give to designated causes in order to meet their own sense of responsibility as a steward of their wealth.  They give generously if the church’s mission matches their commitments.  Being missional is the key to sustaining membership giving.

What else do I see? The most troubling phenomenon that I see in the church is the withholding of funds to coerce change.  This intentional weakening of the structure is a reaction to the politicization of the church in society at large. This practice of protest, in my opinion, has no justification. Yet, it is widely practiced. The practical result is that it exacerbates the historic pattern of church and presbytery budgets being funded by a small number of individuals and churches.  This reality should be openly discussed in churches and presbyteries.

How will the church in the future be funded? There are two answers to this question.

First, churches will be funded as they always have, by people who are committed to the mission of the church. Therefore it is imperative that every local congregation and every presbytery have a very clear mission that creates the conditions for both financial and spiritual sustainability.

Second, churches will be funded as the church adapts to the changes in organizational structures that are taking place in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. These two worlds, non- and for- profit, are beginning to morph into new types of organizations. An environmental organization where I am an advisor is in the process of converting from a non-profit to a for-profit in order to diversify the way it funds its research work. Creatively linking a for-profit business with a philanthropic foundation with a non-profit organization is a possible way for traditional non-profit organizations to find new resources. Just as a growing number of ministers serve bi-vocationally, so can an association of local churches develop ways of generating revenue to support the mission of the church.

What should your church do now?

First, don’t preach about being generous. It sounds desperate. Instead celebrate God’s call into mission and the impact of your church’s programs and ministries. Celebrating generous giving is a response to God’s grace at work through the church.

Second, integrate your congregation’s mission focus into every aspect of the life of your congregation. Make sure you can demonstrate the tangible difference your mission makes through each of your programs and ministries.

Third, be honest and transparent about your budget and your sources of income.

Start now, while you have the opportunity.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time. Find Ed online at: Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.