A different approach

March 6th, 2018
This article is featured in the The Vile Practices of Ministry (Feb/Mar/Apr 2018) issue of Circuit Rider

Anyone who has spent any time in church has heard someone talk about money. In fact, every single year congregations ask members to fill out pledge cards with the hope as a way to remind people to give financially. While many pastors would rather avoid the subject, we typically preach on the matter of financial stewardship or tithing a few times of year. For some preachers, it is a one of the dreaded duties of the pastoral office to have to ask (some use the word beg) congregants to contribute the ministry of the church. We will use creative ways to talk about it and other times we will flat out ask.  We remind people from the pulpit that Jesus talked about the importance and the dangers of money more than any other subject. Yet, there are congregations full of people who don’t give and are uncertain as to why they should give.

I’ve discovered a more indirect approach to encourage financial stewardship. Instead of focusing on giving, I try to promote relationship. We can talk about giving until we are blue in the face but the reality is most people already know that they are supposed to give to support the ministry of the church. Unfortunately, knowing doesn’t always produce results. However, helping people really connect with God relationally produces lasting outcomes. Think about it like this: do you have to be told or reminded to give gifts to your loved ones? Probably not. It’s something that you do almost instinctively on birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries and other times. We give gifts as a display of our affection to those for whom we have a strong relationship. The stronger our relationship the more thought and money we are willing to put into the gifts without ever being asked.

What if our approach in the church to financial stewardship focused on helping people develop a relationship with God more so than asking people to give to God? I know that many congregations use resources to help people develop a stronger relationship with God. However, I think we have to be very intentional in what we do. Intentional to the point that we develop annual metrics to determine our effectiveness in developing deeply committed followers of Jesus. It has to be more than membership or attendance numbers. It has to be along the same lines of how you would assess the health of relationship you have with a spouse or a friend.

What if congregational leaders put together a list of things that people could strive for that would make some level of relationship with God? Let’s call it the God Relationship Check List. Then, congregations ask members annually to make a commitment to Christ and his Church, using that list. The pastor and leaders would consistently remind the members of their commitment and encourage them along the way. Now, I’m certain many will fall short throughout the year but at least they have a goal that they are striving for.

The deeper one’s relationship with God, the greater the commitment to serve, pray, study, worship, and give. That’s the difference between a member and disciple. Remember, Jesus said, “Go make disciples,” not members. The church has done an excellent job in making members but not so good in making disciples.

As congregations are planning from year to year, a big part of the strategy should be how to develop members into disciples. In addition to bible studies, small groups and Sunday School lessons about developing a deeper relationship with God, it has to come from the pulpit. Preaching has to be more than the importance of a relationship with God but how to develop one’s connection with the Almighty. The bottom line is for congregations to develop a plan, put it into action and assess its effectiveness in helping people grow in their relationship with God. My belief is that if we have congregations full of deeply committed followers of Jesus, it means we have people who are cheerful and excited to give to his Church.

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