Leading Around the Potholes: Thoughts on Stewardship Leadership

April 28th, 2014

Recently I shared what I believe are some potholes of stewardship. Today, I would like to offer some reflection about how leadership plays a role in navigating, responding to, and overcoming these potholes.

Let me put a few assumptions out there before I begin. My understanding of a leader, is that they lead and guide with the values, mission, and vision of their congregation or organization in mind. They also do so knowing, or at least being aware of the status of budgets and other needs, and an awareness of where people are and how they are doing on the team(s) with them.

Within stewardship then, if one of the potholes is that too often congregations and communities of faith focus only on money, a leader or leadership needs to emerge to help navigate around this pothole. Yes, it is important to articulate why money is needed and important, as well as why it's important to talk about. It's also important though to connect money with time, talents, strengths, passions, etc., and to craft the wide picture and vision of stewardship so that it might take hold.

In doing this, it's also important to really embolden leadership, laity, and the whole community in a sense of abundance. This takes time. It's an "adaptive change" so to speak, but abundance is a much more faithful and I believe theologically accurate understanding of the gospel and God's creation than that of scarcity. This can really only happen though when leadership and congregations do not shy away from conversations about money, but rather have them and the positives and challenges that come with them, to most fully be the stewards they are called and created to be.

Leaders are also responsible for keeping the community informed about financial status and needs. This isn't to create scare tactics and be like Chicken Little saying that "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." This is more about transparency, and to show authentically a sense of reciprocal trust between the leaders and the faith community and vice-versa. This also takes some education, because many people in a congregation have no idea what it takes financially (and in terms of time and talent), to do the work and service of ministry in its many forms. Being clear about this is helpful for all, especially for younger generations of givers and participants who do not operate and give with a sense of obligation or expectation, but rather to movements and missions they can resonate with.

One of the leader or leaders' chief requirements is that they help share and articulate the mission, vision, and story of the congregation, faith, and movement that they are a part of. This brings people on board as part of the mission, and not only helps them see how they are a part of it, if done well, it cultivates new leaders who also share the story, mission, and vision and are able to articulate it with others in their own ways. Perhaps this is what good evangelism is (or at least could be).

Just as it is important for leaders to keep the community informed about financial needs, its also important that they be aware of the financial situations of their community. Asking people to give who are in dire financial states and stress is not good for the people being asked, and doesn't reflect well on the congregational leadership for doing the asking. The congregational leadership in an ideal situation, would be more aware of their members' needs. To this end, providing time and talent around financial stability and wellness could be helpful. Providing counseling, support, and connections to helpful resources would be helpful too. The last thing that leaders need to be doing is creating more guilt among people who probably already want to be giving more, but who currently are not even sure how to pay off their credit card bill, let alone put bread on the table for dinner.

When it comes to authentic leadership, I suspect people value leaders who treat them as a person, as a fellow participant, etc. I believe that people do not appreciate when they are told or asked to give a blanket statement representing a large swath of people. I say this particularly with younger adults in mind when being asked to speak for all young adults, but I expect it's probably true for any sort of demographic or congregational/community minority. Reach out to people as individuals and see how they are doing, what they value, what their questions are, and hopes, dreams and fears are. Don't assume that they share the same perception as everyone else, but also don't assume you know what they are thinking or looking for.

Finally, a general note about stewardship leadership. It takes courage. It takes the risk to talk about money-one of those subjects which can be unpopular to discuss. Some people might be offended by it. But if you have the courage to ask, I suspect that more times than not you will be surprised at the answers and gratitude by the person being asked. People appreciate being able to share their perspective, let off some of the burden that money might be creating for them, and a general appreciation to know that their congregational and community leadership recognizes them as individuals and wants to get to know them more than just by being one of many other faces they see once or twice a week.

If these thoughts aren't enough, keep these three rules in mind from my friend and mentor Chick Lane, author of Ask, Thank, and Tell. Be able to ask not only for money, but generally to ask and talk to people and see where they are. Always thank them for their time, service, pledge, gifts, talents, etc. If you are in leadership, its a great idea to write 5-10 thank you notes per week at a minimum. And ultimately, be able to use those experiences and stories and to tell them-in written form, in spoken form (like in sermons, etc.), and to the larger community. If you can do these three things, there is a great likelihood that you have and will have effective stewardship leadership.

What do you think? What advice or thoughts would you add? What questions do you have?

If you appreciate this post, you might also like this one on "Defining Stewardship and Steward." 
This post originally appeared on Timothy Siburg's blog, and is adapted here. 

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