There’s many ways to respond when faced with planning an annual stewardship campaign. Many leaders try avoidance. Others tepidly move forward. But there’s another way. As you will read below, pastor Christopher Henry embraces the moment. And for good reason because God is working in his congregation, and his ministry welcomes the opportunity to celebrate and prioritize. I met Chris in my first week of seminary, and I was immediately struck that he was a gifted leader and would become a superb pastor. In this case, at least, my first impression was spot on.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Celebration and Significance: The Gifts of Stewardship
by Rev. Christopher A. Henry
I am a pastor who enjoys raising money. I look forward with great anticipation to the annual budget campaign and, in five years in my current congregation, have led two major capital campaigns. I’m not sure how unusual this makes me, but I do know that it is an enthusiasm not shared by many of my close friends in ministry. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is that enlivens me about this aspect of congregational leadership, and have come to the conclusion that financial stewardship offers (at least) two gifts to a church and, therefore, to its pastor.
The first is an annual opportunity to celebrate its existence. My mentor in ministry, Joanna Adams, taught me that healthy congregations are those that find and create occasions for celebration — the completion of a major mission project, the arrival of a staff member, the receiving of new members, a particularly beautiful floral arrangement. I’ve never known a congregation that was in imminent danger of over-celebrating, especially in these days of cynicism within and outside the church. Any initiative that involves raising money can (and should) have the feel of celebration.
Generous giving is the result of joy that is rooted in both gratitude and anticipation. In my current congregation, we have kicked off our capital campaigns with church-wide parties with good food, beautiful music, stirring testimony, and colorful balloons. Our annual stewardship campaign includes regular opportunities to celebrate the ministry of the church in the last year by lifting up voices of members and gathering in small groups for reflection and visioning. The celebratory nature of the season is a gift to the congregation and gives the pastor plenty of opportunity to acknowledge the year’s successes and lift up reasons for gratitude.
The second gift offered by the ministry of stewardship is the invitation to focus on what matters most. Almost every year, I borrow the phrase of a colleague who said that stewardship is all about checkbooks and calendars (although, since I carry neither with me these days, it might be more honest to say online banking and iCal). How do I spend my time? How do I spend my money? No matter what we declare our priorities in life, the answer to these questions will offer a candid picture of what matters most to us.
Scripture has much to say about both, and when we as a church are in “fundraising mode,” we have a built-in reason to explore these deep and personal topics through the lens of faith. In my ministry context of metropolitan Atlanta, I am convinced that those who make the effort to be in weekly worship are there to hear honest and challenging words that will impact their lives in significant ways. When we offer them the invitation to commit their time and money to the church, we have both the obligation and the opportunity to explain why those commitments matter, in the deepest sense.
In the fall of 2014, our congregation kicked off a major capital campaign with a fundraising goal of just over $3 million. Our keynote speaker for the kickoff celebration was a member who was raised in our congregation and has returned to raise her own children here. With conviction and clarity, she spoke to her community: “My husband and I know that God and church are the foundation of our lives and that is what we want to teach our children. In a couple weeks when they are baptized, I feel in my heart this will be the beginning of an incredible journey. I am forever thankful for all the church has given me in the last 30 years. God has given us everything, and we feel it is our time to give back.”
On many days, I am humbled by this vocation. That was one of those days.
Christopher Henry is Senior Pastor of Shallowford Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
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