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Immovable Truths in a Time of Unstable Change: Inspiring Generosity in the Face of a Pandemic

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By The Rev. Dr. Rick Young, President of Texas Presbyterian Foundation

“I know you hate this Sunday as much as I do,
so just fill out your pledge cards and we can move forward.”

Did you just cringe inside? I did. These are actual words I heard come out of a pastor’s mouth on Stewardship Sunday. At the time, I was not sure whether to laugh or cry, as I often had these same thoughts when I was in the parish and Stewardship Sunday rolled around. Thank goodness for me, and the congregation, I did not share those sentiments verbally.

Moving into stewardship season this year, we find ourselves in a situation unlike any experienced in our lifetime. There can be no question that the pandemic affects each of our actions at this point. However, when it comes to generosity, the following key principles remain true: 

  • Own It, Believe It: If a congregation perceives that the pastor is uncomfortable discussing generosity or stewardship, they will follow this lead. The pastor must lead by example. Last fall a pastor invited me to preach the Stewardship Sermon, and I agreed. The congregation had planned a fellowship dinner following the worship service to launch the campaign. As I arrived for the service, I was told that the pastor was on vacation. I was surprised to hear that the congregation was confused as to why they continued to have unsuccessful campaigns.  If the pastor is not involved, no one else will be. Transparency is a must. You must be clear, concise, and authentic.
  • Be Creative: Presenting a balance sheet and asking a congregation to give in support of the budget may have worked well in the 1950s, but it is ineffective today. Keeping the lights on is not enough of a reason to give. People want to see lives transformed, and they want to participate in these mission endeavors. But budgets are important, right? An effective way to approach this conversation is with a narrative budget. This type of illustrated budget will bring to life a regular budget in a way that sparks emotion in the members of your congregation.  Once, a local congregation asked each one of their ministries and missions to prepare a sign which they used to fill the sanctuary. They then held a missions fair for the congregation. This gave their members a chance to visit with each of the ministries and missions. Even if you do not support many missions, calculate how often the building is opened to groups outside of the congregation , such as AA, Boy Scouts of America, grief counseling, or food pantries. Narrative budgets and interactive communications will look different for every church, and they should be carefully adjusted to fit the individual mission and culture.
  • Year-round generosity: We make a mistake when we only talk about stewardship and generosity once a year. When this happens, the congregation learns to not think about stewardship during the other months of the year. There are ways to continue this generosity and stewardship dialogue. Generosity is a spiritual discipline and should be presented in that way. People are looking for ways to deepen their spiritual life, and this discipline should be part of that. Stewardship can and should be presented throughout the year and can include the stewardship of God’s creation. Remember, stewardship is more than asking for a pledge. it involves the whole person including his or her time, talent, and resources. These can be easily given at any time throughout the year, not just in the fall. 

Though these principles may not seem revolutionary, I continue to be surprised at how many congregations trip themselves up by not taking care of the details. Texas Presbyterian Foundation (TPF) regularly works with churches to assist in establishing stewardship and generosity programs. Visit us any time at www.tpf.org for complimentary educational tools, planned giving information, key sample documents, and more. The resources are there for you to take advantage of!

About the Author
Rick Young became President/CEO of Texas Presbyterian Foundation (TPF) in October, 2011. Before coming to TPF, Rev. Young served as Regional Representative for the Synod of the Sun and Synod of the Rocky Mountains for Board of Pensions of the PCUSA for six and a half years. Rick was the pastor of four different congregations in Texas and Oklahoma for twenty-seven years prior to his service with the Board of Pensions. Rick is a graduate of Trinity University, received his MDiv. from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has an MBA from Dallas Baptist University and his DMin. from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Rick served on the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. for six years serving on the Executive Committee and chairing the Investment Committee with responsibility for investing over $6B in pension assets. Rick is married with two grown daughters and a son-in-law and lives outside of Fort Worth, Texas.

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