While many congregations long for more funds to sustain their ministries, the shadow side of stewardship is that receiving too many funds also presents a ministry conundrum. What’s the right balance of mission and saving for a rainy day? Were the right gift policies in place? How does the congregation take part of the discernment — and who should make the final decision? In today’s article, Paula Tsufis reflects on the beginning of her congregation’s challenge to embrace such abundance.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Challenge of Abundance
As a lifelong foodie and a person passionate about providing hospitality, I’ve always loved the imagery of Psalm 23 — God preparing the feast where “my cup overflows.” This divine shepherd psalm is also cherished by my congregation, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Duluth. Recently, a substantial bequest to our church, followed by a wildly successful capital campaign to pay off our mortgage, has led to an unexpected abundance. Of course, our immediate response was “Thanks be to God!” followed quickly by “What are we going to do with all this money?” How do we decide? How do we avoid common congregational funding traps of first come, first serve, squeaky wheel gets the grease, or accommodating the desires of the largest or most vocal donors?
Foundations to Guide Us
In John’s Gospel, our Good Shepherd tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” but he doesn’t specifically address the challenges a congregation might experience after a financial windfall. Luckily, our wise lead pastor, Dave Mesner, along with our Vision Council understood the potential divisive power of money in a congregation and formed a process to listen to the hopes and dreams of members related to the wise use of this gift for the church’s future in mission. In addition to the value of members being heard, the process generated an expansive list of ideas for mission and ministry. So, where do we begin to best steward this excess now and in this place? To get answers to difficult questions, I’ve found it’s often best to take another helping of the sustenance found in our biblical and theological foundations.
A few months ago, I agreed to serve as the lay leader of our Stewardship Ministry Team. As I often do in volunteering, I jumped in with both feet, lots of enthusiasm, little expertise, and a trust that I would get what I needed. I have been blessed personally with abundance in my life: a loving and large extended family, a devoted spouse and delightful children, gracious friends and sufficient means. I felt God nudging me to respond, to serve in this challenging stewardship ministry area. When I saw an email from Luther Seminary about the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising, I knew this course was how God would provide. “Ask and you shall receive,” and we did in spades. Both Pastor Dave and I attended this intensive 4-day course and are still digesting the banquet of theological, inspirational, and practical material so warmly and expertly provided.
In the New Testament, kairos refers to an opportune time, a “moment,” or a “season.” Pastor Dave and I knew that it was exactly right time, the kairos, to share with our congregation leaders the lessons learned on biblical abundance and stewardship, nurturing generosity in our congregation, and moving our church giving paradigm from financial transactions to personal transformation, the very heart of the Gospel. It was time to set the table with the spiritual nourishment needed for future discussions and funding decisions to move forward in our mission: Experiencing God, Nurturing Faith and Reaching Out Locally and Globally.
We are just starting some of these conversations but are confident that by taking this opportunity for deep learning and leadership discernment during our time in “green pastures,” God will continue to lead us in the future, traveling “in right paths for his name’s sake.”
Paula Tsufis is a seasoned congregation lay leader, currently serving on the Stewardship Ministry Team at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Duluth, MN.
We invite you to attend, “Beyond Abundance: Faithful Stewardship Language to Fit Our Realities” a daylong stewardship conference at Luther Seminary, Aug. 23, 2017 (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.). For more information, and to register, visit this website.