As I move about our campus I visit with Senior students who are in their final weeks of classes as they prepare for graduation, call process, ordination and First Call. What excitement ……and anxiousness! Stewardship leadership is one of the things they are thinking about. I encourage them to find a good coach, a Pastor with proven skills and a good ear to hear them. I have asked several such Pastors to share their council on what they believe are some things to be thinking about as a First Call Pastor engages in stewardship ministry.
Glenn Taibl, Co-Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
What me, a stewardship leader?
Many new leaders will soon be ready to move out into the life of the church as seminaries across our system celebrate graduations. We all know you aren’t “ready” when you graduate; you aren’t fully formed as a leader. Time and experience will continue to grow us until we retire, and even until we die. That said, we all hope to start well, and given that most of us began pretty green on the stewardship front, I offer some thoughts.
Let me tell you about Al Nelson and Stan Saterstrom. They were my first stewardship teachers when I was a new pastor. They married sisters, Laura and Marg, and together ran a shoe store for their entire careers. They were generous with the congregation, with their leadership skills, their generosity of spirit, and with their financial resources.
Laura and Marg were easily as fine at stewardship leading as their husbands, but it was Al and Stan who were on the church council when I began. They taught me about being a team player, which is a profound way of stewarding the health of a congregation. Al used to say, “Get in there and wrestle with decisions before they are made. Say your piece. Listen to others. And once the decision is made, even if you argued against it, you own that decision as much as those who promoted the outcome that prevailed.”
Al and Stan were also very committed to an annual budget that matched the total commitments made by members every fall. The first week of December, committee chairs brought their hopes and dreams for ministry and the group worked it out. Almost always, it meant smaller committee budgets (this was an inner city congregation), but cuts one year were often an inspiration for giving the next. We (my spouse and I shared an associate position) saw the value of this discipline, even when, one year, it meant a new call for us when a partner congregation decided to direct their giving elsewhere.
I wish good stewardship teachers for every new leader. Sometimes those leaders will teach from their strengths, and sometimes from their dysfunction. The trick is to identify them and learn.
I also hope that first call leaders enter a first call financially well. I’m not talking about being rich or even, necessarily, debt free. I am talking about having a sense about what it looks like to live sustainably, resiliently, and generously, no matter how much money you have. Of course, I hope that first package is sufficient to live on, but there are two sides to that equation. One is enough money coming in. The other is measured amounts of money going out. If you’ve used seminary as a time to discern your values (shaped by the gospel) and align your financial life with them, you will be a long way toward being financially well, and leading from this strength.
Finally, I wish first call leaders a good, healthy dose of curiosity about the economy, personal finance, and non-profit finance. Most of us don’t go to seminary because we are passionate about these things. But they are not rocket science, and learning enough to be personally wise and know who to trust can go a long way toward being a good stewardship leader. In such a money-obsessed culture, the church could be so helpful to people struggling to orient themselves around finances. In such a money-stressed culture, you could be so helpful to the church as it adjusts to being one among many worthy causes on people’s philanthropic radar.
Here’s to new leaders! May new ideas and endurance be yours!
Pastor Catherine Malotky serves as a Philanthropic Adviser at Luther Seminary. She has written extensively on stewardship including past articles for this newsletter and as a presenter for Rethinking Stewardship conferences at Luther Seminary.
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