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Resources: LLM Archives
For nearly a century, Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.

Good Stewardship Begins with the Pastor
By the Rev. Robert Zimmer

I was very honored to be chosen as the 1997 recipient of the Richard Lee Peterman Good Steward Award. I know this award presented annually to a parish pastor who demonstrates leadership in stewardship ministry is named after the late Rev. Dr. Richard Lee Peterman who was a model good steward in every way. This makes it a particularly humbling experience for me. I hope that in some small way I can represent the spirit of Dr. Peterman and the many pastors in the ELCA who are modeling the best in Christian stewardship and whose congregations show it. I am happy to have this opportunity to share some of my thoughts - as pastor - on Christian stewardship.

The role of the pastor is the key
If you want to learn about the stewardship of a congregation, look at the pastor. The old adage applies: as the branch is bent so also is the tree inclined. As the pastor goes, so goes the congregation. Show me a congregation where the pastor:
appreciates the value of stewardship promotion
understands basic stewardship principles
personally plays a role in enabling stewardship to happen,
and serves as a model of a good steward...
and I will show you a dynamic and growing congregation!

Good stewardship in a congregation happens when the pastor:

Appreciates the value of stewardship promotion

A pastor simply must recognize the essential value of stewardship promotion. Do some not? Absolutely!

Pastors have been known to reduce stewardship to finances and say "money is not strength, we are best off leaving that to the laity." Such statements are usually a copout - an excuse for avoiding what some folks consider an unpleasant or awkward subject. But even if it is true - that a pastor may not know how to talk about money - there are other areas of stewardship that he or she must talk about and be actively involved in. Even more important than the wise use of financial resources is the wise use of the human resources of a congregation. Identifying, training and mobilizing the laity for ministry has to be at the very top of every pastorís priorities.

It is essential for the pastor to appreciate the value of stewardship promotion. This is the point where good stewardship begins.

Understands the principles of effective stewardship
The second factor necessary for good stewardship is an understanding of basic stewardship principles. The operative words here is involvement.

As people get involved, they "get into giving." Someone has said, "The more you give - the more you give." This is true whether you are referring to time, talent, or treasure. It is axiomatic that "giving begets giving." The more a person gives the more they want to give. Find a congregation that is dynamic and growing and you will find many people of all ages giving time, talent and treasure. They are willing to spend time in the congregationís ministry because they have been given an opportunity to use their time and talents to make good things happen. They give generously of their financial resources because they have ownership in the mission and they see the need.

Understanding good stewardship principles may not be "rocket science", but they do involve the "science", but they do involve the "science of involvement." When the people of God are involved - ministry happens.

Plays a personal role
The pastor must be clearly identified as a leader in the stewardship emphasis of the congregation. Whether promoting the time and talent survey or the pledge program, the pastor must have his or her name clearly attached to the effort. The pastor must also give strong visible support to stewardship leaders and workers. If it is not important enough for the pastor to be actively involved, then maybe itís not all that important.

As a matter of principle, pastors should almost never "preach money." However, stewardship themes should find their way into every sermon. The people do not resent "stewardship talk" they love it because it challenges them. They do not even mind "money talk" if it is done in a careful and respectful way. What people object to is "blanket" guilt tripping.

There are many "packaged" stewardship programs and helps available, each having its won strengths and weaknesses. Congregational stewardship committees should choose one that suits their particular needs. Almost any system or program is better than none.

Whatever the plan, its effectiveness will be greatly improved when the pastor plays a personal role.

Openly sets the space
Pastors today like pastors at any time in the past must be willing to invest their time, talent, and treasure sacrificially - they must openly set the pace. Sorry if you are one of those who believes that pastoring is a 45-hour-a-week job. Or, that the pastor is just like anyone else in the congregation. Wrong! Like any top executive in a successful corporation, the pastor must be willing to put forth time and effort far beyond what he or she expects of his or her people. The pastor sets the standard and the tone. If a pastor is not willing to make some sacrifices, he or she should find another less demanding profession. Itís that simple.

The pastor must lead the way in proportional giving. In may 40 years of full time church work, I have heard all the excuses and "rationales" for why pastors may have a lower standard for giving. For a pastor, the tithe must be seen as a starting point. Anything short of that is a negative example to the parishioners. In a careful and accurate way, information on the pastorís giving must filter down to the parishioners.

The pastor must openly set the space in proportional giving.

Closing thoughts
I once asked one of our very active members who for many years limited his involvement to Sunday church attendance why he suddenly became so very active. He responded immediately - almost without thinking - "Nobody gave me a net before." I did not have to reflect long on his answer to understand his meaning since I had recently preached on the scripture passage where Jesus calls people to be "fishers of men." In his own way this person was telling me that for the first time he was feeling freed-up, permitted and trusted to do ministry that previously he felt was not his to do. We need to free up our laity - to train and trust them so that together with their pastors they can get the job done.

Stewardship is a way of life and pastors must diligently work to:
appreciate the value of stewardship promotion
understand basic stewardship principles
personally play a role in the stewardship program
and openly set the pace.

These are essential ingredients for a dynamic and growing church!

 © Copyright 1997 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. All rights reserved.

The Rev. Robert Zimmer, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, served as pastor of St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, Sarasota, Fla., when this appeared in the winter 1997 issue of Faith in Action.