Dr. Ed Kruse, HealthierChurch.org*
I farmed for a little while, and I find many stewardship parallels with farming. Instead of growing time, talents, and treasure in our congregations, let’s imagine that we were farmers and we were interested in raising the output of our crop. Here are some options: We could increase the number of plants. We could grow better quality, higher yielding plants. Or, we could get more efficient at harvesting. The first two approaches increase the capacity to actually grow more, up to a point, and better harvesting raises the farmer’s capacity. And the greater the person’s capacity, the greater the potential to receive increased responsibility and opportunity, as exemplified by Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV). Notice how two of the three farmers “shared the owner’s happiness” and were “put in charge of more.”
Non-givers → First Time → Regular → Tithers → Extravagant
Think about the people in your congregation using the above example, from the non-givers on the left, to extravagant givers on the right. Maybe you think about this more broadly than just giving, using a term like participation or commitment. Perhaps you talk about participants in ministries of the congregation the way ELCA Pastor Michael Peck does growing from observer to participant to partner to leader, and then to developer. Does what we do as a congregation depend on emerging capacity of disciples?
How are we approaching stewardship, as growers or harvesters? Or both? In your congregation, are 20 percent doing 80 percent of the giving? Might the best strategy be to focus on better harvesting from that 20 percent? That might be easier in the short run because growing disciples takes time. On the other hand, it may rob the 80 percent of an opportunity to grow more. If our higher yielding plants are not getting replenished, might it be time to accept our stewardship challenge of faith formation and discipleship? Non-givers do not become extravagant overnight. The agricultural principle is to grow seeds from planting to germinating to pollenating to ripening the grain. Organically helping people grow from beginning faith to mature faith might be reflected in growing giving from 1% to 2% to 5%. Or trying tithing and moving to beyond tithing.
I know people for whom the Holy Spirit made this happen organically: John Schreiber (“grew 1% for every year I was ordained”), Arthur Larson (“grew from 10% to a 7-figure bequest to the Stewardship of Life Institute”), (seminary professor Harold Park (“my wife and I give 40% of our fixed income in retirement”) and book-documented Robert G. Le Tourneau (“grew from 10% to 90% of my regular income”). How does that happen? Hopefully this provides an idea to teach others in your ministry.
Congregations are energized by our growing in gratitude, as we engage our faith and life in relationships and service to God and others. Thank you for doing God’s work with a generous heart!
*Credit for Ed Kruse adapting this article must be shared with Steve Oelschlager, ELCA Director for Stewardship; Mike Peck, Lutheran pastor, Overland Park, KS; and Nelson Searcy, Founder of CongregationLeaderInsights.com.