Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stewardship 101 in 2013

Episcopal couples talk finance just like other couples; they budget just like other couples. Experts tell them the three largest items in their budget will be housing, transportation and food; over spending in these categories is a proscription for doom and gloom.  So we find this nice Episcopal couple sorting out their financial plan for 2013 and discussing stewardship – how much of their blessings will be returned to God, through the Parish and to the other charities they support.  It will be a stretch but they are committing themselves to 14% of their gross income.  The largest proportion will be their church pledge, but dollars will also go to support a child in Guatemala, to assist two local food pantries, to fulfill cultural and fine arts pledges, to support service club Foundations, plus a number of other donations. 

This nice Episcopal couple feels good about their decision making; it is a spiritual decision and they believe an appropriate one.  Their signed pledge card to the Parish will equal 8.5%, with the remaining 5.5% going to the other worthwhile charitable endeavors.  Good people, great plan, everyone is happy; drop the pledge care in the offering plate and all is well.  If only that were true!
Two Sundays into the New Year they hear the Rector announce an anticipated budget shortfall and suggest everyone just add $5.00 a week to their pledge.  (In the trade this is called the “Numbers Game”.)  Wait a minute our nice Episcopal couple thinks to themselves; we have already talked to God about our stewardship and now you tell us we are wrong?
Two more weeks and the Rector again announces that the budget shortfall still continues and admonishes the congregation to consider what they spend on fancy clothes, nice cars, grand vacations. (We clergy know this as the “Guilt Trip” approach to stewardship.)  Our couple discusses this at home and again believes that to increase the total percentage to stewardship is inappropriate; equally inappropriate would be to cut the amounts going to other worthwhile charities.
The Rector next announces that unless the members dig deeper, the Parish will just fade away (the “Poor Us” approach).  Of course, that can’t be God’s will -  therefore the Rector and Vestry have decided on a “Faith Budget” which means that they are going to spend at the predetermined  budget level and have “Faith” that “God will provide.”
Some Rectors will cry “foul” and plead they have never used the Numbers Game, or the Guilt Game, or the Poor Us Game, or the Faith Budget Game.  But Rectors do play games with the congregation every time the bulletin lists or they announce a fund raiser or a special offering.
Nothing is more frustrating than to make a meaningful pledge to a congregation and then be nickeled and dimed to death.  God Bless the Rector who tells the congregation that the Parish will operate on pledge/plate giving and there will be no special offerings or fund raisers - period!   One Parish I lead endorsed this policy and allotted $50,000.00 to the Out Reach Committee; they handled all special offering requests, some were funded, others were not.
It is time to trust that congregation members are telling the truth when they make a pledge and to write a budget accordingly.  To keep asking for more is to view them as dishonest cheaters that have to be manipulated.
What happened to our nice Episcopal couple?  They moved their membership.


  1. Great article with great insights. I have a number of times operated on the faith Budget both in ministry and family...something to think about!

  2. Thanks, Gary, you point out fallacies in financial stewardship that are common and with very long histories. As well, you make clear what the essential basis of real giving, itself an abundant resource spiritually.

  3. You have made a great statement about Christian Stewardship and you speak right to the heart of the matter. Stewardship is giving/responding to God by faith from abundance, the glass completely full. I like II Corinthians. "The Lord loves a cheerful giver."

  4. I certainly agree with this. I'm self employed and my income is sporadic. No regular check or easy-to-budget income, so I must hold some back and juggle often. I pledge and deliberately give more when I can and occasionally can't quite get there, but no matter what is said to entice more giving, I know I'm doing my best and would pray that others know this as well. I understand being worried about meeting the bills of the church and each of us deals with this fear in a different way. But there is a thin line where people can be driven away from a church, and it's sad when it is crossed. I also think giving involves other things. Volunteer cleaning, mowing, buying paper for the copy machine, replacing that old leaky faucet, repairing a bad roof flashing if you can, etc. It's good when vestry, priest, or deacon becomes aware and gives quiet appreciation for these things. I would also think that an occasional message with thanks to those that are continuing to give a pledge is appropriate. We don't give for appreciation, but smile inside when it's expressed.
    Thanks for the thoughtful message.

  5. While I agree with this to some extent, how do you change a culture with a tradition of pledging meagerly and topping up with fundraisers. As a priest who tithes, earning well below the average household income for my parish, I find it discouraging to see my name near the top of the list of givers, and frustrating when people don't understand that I don't have the budget to participate generously in fundraisers.
    Let alone the outcry that arises when I suggest that perhaps, if people are not able to give more money, we need them to give of their time so that we can cut things from the budget and have them done by volunteers.

  6. Raewynne,you are not alone. There are a number of factors to consider in developing a leadership process re. giving. Do you have a diocesan consultation process available? If not, you are welcome to contact me. I worked in stewardship development for my entire active ministry and am willing to share some basic principles along with what Gary wrote.

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  8. Thank you for the post. While few give 8.5% to the church, the allegations are the same and too often justified. It began by a failure to invest progressively in Christian formation and the modeling those principals and values of the church. People don't come to the church with an empty mind but with a foundation built by others and other circumstances. While I don't support the adoption of a faith budget, we do need to plan on growth (not without a plan, teaching, & mentoring). Growth will result in some portion of increased income (donations and pledges). I use this formula: (average annual pledge/12 * 4)*x. Note: 'x' represents the growth trend of the last 2 years. Remember that people come to the church through one of five gateways (Worship, Community, Discipleship, Stewardship, Outreach) and generally only worship goers give to the plate/pledge. This is responsible management, faith and discipleship.

  9. Many thanks for your comments, both here on the Blog and directly to my email(

    For me, stewardship is to the Church, as flame is to a fire. The clergy do well to make use of the excellent resources offered by Ron Reed.