By Lori Wiersma and Connie Kuiper VanDyke
Stewardship literally means to take care of something that has been entrusted to you by someone else. In England, stewards were in charge of everything in the manor—not just the treasury but the pantry, the bedding, and the baths. They had to account for everything to the lord of the manor. As stewards, we are in charge of everything God has given to us—our money, our time, our talents, our homes, our families—everything!
Understanding Your Role
Meeting the financial needs of the church is only one of the responsibilities of the diaconate. If you are asking how hard you will have to push people to meet the budget, you are asking the wrong question. Your task as a deacon is not to squeeze the congregation until the bills are paid. If everyone in the church is cheerfully giving an amount that pleases God and the budget still has a shortfall, the problem is not with the givers but with the budget. Remember that our budgets, at home as well as at church, show whom we worship and what our priorities really are. Your job is to lead your members to joyfully share everything God has entrusted to them so that God is glorified and they are blessed. “‘Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (Mal. 3:10).
The question you want people in your congregation to be asking themselves is “How can my whole life show that Jesus is my Lord?” That’s different than asking, “How much money do I have to give to the church?” Learning to be a good steward of all God has entrusted to us is part of our sanctification and reflects our spiritual walk with God. Your goal is to help people grow in giving everything generously.
Shifting the focus from the need of the church to receive to the need for the giver to grow brings about a dramatic shift of perspective. How do you help people make that shift?
This is a huge undertaking, especially given how closely we guard our time and possessions. But teaching good stewardship is one of the things you were charged to do when you were installed. So take heart, trust God to lead, and set a good example yourself.
An excellent place to begin is by arranging a Firstfruits seminar for your congregation. Representatives of the Barnabas Foundation (www.barnabasfoundation.com) will come to your church and teach the principles and practices of handling well all that God has entrusted.
To help members of your congregation understand the many ways they can be good stewards beyond financial gifts, highlight opportunities for them to invest their time by helping with a service project, teaching a class, bringing food for the pantry, or being a prayer warrior.
Consider taking an occasional “time and talent” offering. The week before your offering, put a list of volunteer opportunities in the bulletin. Be sure to include things children could help with, such as sharpening the pencils in the pews or collecting cups after a communion service. On the day of the offering, include the list in the bulletin again with a tear-off section to be filled in with the member’s name, contact information, and the job selected. Allow a couple of minutes for people to fill out the survey, and then pass the offering plates. Be sure that all gifts are acknowledged! If some members offer gifts you cannot use right now, express appreciation and let them know you will be watching for an opportunity to use that gift. Then follow through.
Another kind of reverse offering is to write down all the items needed for your food pantry on separate slips of paper. Put all the slips in the offering plates; at the time of the offering, ask everyone to take one or more slips. Allow time the following Sunday for members to bring their food items to the pantry. If your church doesn’t have its own pantry, set up a collection point in your church and arrange for volunteers to deliver this tangible offering to a community food bank.
A third suggestion is to write the names of shut-ins on slips of paper and put them in the offering plates. (If you have only a few shut-ins relative to total membership, repeat the names on separate cards, adding specific dates throughout the month or year. This assures that shut-in members will receive ongoing visits and stay connected to your church family.) Have each member take one slip as the plates are passed. During the week ahead, members should send a card, make a phone call, or visit that shut-in. This is another good way to involve children. Most elderly people really enjoy the exuberance children bring when they visit, and a handmade card from a youngster can bring special joy.