Transformative Stewardship Calendars
For most of us, when we hear the word “stewardship,” our minds instantly go to the annual pledge drive. In fact, in consulting with clergy and vestries around the country, I have often heard the terms used synonymously, as in, “We had such good stewardship these last couple of years, we were finally able to hire that youth leader.” As a result, “stewardship” has become little more than a churchy word for (an often unpleasant) fundraising event in the fall. However, contrary to popular understanding, stewardship doesn’t have its roots in church budget meetings but throughout scripture starting with Genesis and continuing in the many of the teachings of Jesus, most famously the Parable of the Talents – from which it derives its name. At its heart, stewardship calls us to a lifetime of discernment around the following question: How do we steward (put to good use) the gifts we’ve been given in all their many forms to do the work that God has given us to do?
A stewardship calendar uses the rhythm of the liturgical seasons to mobilize, teach, and inspire your members to recognize and appreciate the many ways they have been gifted, and then to practice putting those gifts to work building the Kingdom of God. A stewardship calendar can not only help us reclaim stewardship as a vital part of our formation as Christian disciples, but it can inspire giving as a spiritual practice in ways that are both life giving and transformative.
While there is no single way to organize one, here are a few ideas for getting your imaginations started:
Advent - Faith & Finances/Simpler Living
When the rest of the country is in the midst of the holiday shopping frenzy kicked off by that highest of consumer holy days, “Black Friday,” why not offer a series that explores our relationship with money and stuff, and how they might be a barrier to our relationship with God (think the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler)? Advent is an important time to counter-program the culture with exploring themes of simpler living, consumerism, debt and even budgeting. There are many excellent resources out there you can draw from and the resulting conversations can be powerful and healing. Because you will likely be done with your pledge drives by Advent, your congregation will be more open to honest, spiritual conversations about money since you are not also asking for it.
Epiphany – Christ’s Light in the World/Outreach
Epiphanytide is a great time to focus on the congregation’s use of its gifts – its people, its buildings, its budget – and to celebrate the difference you are making in your community and the world. My congregation tithed about 10% of its income last year to more than a dozen non-profits in the community, which in turn built some amazing relationships, changed the course of more than a few lives, and got the church into communities who had never heard of it before. Sharing stories of the impact your congregation has on its community builds tremendous enthusiasm and pride for the mission of your church and is crucial to motivating donors in your congregation, particularly younger generations, when the annual pledge drive comes around.
Lent – Life & Legacy/Planned Giving
What if you offered a Lenten soup supper after Ash Wednesday that downplayed classic planned giving tools like wills, trusts and Legacy Societies, and instead challenged parishioners to ask, “How do I want to be remembered?” That’s a powerful question and the answer can start to change the way we live today. One of the most powerful exercises I have seen is to ask parishioners to write their own eulogy and share it with the class, and then reflect on what we might start or stop, to make it a reality. Again, it’s about using the season to inspire conversations that lead to personal transformation.
Pentecost – Spiritual Gifts/Time & Talent
The season of Pentecost is a perfect time to balance the fall pledge campaign with a time and talent campaign. Consider mirroring your pledge campaign, including pledge cards and lay witnesses who share short testimonials about how giving their time and talent has helped them to grow in their faith. This is also a good time for ministry fairs or spiritual gift assessments to help show your congregation that contrary to popular belief, everyone is gifted in the economy of God and everyone has a unique and vital place in the Body of Christ. This has the added benefit of supporting your fall pledge campaign as your efforts to teach about giving financially as a spiritual practice will feel more authentic when you show you are just as serious about gifts of time and talent.
Easter – New Life/Health & Wellness
The Easter themes of dying to our old self and rising to new life are a great time to focus on whole body health and wellness. By this point most of our New Year’s resolutions have been long forgotten so why not use this season to remind ourselves that the first gift we have been given is our bodies and that we are called to care for them so that we might care for others? By spring, the weather is good enough get outdoors and prayer walk the neighborhood around the church as both an evangelistic and healthy spiritual practice. Perhaps there is a fitness expert in the congregation who could offer classes that marry physical fitness, healthy eating and spiritual wellness.
Ordinary Time – Creation Care
If you missed Earth Day, the “green season” is a good time to focus on themes of creation care. Neighborhood clean-ups, electronic recycling day, nature hike Eucharists, and garden planting are just a few of the many ways that the congregation can use the long season of ordinary time to celebrate the God’s gift of creation and recommit ourselves to its care. The possibilities are endless!
Fall – Giving as a Spiritual Practice/Pledge Campaign
By the time your fall campaign comes around, you will have effectively spent a good part of the year opening the eyes of your congregation to the many ways we have been blessed and have practiced giving those differing gifts away in ways that care for and build the Kingdom of God. By the time we get to the fall pledge campaign, you are now free to teach and preach about giving as a spiritual practice in a way that is more authentic and credible, because it has been integrated into a broader, year-round formation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s harder for people to dismiss our spiritual conversations around giving money as self-serving because it’s what you have been doing in every other context all year.
Again, these are just a few ideas. There is no one way to do it. The point is to use your imagination, the rhythm of the church calendar and the cultural calendars, to draw your congregation into teachable moments of how God has gifted us, and how we are called to put those gifts to work transforming the world and ourselves in the process.
For more information, contact Rev. Chris Harris at email@example.com.
Chis Harris is Assistant Rector at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Poway, CA. Prior to that Chris served as Canon for Congregational Development at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, where his responsibilities included evangelism, newcomer welcome, small group organization, ministry development, communications and stewardship. Chris continues that ministry at St. Bartholomew’s where he joined the staff as Congregational Development Minister in September of 2015. Prior to ordination, Chris defended people from the IRS as a tax attorney. He has served as Chairman of the Alpha Project for the Homeless, a San Diego-based multi-service homeless outreach agency recognized nationally by the President of the United States as the country’s 185th Point of Light. Chris currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship, the Steering Committee for Invite-Welcome-Connect, and is a facilitator for Gathering of Leaders, and is a national speaker on congregational development topics including evangelism and stewardship.
- Year Round Stewardship: Talking About Money, an ECF webinar led by Chris Harris, February 11, 2014
- Annual Campaign Timeline, a tool to help congregations understand the need for year-round planning
- 3 Blogs on Stewardship: #1 Year 'Round Stewardship by Bob Leopold, ECF Vital Practices Blog, February 13, 2015
- Year Round Stewardship an ECF webinar led by Erin Weber-Johnson, February 11, 2015
- Lessons from an Annual Giving Campaign by David Posterer, Vestry Papers, September 2010
- Free Resources from TENS (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship)