Congregations find stewardship growth with LCEF program

By Kim Krull

When Barbara Mulvey was asked to lead the team for a new stewardship education emphasis at her congregation, this member of St. John’s EvangelicalStewardship/St. John Lutheran Church, Rome, N.Y., wanted to duck and run. 

“I didn’t want to go knocking on doors and twisting arms, which is why I was so surprised by the whole approach,” said Mulvey, who resisted her first instinct and agreed to help present the Consecrated Stewards program this fall.  “People were actually happy to give.  They didn’t feel like their arms were twisted or pockets picked.”

Mulvey chuckled.  “This (Consecrated Stewards) was a new concept for us,” she said. “We had never looked at stewardship this way before.”

St. John’s is among a growing number of LCMS congregations taking a fresh — or even first — look at stewardship through a new emphasis developed by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Capital Funding Services.

Laypeople, pastors, and Synod leaders say the low-key, biblically based Consecrated Stewards is generating both spiritual and financial results and can help fuel the “Stewardship Renaissance” called for by Synod President Gerald Kieschnick.

“For a long time, we have neglected to preach about this (stewardship) and have it at the forefront of our teachings,” said Dr. William Diekelman, the Synod’s firsDiekelmant vice president, who Kieschnick named in September to head the Synod’s Stewardship Renaissance.

“Stewardship is not about money or budgets, but about managing our lives and all the rich and wonderful resources God has given us for the sake of His kingdom.  It’s vitally important,” Diekelman said.  “I absolutely believe every congregation, no matter its size or its level of stewardship, can benefit from the stewardship education provided by Consecrated Stewards.”

Pastors agree.  Rev. Paul Rist, pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, was searching for a way “to ask people to focus on their commitment to Christ, to do some study, and to take a step forward.”  Last November, Ascension became the first congregation to participate in the Consecrated Stewards pilot program.

“It fit us very, very well,” Rist said.  “It was about you (the individual Christian) making a personal commitment, not about the church needing money.”

Participants applaud Consecrated Stewards’ emphasis on the Bible instead of budgets.

That scriptural focus was the goal of Dr. Art Scherer, a regional consultant with Capital Funding Services (CFS).  After repeated requests from pastors and congregants for stewardship resources, he developed Consecrated Stewards.  Scherer adapted the CFS program from a popular stewardship education book, with the author’s blessing.

“Consecrated Stewards is based on the need of the giver to give in joyful response to God, not the need of the church to receive,” said Scherer, a 28-year veteran parish pastor and former LCMS Southeastern District president.

Scherer added solid Lutheran theology through Bible studies, sermon outlines, and prayers.  CFS — the capital fund-raising arm of the Synod that helps congregations and agencies raise funds for capital needs — introduced the emphasis as a pilot program about a year ago.

To date, 17 congregations have participated or are taking part in the debut phase of Consecrated Stewards, led by both CFS regional consultants and district-based “guest leaders.”  As more guest leaders are trained, CFS expects more congregations to be able to participate. (Click here for related story.)

Participants use words like “joy” and “celebration” to describe the four-week emphasis that ties the commitment process to worship.  Program highlights, they say, are celebrations of congregational ministries and heart-felt testimonies by fellow members. 

The program, Diekelman says, avoids two universally loathed pitfalls.  “Pastors don’t like to talk about money, and laypeople don’t want someone to make them feel guilty about what they put in the offering plate,” he said.  “When laypeople stand up and speak from the heart about how God has touched their lives, that’s huge.  It’s scriptural, and it’s infectious.”

Consecrated Stewards’ main goal is to raise stewardship.  But another result is increased giving.  Participating congregations experience, on average, between a 15 and 35 percent increase in annual envelope giving commitments, Scherer said. 

At Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Leawood, Kan., Rev. Tom Krause says Consecrated Stewards “presented stewardship in a way that is easily understood and that touches the heart.  Folks got it, and they responded accordingly.”  After the congregation took part in the program in January, annual giving commitments increased about 30 percent, the pastor said.

While many assume that funding concerns drive the need for stewardship education, Rev. Larry Reinhardt, interim director, District and Congregational Services’ Stewardship Ministry, cites another reason.  He encourages districts and congregations to participate in Consecrated Stewards because, he says, Christian stewardship in its broadest sense is Christian discipleship.

“In our culture today, it is so easy to become consumers rather than givers — not only (consumers) of money but of all of life’s resources,” Reinhardt said.  “A Lutheran leader of the past century said it so well: ‘Stewardship is all that I do after I say I believe.’ ”

Posted Oct. 27, 2006

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