It's stewardship season for many parishes—the time of year when we ask people to prayerfully consider sharing their time, talent, and treasure with the church for the glory of God.
At times, these sermons feel existential.
A lot depends on the outcome of our congregation's stewardship, from the mission and ministry of our congregations, to staffing decisions, to even just keeping the lights on.
Given these stakes, it can be tempting to preach from scarcity rather than abundance, to exert pressure rather than issue an invitation, to emphasize monetary bottom lines rather than spiritual transformation.
You face a choice:
- You can preach the importance of giving, ask people to tithe their ten percent, and then await the success or failure of your sermons as determined by the pledge cards.
- Or, you can preach the Spirit's invitation for all of us to be transformed into believers who appreciate and extend God's abundance and generosity...all the time.
If you prefer the latter approach, learn to recognize these ten common mistakes that unintentionally convey "money!" when you're trying to preach "stewardship." That way, you can craft sermons that invite participation in God's abundance and creation instead.
Mistake #1: Focusing on people's giving (or lack Thereof)
When our sermons focus on what our listeners give or do not give—what they do or do not do— our focus is in the wrong place.
God is the focus!
- God creates abundance.
- God creates generosity and kindness.
- God creates our capacity to notice and care about the needs of others.
- God gives us the hope of "shalom," the state where every person has enough to sustain them in body, mind, and spirit.
- And God gives us the desire to make "shalom" on earth as it is in heaven.
Stewardship is about God's "over-the-topness" in giving us so much that anything we give away leaves us with even more.
Stewardship doesn't emphasize our sacrifice or generosity. Stewardship sings God's praises.
Mistake #2: Saying "stewardship" when you really mean "money"
How many clergy and lay leaders lose sleep at night wondering whether people are giving their gifts and skills to their congregation to the glory of God?
My guess is not many.
How many clergy and lay leaders lose sleep at night wondering whether people are giving their time to their congregation to the glory of God?
Given how many fewer people there are to volunteer today compared to a couple of generations ago, my guess is more than the above but not a majority.
How many clergy and lay leaders lose sleep at night wondering whether people are giving their money to their congregation for the glory of God?
I'm only guessing, but I'm pretty sure it's more than both of the above combined. And then some.
We get anxious about many things, but when it comes to the "Big Three" of stewardship (time, talent, and treasure), it's money that makes most of us sweat.
I suggest honesty and transparency.
Name the anxiety. Name the hopes. Name the concerns. And if you need to ask for money, ask for it unapologetically.
But recognize that stewardship is about more than dollars and cents.
Mistake #3: Not saying the "M" Word
For many people, money is a taboo subject, as inappropriate for public discourse as sex and politics. To talk about money from the pulpit makes many a parishioner—and preacher—squirm.
However, money is neither good nor bad.
Money is simply a tool to be used for the right job at the right time.
Since a congregation can't successfully barter with the power company to exchange the flow of electricity to the church building for prayer, we pay the power company with money.
Unless the preacher is comfortable receiving a quart of milk and a dozen eggs, engineering designs for a widget, on-demand chauffeur services for errands, or a spare room for the preacher in retirement, we're probably stuck with money as the medium of exchange.
Furthermore, the mission of the church depends on money. Yes, depends. Money is a tool that can effect powerful means to spread the Gospel.
My congregation does not spend a lot of money (compared to our total budget) to feed, thank, and care for our neighboring firefighters at our monthly Sunday brunch. But the result? Priceless. We are transformed by the opportunity to say "thank you."
That experience and transformation are well worth the "ask" for money.
There are SEVEN more mistakes many preachers make in their stewardship sermons, including:
overlooking the parish's best stewardship mentors
a common sermon format that Inadvertently tunes people out
Setting up stewardship as A win/loss