Stewardship is a Difficult Conversation About Money

The past shapes many elements of congregational life in America. For example, the month of October is dedicated to stewardship emphasis in many churches. October is the month when the dreaded stewardship sermon is preached, when pledge cards are passed out, when budgets appear, and when tithing is debated. Why? Well, stewardship became identified with the harvest season in a time when farming sustained the life of so many communities and families. Of course, that is no longer the case, but old traditions die hard, and the church must talk about money sometime if it wants to survive and thrive.

At Immanuel, we approach stewardship a little differently. There will be no pledge cards, no capital campaign, and no stewardship sermon in October. Right or wrong we don’t do things that way. The Finance Committee will propose a budget that attempts to project our financial needs for ministry, mission, Christian education, programs, staff salaries/benefits, utilities, and the cost of maintaining our facility in 2018. In the November or December business meeting, the church will vote to approve or reject the budget following a month to review it. When the budget is approved, we will trust the members and friends of Immanuel to give to sustain the life of our church as we strive to remain a viable and vibrant congregation doing God’s bidding in the world.

Perhaps the way we go about stewardship is the most radical thing we do because it is grounded in trust. We trust members to invest in our life together, to determine what they will give to the kingdom of God through Immanuel, and to have a plan for giving what they have dedicated to God. We trust that among the members and friends of Immanuel there are the financial resources to sustain the life of the church and its vision. At times during the year when giving fluctuates that trust may be tested, but we continue to trust that God will provide through the gifts of his people.

Churches find it very difficult to talk about stewardship, for it is a conversation about money. There are two inescapable realities when it comes to financing the life of a church. First, a church must have money to survive, thrive, and fulfill its calling to be the continuing incarnation of Christ in the world. Second, the money a church needs is in the possession of its members. Thus, a church is dependent upon the faithful and generous gifts of its members and friends. The church has no power to coerce giving—thank God! Giving must come freely from a heart grateful to God.

I understand the appeal to “tithing” when October comes around. The “tithe” is a gift of 10% of one’s income offered to God—which typically means it is given to a church. Theoretically, if every member tithed, the financial obligations of the church would be surpassed. Reality is quite different. People who study church stewardship tell us that only a small percentage of church members tithe—3 to 5 percent. These same folks have discovered that most church members give only about 2% of their income. The disparity between the Biblical tithe and what most people give makes for difficult conversations about money in the church.

I discussed tithing with our fifth graders in August. They agreed that tithing was easy to understand and to calculate. They also agreed that if you had a dollar, giving a dime was not a hard. Giving $1.00 if you had $10.00, was easy to do, too. They even agreed that if they had a $100.00 they would give $10.00 to God. We ran into trouble when we got to $ 1,000.00. Giving $100.00 seemed like too much. One student declared I can’t do that. When I asked, “Why?”, she confessed—“because I have $1,000.00 in my savings account.” I let the conversation go, but as we dismissed that same student blurted out: “I could give a $100.00 if we were helping a homeless person.”

Since that Sunday in August, I have pondered the response of that fifth grader. I have wondered if compassion is the wellspring of generosity. I know, as your minister, I get no satisfaction from the thousands of dollars we pay the utility companies each month to keep our building warm or cool and the lights on. I do realize that I am inspired by what Immanuel is able to do to offer help, healing, and hope to the people we encounter along the way. I do think it would be great if we could move our discussion of money in the church away from a discussion about paying the bills to one about investing in the kingdom of God on earth.

Well, it is October, and I guess this article is your “stewardship moment.” At Immanuel, we will continue to trust our members and friends to give faithfully and generously to sustain our life together and our vision of ministry in Jesus’ name. I pray that we may become cheerful givers sharing lavishly out of our abundant blessings.


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.