What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Gasp! Stewardship

I've now been the pastor at Greenpoint for two and a half years, and I'll admit that there have been countless moments where I hadn't had a clue about what I was doing. While I excelled at the read the book and write the paper rhythms seminary, and am naturally inclined to understanding the logic and structure of Reformed theology, I am completely out of my league when it comes to revitalizing a congregation. They don't teach you in seminary what you need to know to do this kind of work. A sort list of just a few of the things I've picked up through this "on the job" training:

  • If it's cold inside and the thermostat is set for 68, but there's no heat coming through the radiators, there's something wrong. Don't just think that the problem will go away on its own. Press the red button on the furnace and if nothing happens, call the service people. If it's cold outside, don't delay.
  • You cannot find housing for every homeless person who knocks on your door.
  • When you think that using candy in a children's sermon is a good idea think again. If you must utilize this brilliant idea of yours, make sure to hand the candy out AFTER the children's sermon. Otherwise, chaos will ensue.
There are many more serious moments that I wish I had somehow prepared for in seminary, but who would have every imagined each and every totally bizarre senario? It's impossible, and so I understand that seminaries teach us how to find the answers on our own, and not just what the answers are supposed to be.

One of the prime growth areas for me right now is church administration. And here, I have to say, I could have used a little better preparation. Our congregation has grown to the point where we need to reassess who we are and what we are doing together. For 17 out of the 20 years before I arrived, we hadn't had a pastor. This has meant that we haven't had anyone to guide such a process.

And so I'm fearfully attempting this throughout the coming year. I admit, the idea scares me. It's big and kind of daunting. I'm a consensus kind of gal, and we've been able to operate without much organization because we've been so small. Now, we're in a new phase, one which comes with putting down roots and growing strong.

This past week, I attempted to do something that I've never done before (and I also wasn't taught in seminary). I preached a sermon about stewardship. Now most of you might be scratching your head and wondering "wow, she's been a preacher for over three years and she hasn't once preached on stewardship; what's wrong with this chick!?!?"

Okay, I've sprinkled themes of stewardship in many of my sermons. I preach on money regularly, just not exactly directly calling people to give it to the mission of the church. Honestly, I can say that there was something inside of me that felt the time wasn't right. Initially when I arrived, I knew that all the people in the church were giving everything they could to keep the place open. Now that there are so many new folks, though, that isn't necessarily the case.

I know that when I attended church in college, I would pop a buck or two in the plate and call it good. I wasn't challenged to give, but the church I attended seemed to be well off. In fact, though, I wanted desperately to be challenged to give to God. I may not have articulated it that way, but I wanted it nonetheless.

The time felt right last week for a stewardship sermon. I studied and prayed and worried. I worried a lot about how it would be received. We started with the children's sermon. Jen had decided that we needed offering envelopes (yes, we hadn't had offering envelopes for many years here). She ordered a set of 50, which arrived the week before Christmas. I wrapped the box of them in Christmas paper and left it at the front of the sanctuary.

When the kids came down for the children's sermon, they couldn't help but be curious about the wrapped present. They hunted for a name, but finding none announced that obviously it was for everyone. Then they dove in to open it. Paper went flying all over and suddenly the box was open. The kids started pulling out the little boxes. One announced that they were bricks. Another started reading the outside. They pulled out the individual envelopes and asked what they were. I explained that all our gifts come from God and that the envelopes help remind us to give our gifts back to God each week. One of the kids announced, "oh, well if that's what they are for, then we all need them. Let's pass them out to everyone!" And with that the kids jumped up and passed out the envelopes to every single person sitting in the pews. Then they started listing the people who were missing and setting aside boxes for them.

The whole children's sermon couldn't have been better scripted. The kids really seemed to get it. Obviously, children's sermons at the Greenpoint Church aren't spectator sports. I'm really thankful for this since it allows for a real freedom to deliver the message in unique and new ways.

When it came to the sermon, I prayed just a little harder than usual and then took the leap. Here's the text. I changed it a bit while preaching it, but not much.

I'm not quite sure why I was so worried about preaching such a sermon. Part of it must be that even though I worked on Wall Street and am now a financial writer, I still have the WASPy attitude that you don't talk about money - especially in church. Several of the congregants picked up on this, and I even got teased a bit about it after the service. I think the sermon went well. I, for one, felt inspired to give a little more than I am currently. I truly believe in the mission of the Greenpoint Reformed Church, and I know that God is at work in our congregation. So, as is often the case, at least it was the sermon I needed to hear.

I'm wondering if most pastors have difficulty preaching about stewardship and giving? What kind of resources have you used to help encourage giving in your congregation(s)? Any thoughts or ideas would be really appreciated.


Post a Comment

<< Home