Last week we noted that the most important single factor in a congregation’s commitment to our shared giving program (apportionments) is a pastor’s commitment and ability to lead in the ministry of giving. Jesus commands us to be givers more than receivers.
The good news is that, even in tough economic times, most of our pastors and most of our churches are finding the means to be faithful in their stewardship. The vast majority (about 70%) of our pastors and churches pay their fair share of Conference administration and mission funds in full.
Marcus Singleton was recruited by us to Alabama from North Carolina to help turnaround our historic St. Paul’s church in downtown Birmingham. We are fortunate to have this talented young pastor among us. Last Sunday Marcus noted, in his sermon, that at St. Paul’s the economic downturn appears to have had no effect on people’s fidelity to the work of the church – those people who were faithful before the economic downturn have continued to be faithful during the recession. The reverse, sadly, is also the case noted Marcus. A new member joined St. Paul’s at the end of the sermon – one of the many who have joined since Marcus’ arrival. St. Paul’s is showing the greatest growth in the congregation’s recent history, thus validating my hunch that people will respond to the truth about their money!
The same week, Clauzell Ridgeway Williams, fresh out of seminary, serving Sweet Home in Gadsden — a church that has been in precipitous decline for two decades, a church that was routinely receiving $20k in salary support from the Conference – will be totally off salary subsidy support by the end of this year and will pay 100% of their apportionments! I’ve often said that financial problems, the inability to pay fair share of apportionments (which rarely amounts to more than a mere 10% of a congregation’s income) is invariably an indicator of weak spiritual health. I’ve been to Sweet Home recently and can testify that this financial wonder is validated by the spiritual energy there on a Sunday morning.
Allen Beasley recently sent me pictures of the beautiful new building at Russellville, a building that was built to house the congregation’s rapidly growing ministries. Allen noted that this achievement is particularly noteworthy because Russellville has been hit as hard by the recession as any place in Alabama and from the beginning of the project the church vowed not to be delinquent in its payment of its fair share of apportionments.
The same week as Clauzell, Allen and Marcus were giving strong witness in the area of financial faithfulness, Mike Pope was concluding an entire month of messages on stewardship. Mike simply asked everyone to “give God a raise.” If someone was giving 10%, they were asked to give a little more. If someone was giving 5%, give a little more. “I mentioned how Jesus is worthy of a raise. He is never late, never calls in sick, never uses any vacation time… Second, I asked everyone to give Jesus a bonus.” The budget at Tuscumbia First was a bit behind so Mike asked for everyone to make a one time gift for the budget. Mike even led by example: “I sold my bass boat and gave all the money to the church.” Mike’s creative approach yielded fruit: “On October 4, 2009 we had an offering of over $121,000. We called it ‘Miracle Sunday’ and indeed it was miraculous!”
I agree. It was a miracle. But it was also the result of pastoral commitment to the ministry of stewardship.
I’ve just seen the District Financial reports. Two of our Districts, Mountain Lakes and Southeast (both in some of the hardest hit areas of our state) are ahead of last year’s apportionment payments. I’m certain that this is a testimonial to the leadership of those DS’s and to the pastors and churches in those districts.
Years ago I remember a wise old preacher saying, “Show me your checkbook stubs and I will tell you your theology.” Show me a congregation’s record of giving; it is an unerring testimonial not only to its theology but also to its pastoral leadership.