To committee or not to committee

March 23, 2007 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

I got a letter from my pastor last night.

He wants to invite me to join the Stewardship Committee.  Next year, the committee will apparently be using Herb Miller’s “Consecration Sunday Stewardship” program, focusing on the spiritual need to be “givers” rather than the church’s need to “receive”.

It’s nice to be asked.  However ….

When I joined the church, we were asked to fill out a stewardship questionnaire.  On the page were a list of major church committees, and we were asked to check those that we were interested in.  Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, Stewardship is one that I chose not to check.

I also have some fundamental issues with the way that the church in general goes about asking for money.  Giving is too often a demand in the church.  I feel that giving in the church should be voluntary – each gives as they feel moved (called, even) to do so.  If the church comes up short, they tell us so and we adjust our giving to make it up.  I really don’t care what other people give – it’s only important to consider my own giving.

This past year, the church (through the pastor) threw around actual numbers.  In one sermon, Pastor Vamos said:

One tangible indicator of our generosity is this–our giving to the
church. The health of this organism. We need to say that. If our
congregation is struggling to meet the bills, something is wrong. Your
giving to this church is an indicator of whether you’re living
generously. If you’re making over $90,000 and giving $50 a week–your
intent may not match with the reality. There’s something wrong with
that picture.

The use of an actual dollar amount in the sermon is what bothered me the most.  That sermon almost caused me not to pledge this year.  In a later sermon, a guest preacher exhorted us to take risks with our giving, knowing that God will make it work.  On the basis of that guest’s sermon, I increased the amount that I pledged by 25% over what I’d planned to give.

Later, Pastor Vamos compounded the error of using specific numbers.  During his “State of the Communion” sermon, he spoke about the actual pledges received:

There are some interesting statistics that you can take home and mull
over. I remember from college statistics that the mean is the average,
and so our average pledge from this past year is $2,206. And that’s a
lot more than it was last year, and so that’s terrific. But the
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are below–is $1,500. And I’ve been told that the mark of health for a
congregation is when the mean and the median are close together,
because it means that we’re not as dependent on those large pledges.
And don’t get me wrong–if you’re one of those larger givers, we hope
that you will increase your giving, because that really affects our
ministry greatly. But this really represents a challenge to those who
are below that mean and are able to, if you have the gifts, to be able
to do more. It’s a challenge for us to think about that, how we can try
to make the mean and the median match up a little more closely.

It was even worse than that.  We were given a bulletin insert that showed a bar graph with each pledge from smallest to largest (the smallest being under $100 and the largest being $20,000).  We were also given the average household income for the county, the average household income for the town that the church is in, and what a 10% tithe would be for each of those incomes.  These were compared to the average and median pledges.

The use of specific numbers in financial stewardship is the use of guilt in the church.  It’s measuring us against each other rather than measuring us against Christ.  There’s no question in my mind that the church must be funded in order to survive.  There’s also no question in my mind that giving of your time, talents, and money are required for a faithful Christian.  It’s just the use of specific numbers that bothers me.  Following Christ is not about guilt – it’s about the grace of Christ’s sacrifice and our attempt to be as Christ-like as possible to thank God for that miracle.

Lest you think that I’m griping because I’m cheap, my pledge was above the average.  It’s important to remember that I am a part of a two-church household, and Carolyn pledges a similar (probably identical, but I’m not sure) amount to her church.

So the problem for me is this:  If I’m uncomfortable with asking others to give money, if I’m uncomfortable with the way that stewardship campaigns have been handled in the past – should I join the stewardship committee?

Perhaps my presence would moderate some of the things that bother me.  On the other hand, I really don’t want to find myself at odds with the rest of the committee and my pastor on a regular basis.

What do you think?

I really wish they’d chosen me for one of the other committees.

The letter says that “in the next couple of weeks, someone from the current committee will be calling to see if you are willing to serve.”  I hope I have an answer by then.

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