We're in this together!
Two weeks ago, I wrote 4 Reasons Why the Follow-Up Letter is Important. It was specifically aimed at those of you who are currently in the midst of Stewardship/Generosity/Commitment month. It was about the need to follow-up with your people who pledged in order to thank them and to confirm the information you have about their commitment.
Later, an astute reader (well, let’s admit it, you’re all astute readers) sent me an interesting query:
Many people seem to behave as though their pledge is somehow a gift or a reward to the congregation’s paid staff. Receiving a follow up letter from the pastor can reinforce this unspoken impression. Do you recommend it be from anyone besides the pastor? What are your thoughts in this matter of who is asking for the pledge and who is thanking the pledging folks for their response?
And in a follow-up email Astute Reader elaborated:
How do we communicate in ways that indicate that it is not the [clergy] person who is asking you (to help, to give, to join, to participate) nor is it “for the benefit of” that [clergy] person? The integrity and charisma of the clergy person is so obviously relevant…unless we [clergy] consciously and explicitly step back behind the congregation and God…it all very easily just turns into a transaction between the clergy and the person being invited.
This applies in so many unexamined ways. If the only person who routinely articulates the faith (in their own words) is the pastor, then everyone is slowly convinced that it is only the clergy who can articulate the faith and everyone else’s job is just to accept or critique what the pastor says about the faith.
Wow. There’s a lot to process here. So, let’s have a go at it.
1. “Many people seem to behave as though their pledge is somehow a gift or a reward to the congregation’s paid staff.” Ouch. I’m hoping that the above statement refers to 1.2% of your congregation – the ones with no shame. But, if you’re hearing this, then it seems to me some discipleship work needs to be done – both in and beyond the pulpit. Especially if someone has the gall to state that directly or infer it, it may be time to throw down my old favorite – “God is the owner, I am the ower” and ask them what they think that means. The church is not a human organization which does good, but rather a congregation of people living out their relationship with God. You're in it together.
2. Who should sign the pledge or thank you letter? Regarding the pledge letter – perhaps it’s a good idea to have the Chair of either the Finance Committee, Stewardship Committee or Administrative Council sign it to emphasize that laity are supportive of pledging. I’m a fan of the pastor signing the thank you letter because people rarely get a thank you from the pastor. I’m also good with a second signature on the thank you letter from the head of the Ad Council or the Finance Committee. I find that with any more than two signatures, the impact gets watered down. An added handwritten note of thanks from one or both of you will make for greater impact.
3. How do we communicate in ways that indicate that it is not the [clergy] person who is asking you (to help, to give, to join, to participate) nor is it “for the benefit of” that [clergy] person? This goes back to your congregation understanding that it’s not God or you (the clergy person) who needs their gift. The gift is in faithful response to all that God has given us. It is our need, as disciples, to give. Though technically, people in the pews are paying your salary – more importantly – they are making mission and ministry possible through the church. Through you and because of your leadership, they are making mission and ministry happen.
4. Beyond the clergy, should others be articulating the faith? Of course! This is where laity should be given regular opportunities to preach, teach, and lead. Unfortunately, we have laity who have been cowed into believing that “I can’t be trusted to read the Bible accurately because I didn’t attend seminary.” Please know, I am a big proponent of seminary. I kind of regret that I didn’t go. I have great admiration for all the work my clergy brothers and sisters have done to get their M.Div. But, part of the clergy job – through the pulpit and teaching – is to empower laity to become active disciples through reading the Word, prayer, and action.
That’s why, getting back to inspiring generosity, it’s so important for the congregation to hear from other people, their peers, about why they give to the church.
- What ministries have made a difference in their lives?
- What has God been teaching them about giving all they have to their Creator?
- How do they interpret, “God is the owner, I am the ower”?
So, Astute Reader, thanks for laying out some provocative questions and good theology. The job of declaring the Good News to all people through word and action belongs to the whole of the church. Clergy have a specific role for the benefit of the church, but they are not responsible for the whole work of the church. Laity and clergy do that work together. Thanks be to God!