The one and only...Ken Sloan!
There are a lot of people out there who have mentored me in the art of generosity without even knowing it. Rev. Dr. Ken Sloane is one of them.
Rev. Dr. Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity at Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church (can he actually fit that on a business card?!). Through the webinars he has hosted, his occasional articles, and his willingness to answer any and all of my (often not so bright) questions, he is a treasure.
You can imagine then how happy I was that Ken agreed to be interviewed for Inspiring Generosity. He was interviewed via email. Some of the answers have been edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
Cesie: Ken, you’ve been doing stewardship ministry for a long time…and we thank you for your service. Can you tell us how you got into this work?
Ken: I’ve been in ministry for more than 41 years – just putting that number on paper shocks me! Twenty of those years was as a local church pastor, so that certainly demanded that I deepen my understanding of stewardship and generosity. For five years I served on the staff of my annual conference and worked with other staff on stewardship and promoting connectional giving (apportionments & mission shares).
In 2006, I moved to Nashville to work for United Methodist Communications, where one of my areas to serve was promoting faithful giving to the United Methodist connection. The Stewardship position at Discipleship opened in 2011, and I’ve been honored to serve as Director of Stewardship and Generosity for these past 11 years.
In your career, what has been the biggest change you’ve witnessed in stewardship within the church?
Probably the most obvious change in stewardship is in response to a world change: the rising presence of digital money.
For many years, the largest part of our financial support for churches mission and ministry came through the offering plate, in cash but primarily by checks. That world began to dramatically change in 2001. On 9/11, as the financial district in NYC was under attack, over $46 billion in paper checks (only original checks were acceptable at that point) were in transit and unaccounted for in the days following the attack. Congress quickly passed the “Check 21 Act” which began moving the country away from paper checks, choosing instead to move us more fully into the world of digital transactions.
Unfortunately, churches have been the slowest segment of society to become part of this move. The pandemic was another wake-up call to get connected technologically.
How are you feeling about the church post-COVID?
I’m feeling that there are good days ahead for the church if we can let go of the idea that we can go back to the way we were before the pandemic. I really think we learned some great lessons during the pandemic, we were forced to make some adaptations and change from the “way we’ve always done it.”
I think remote and hybrid worship is here to stay, and embracing digital technology for maintaining connections, giving, and having worship and study groups is the way forward!
How will the UMC schism/split impact your work?
I can’t say it won’t affect the work I do, or the work of the agency where I’ve chosen to do my ministry. In recent years we have gone through some difficult and often painful reorganizing – saying goodbye to some wonderful colleagues – to get ready for the church we are becoming.
Many of the churches I hear about who are considering disaffiliation are choosing to be independent, non-denominational, which makes me sad. Being connected to one another is so much a part of our DNA. When I talk with folks who struggled with the possibility and eventually decided to stay, that sense of connection is the primary reason.
So, I think the church we will have when the disaffiliations are done will be stronger in their commitment to work together to make disciples and transform the world.
If you could tell the (big C) Church to do one thing differently – as it relates to stewardship and generosity – what would that be?
Don’t talk about what money you need to make your budget, focus instead on generosity, on the joy it will bring to you – a feeling unlike anything you can buy! Remind your folks that generosity is a key component in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
What do the most generous churches do that’s different?
They are not afraid to talk about money and to shine a light on the missional impact of the money people have given in the past.
They are not afraid to cast a vision for more exciting ministries that can happen as disciples grow in generosity – letting go of our scarcity mindset and putting trust in God and God’s amazing, startling abundance!
These churches know that our world and our communities are full of people who want to make an impact, and they will give if we show them how we are making a difference.
Since we are wired for stories, do you have a favorite stewardship story?
There are so many, but here’s one that still moves me:
One of my colleagues, Kathy Gilbert, a reporter at United Methodist Communications who grew up in Louisiana, went on a trip to Liberia in support of a project by Wespath to raise money for pensions for retired pastors in Africa. She was traveling in Liberia and saw how little people had to feed, clothe and house themselves. Pastors made $30 a month – when the church was able to pay them – and retired pastors had virtually no income.
Her trip came shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the Gulf Coast in 2005. On Sunday morning she visited a church, and the pastor invited her and the other guests forward to be introduced. He saved Kathy’s introduction for last. The pastor shared that she was a native of Louisiana.
He said, “as you can see, our congregation is mostly children, many of them are orphans, but they’ve seen the damage to your homes in Louisiana. The children have gathered up their pennies to give a gift for you to take back to the children of Louisiana.”
He handed her a bulletin and inside it was a $20 bill; a gift from the children of Liberia for the children of Louisiana. Those children didn’t understand the socio-economic differences between their country and the U.S., but they knew that children who related to their church needed help. They understood what it meant to be a connectional church. Their generosity still puts many of us to shame.
Anything else for the good of the order?
No, thank you, Ken for your insight and love of what you do. You have made stewardship and generosity a priority for many of us. May we all trust in “God’s amazing, startling abundance!”
On a personal note: I’m happy to let you know that, in addition to being the Stewardship Consultant with the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the UMC, I have just joined the team at Horizons Stewardship as a Senior Ministry Strategist! Be sure to check out all the ways Horizons can increase generosity in your congregation. Let me know how I can help.