An irony: that we work hard to get dollars and then have to be saved from them! Lest our dollars – and the possessions they buy -should possess us, why not turn dollars into sense? A sense, that is, of personal, congregational, and churchwide mission.
The people of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pflugerville, Texas, form a congregation excited about their sense of mission – and their dollars show it. Located next to Austin in a “farmtown-turned-suburb,” the 120-year-old congregation has grown from 800 to 1400 baptized members in a decade. People are flocking to the area, needing access to the nearby city and seeking what is left of “small town” values. New members who find Immanuel “home” tend to be drawn by efforts to meet contemporary needs (especially needs of Baby Boomers and their kids) within a context of tradition and stability provided by longtime and lifetime members. Meeting needs, of course, costs money.
Immanuel givers meet budget expenses, rally around special projects, and refuse to cut the benevolence dollars they give away. The congregation gives because giving makes sense. People know where their dollars go, what their dollars do, and how their dollars speak Jesus Christ. Dollars are turned into sense, not with cleverly designed programs but with biblically based practices:
1. TRUST. People usually trust others with their lives before they trust them with their money! The pastors, council, and congregation of Immanuel operate out of a healthy, mutual trust. Through love, attention, and conviction, the leaders demonstrate faithfulness to God’s Word and God’s people. The congregation knows it will not be manipulated or coerced by its leadership. Leaders know that when they have done their financial homework, members will respect their decisions about dollars.
2. LISTEN. The folks of Immanuel do “hands on” listening. They have met and heard the two global missionaries the congregation supports in Liberia and Slovakia. Representatives of Lutheran Social Services, camping ministries, colleges, seminaries, and local assistance ministries regularly tell their stories during Sunday school, worship, or small group meetings. Those stories never replace the pastor’s sermon or become back-door advertising. The pastors unapologetically talk money. Stewardship sermons not only say “give” but also “use faithfully” the cash you stash for living.
3. ENVISION. The pastors commit to envisioning the future. They sense that God usually gives visions to individuals rather than committees and that God leads these individuals to share the vision with insightful leaders. Council meetings begin with 25-minute visionary devotions, building on work done during the annual council retreat. The members, in turn, are pervaded by a sense of stepping out into God’s future with power and purpose.
4. COMMIT. Immanuel commits to sending dollars more than to saving them. When a mid-1980’s crunch year appeared inevitable, a benevolence cut looked like an easy out. Instead, the pastors and council decided to meet fully and increase annually the dollars given away. Furthermore, the benevolence budget would become a firm commitment instead of a goal! Leaders still remind one another of that commitment and send away approximately 11.5 percent to the ELCA and another 5 to 6 percent to other churchwide, conference, and local ministries. Churchwide work makes sense! It makes sense for youth, also. On their group-building trips a tithe box in their van collects a percentage of dollars spent on junk food at gas stops. Some match 100 percent! Those dollars, plus weekly church-door offerings, go to a youth missionary in Slovakia.
Both youth and adults are hearing more about tithing. While a strong instinct of pastoral leadership likes a Nike “Just Do It” approach, immediate tithe campaigns can alienate the previously unchurched and low-commitment Lutherans.
Immanuel publishes growth giving charts but also helps people take a candid look at 10 percent of their income. In small groups, tithers have shared joys and strugglers have admitted anxieties about the tithe.
We accept each other where we are. We accept the gracious gifts of those who want to “pay for what they get” or “give to a special need.” But we challenge each other to grow into stewards who “need to give.”
When, by the power of the Spirit, we need to give, then a miracle has happened: dollars are turned into sense, a sense of our God-given mission in this God-given world.
© Copyright 1995 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This essay first appeared in the Fall 1995 issue of Faith in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the following note:
© Copyright 1995, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an article from the archives of the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. For nearly a century, LLM assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.