A pastor got out in front of his congregation one Stewardship Sunday and made the proclamation “I just upped my pledge, now UP YOURS!!” The congregation broke out in laughter! The pastor went red in the face realizing his mistake, but that year the pastor had the best response he ever had to a stewardship campaign. Afterwards he asked his congregation with such an obvious faux pas, why? The congregants said that it made them think about stewardship and instead of dreading stewardship season, for the first time they had fun with it. In fact, you never heard so many Christians saying “up yours” to each other, but always with a smile and even laughter!
By mistake the pastor helped his congregation recognize that giving can be fun and very rewarding. That congregation, like ours, had spent years struggling to meet the budget constraints, every year asking what is necessary and trimming their budget even more. They always made it and could always come back to say “by the grace of God” they were still open. But they were not really able to have fun within their constraints; they were too worried about the future. After they finished that campaign and got halfway into the next year they had a unique problem: more money than they had expected!
Instead of opening up the funds for things they had already done or just putting the whole amount in the bank, their session decided to have an “Up Yours” contest where every member was able to propose a project of any type, the only stipulation being that it be focused on doing God’s ministry. In good Presbyterian fashion they required documentation of all kinds, but they had almost 70 proposals from this congregation of about 85. Surprisingly, not one had anything to do with the current congregation. The proposals ranged from skate parks to tutoring programs, senior care to mobile medical clinics. The session was amazed, and when they made their pick, a community garden, everyone in the congregation rallied and worked to bring it to life, it was their investment.
The people in the community saw what was going on; many in the community had wanted a garden for a long time. Thankfully, the congregation was smart enough to have plenty of room for them to join in, and they did. By the next Stewardship campaign the pastor looked out at his congregation, which had grown significantly.
The pastor looked out at the congregation and began to apologize, he said:
“Last year I told you to up yours because I upped mine. I was wrong to do that, it was arrogant and even though I did not think through what I was saying it was inexcusably rude. But God is funny sometimes and uses where we are to make a big difference in our lives. We took something inexcusable and made it a catalyst for our Joyful giving and a way for us to find our way back to being in ministry with God. We let the gifts and tithes you give do what they were meant to do, God’s work, and instead of sitting here wondering how much longer we can keep going, we are celebrating new members and new life in this community. I’m not going to say it again, but now I want you to think about how much more we can do when you gave and have fun giving.”
By now you have all received my Stewardship letter; if you have not, please request a copy from the office. You know our situation and our struggles. And while you will hear that, listen through and wonder if we had the means to do anything God put before us what would it be, then think about how you can be part of it and participate through giving, through volunteering, through praying, and most importantly through the faith that says that anything is possible with God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen