By Rev. Erika Uthe, Director for Evangelical Mission
But [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. ~ 1 Kings 19.4-8
This pandemic sure has left many of us feeling like Elijah – out of energy, out of ideas, and ready to throw in the towel.* And now it is stewardship season?! As with everything since last March, we are once again facing the need to innovate, experiment, and rewrite the playbook when it comes to doing an annual stewardship campaign and formation of a new budget.
It is easy to think that we are the first to experience something like this in our lives, and for many of us, this year has been among the most challenging to date. But if we go back (waaaaaay back) we find that even the likes of the powerful prophet Elijah had his own doubts and fears. In fact, Elijah finds himself in the wilderness after having fled for his life. He is running in fear, unsure of the next move, and in a place he never foresaw. Which is why this text of Elijah, unsure he can go on, is so promising for us now. The beauty of this story is really in the fact that God’s provisions are enough. It is a promise recounted in scripture time and again, but God really provides what you need and it is always enough for the journey.
This stewardship season, I encourage you to follow three simple steps when it comes to thinking about how to do a stewardship campaign:
- Give thanks
When it comes to giving thanks, it goes back to the promise that God provides everything you need. As a stewardship or finance team, I invite you to gather (even if it is still digitally) and make a list. List EVERYTHING that God has provided you and your congregation or ministry: all the resources (people, gifts, assets, etc.), the ministries or aspects of your shared life that are strong, things that have gotten better during the pandemic, etc. This might end up being a lengthy and fun list to make! When the list is done, sit with it and give thanks. Discuss how you might share the list with the wider congregation and invite others to add to the list. Include parts of the list in weekly prayers. As a committee, sit and pray over each item, thanking God for the bountiful provision that might be lying right at our heads, even if we didn’t know it.
Once you have such a rich list of gifts and blessings, start to ask the question: which of these gifts can highlight our shared ministry? Maybe there is a particularly meaningful ministry or event that speaks to who you are as a community of faith. Perhaps there is a member or family who has a story of God’s faithfulness and the impact of the congregation on their lives. Particularly in a year where most congregations will not be together physically for a season of stewardship, it will be important to share the mission in articulate ways through video or livestreaming, or short, written material that can be mailed or emailed.
Lastly, you can begin to dream about how to share the stories. This is the part where the Spirit can really start to move and shake us into something new. Maybe your congregation has a well-known mission statement – is there a way you can share the stories so that it matches up with that statement? (For instance, God’s Work. Our Hands. could be a 2-part series with a movie about how God has impacted someone’s life and then the work a congregation engages in.) Perhaps the congregation chooses 4 weeks (or however many you want!) and asks 4 members or family units to talk about their favorite part of being a member. Remember in these dreams to think BIG – how is your congregation engaged in ministry beyond the four walls of your building, or beyond your own community? How are you dedicated to being church together through shared mission or financial support of synod, churchwide, or parachurch institutions? Maybe there are a number of Bible stories that your congregation has been studying – how do these stories intersect with the stories you identified? The possibilities are endless and your congregation is hungry to hear how their shared life and financial contributions are making a difference in our world today.
A stewardship campaign really can be as simple as these three steps. If, like so many, thinking about having to be creative evokes dread, anxiety, and a pit in your stomach, there are already some pre-made materials and ideas you can incorporate. Links to these are found below and, as always, I am only a phone call or email away.
Like Elijah, God has not left you alone. God’s provisions are readily available and you are not alone. God provide you with nourishment for this journey.
*This story and our circumstances do not make light of the very real mental health crisis that is on the rise in our country as a result of months of physical distancing, tragedy followed by crisis, and the other impacts the pandemic has had on lives. If you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, please contact a licensed counselor for help.
Abundance: 4-Week Stewardship Campaign
This stewardship material is centered on four aspects of God’s abundance, and I have written it so that the themes have connections to the Revised Common Lectionary beginning the week of October 18. It is formatted the material in such a way that if your community of faith wants to use this material on a different timeline it can also stand alone. The four aspects are:
- Abundant thanks
- Abundant freedom
- Abundant hope
- Abundant life
https://www.elca.org/sofia#General – Stories of Faith in Action – A printable PDF with several stories about how the ELCA is sharing God’s love. There is also a devotion and conversation guide here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRHW0gfGawE&feature=youtu.be – A video of one of the stories from Stories of Faith In Action
https://vimeo.com/401032065 – A video of one of the stories from Stories of Faith In Action
https://vimeo.com/449408157 – A video of one of the stories from Stories of Faith In Action
https://vimeo.com/showcase/6659683 – A library of videos highlighting different stewardship resources, practices, and programs