Partners in Funding Mission

Stewardship as pastoral care

September 25, 2017
By Robyn Davis Sekula

Adam CopelandNon-profits are doing a better job than most churches of compelling people to support their work, says Adam Copeland, a noted stewardship expert. Churches need to do a better job of telling the stories of their work and the ways the church impacts lives --- and ensuring that church members make the spiritual connection to giving.

Acknowledging that churches do have competition for the dollars was part of Copeland’s plenary presentation at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, the annual Presbyterian stewardship conference. Workshops and plenaries cover the practicalities of how Presbyteries can work with churches, endowments, donor-advised funds and the impact that stewardship makes on the spiritual lives of church members.

Copeland set the stage for examining all aspects of stewardship by discussing what stewardship means. “Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources,” Copeland told the audience of roughly 250 attendees. Copeland is director of stewardship leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and a researcher and writer on stewardship topics. Recently, he edited the book, “Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship,” published by Westminster John Knox Press in August 2017.

American families: a financial picture

Stewardship should be seen through the lens of pastoral care, Copeland says, and to do so, pastors and stewardship leaders need to understand the full financial picture of the average American household.  A few statistics that help illustrate the finances of the average American family:

• 63 percent of Americans have less than $500 in emergency savings

• Nearly half of Americans have no retirement savings at all

• Average American households have $16,000 in credit card debt, $27,000 in car debt, $48,000 in student loan debt and $169,000 in household mortgage.

In most churches, 20 percent of the congregation is giving 80 percent of the gifts the church receives. On average, charitable giving in the U.S. is about 2 percent of a family’s household budget. This hasn’t changed much since 1974, Copeland says. Understanding these facts helps church leaders understand the anxiety and stress around money issues in homes, Copeland says, and it changes the conversation. “It changes the process from anxious, apologetic budgeting to inspired discernment anchored in pastoral care,” Copeland says.

It also takes the conversation in a more holistic direction to help congregants understand that God cares about all of their money, Copeland says, not just the percentage set aside for the church. Quoting author Mark Allan Powell, Copeland says, “God cares about how we acquire, regard, manage, and spend money."

Stewardship Kaleidoscope continues through September 27 at TradeWinds Islands Resort in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.

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