This month in stewardship: July 2020

June 23, 2020 by Robyn Davis Sekula

This is usually the time of year I'd be writing about preparing materials for a fall stewardship campaign.

But this is an entirely different situation. What do you do when normal doesn't exist any longer? How do you plan with such an uncertain future?

I consulted with two of our Ministry Relations Officers recently to discuss what churches should be considering in July. Three themes emerged from those conversations:

  • Complete a mid-year budget checkup; adjust if needed
  • Delegate some of the church's ministry to volunteers
  • Schedule and take vacation time (pastors and staff)

Mid-year budget check

Maggie Harmon, Ministry Relations Officer for the Southwest, has advised churches to check their budgets now that we're at the six-month point in the year. Some expenses were probably not incurred, such as the cost of fellowship dinners or youth group trips, but others may be more expensive than usual, such as cleaning supplies and janitorial service. Churches may find communications costs are higher, but the light bill is lower, and perhaps rental income is down. All of those items necessitate adjustments in the budget.

Harmon advocates for a new budget for the last six months of the year. After all, when that budget was planned, COVID-19 wasn't even a factor, and neither was a down stock market or job losses that may have affected giving.

Establishing that budget will help you adjust what may be needed during the upcoming stewardship season.

Harmon also mentioned that most of the churches she's working with have more people worshipping with them virtually than they did in the pews during “normal time,” so this is an opportunity to ask people to step up and meet needs. Don't move away from providing weekly Minutes for Mission that tell your congregation what your church is still doing to serve the world, and be sure to ask when the church or the community has needs.

This can include asking for volunteers to step up.

“One pastor has called every member of her congregation every week,” Harmon says. “You can say, ‘Hey, who wants to get involved in doing this? Who wants to be a part of this?' That's another way to invite people to plug into the work of the church.”

Delegating tasks

Robert Hay Jr., Senior Ministry Relations Officer who serves the Southeast region, notes that pastors at many congregations find that they have to lean much more on volunteers to accomplish tasks, including stewardship.

Delegating perhaps not all of stewardship but most of the “parts” of it, including communications, is crucial to getting a good program established, Hay says. Pastors cannot and should not seek perfection in completing these tasks. “That's an important part of delegating – not just giving the task away, but giving control of how the task is achieved away,” Hay says. “That's hard for pastors, particularly those who feel like they have to do it all. I've talked to a couple who said, ‘Well, I could find a volunteer who could maybe do this, but right now, it's easier for me to just do it than to train a volunteer.' There's a feeling that if they can just muscle through the next eight weeks, it will get back to normal.”

Taking vacation time

But the pandemic and associated stay-at-home time has lasted far longer than many of us thought it would, and muscling through is exhausting. It's one thing to muscle through a tough month; it's quite another when it lasts the better part of a year.

Most pastors skipped vacations this year, postponed study leave, gave up sabbaticals, or even delayed retirements to help their congregations “muscle through” the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, with no end in sight, it's time for pastors to give themselves a break.

Sessions and church members need to pitch in so this can happen. Borrow another church's pre-recorded service for your congregation to give your pastor a week off from the service – and keep in mind, of course, that the pastor has many other duties besides leading worship. Sessions and church members need to encourage and support the pastor taking some time off to recoup after an unusually busy and tense spring and summer. July is usually a good opportunity to do so. “We are hitting a tipping point where pastors are saying I can't do it all,” Hay says. “They're burning the candle at both ends.”

It's the equivalent of putting your own oxygen mask on first before you strap it on to a child, Hay says. You must replenish your own soul before you can serve others.

“This is a different kind of stewardship, but it's equally important, if not crucial,” Hay says.