In his book "A Spirituality of Fundraising," Henri Nouwen shares about a posture he observed in a successful fundraiser. “I ask for money standing up, not bowing down, because I believe in what I am about. I believe that I have something important to offer.” This story changed the way I think about the importance of church finances. We have something important to offer, both to the disciple whose relationship to God is deepened through generosity and to the world God invites us to serve.
One congregation I served struggled for many years with declining numbers of people and resources. Our conversations about finances were about how to scrape by and survive, and our stewardship drives felt like guilt trips. Money was a source of stress, fear, and shame that seemed to seep into almost every conversation, meeting, and gathering.
Everything shifted for us when we paused, prayed, and tried asking a different question. Instead of “Why don’t we have enough money to do the things we used to do?” we started asking, “What is God asking us to do with exactly the resources that we have?” We did not suddenly come into more financial resources, but as we had difficult conversations about what mattered most, and about our shared identity in Christ, we began to shift how we used our money.
The more we talked about money in this new way, as a tool for enacting the mission, the clearer the vision became. Over time it got easier to let go of anything that did not clearly embody loving God and loving others. Generosity took shape in a variety of ways, not only as people passionate about the vision were moved to give dollars, but also as we began to seek partners and share resources in our community. Sure enough, we even learned to ask for money standing up, when we discovered that we really believed that we had something important to offer. We began receiving generous contributions not only from within the congregation, but also from others in the community who heard about how we were serving seniors, how we were partnering with the local elementary school, or how another congregation was teaching us about community gardening.
A season of financial health, even for that small and struggling church, emerged from this interconnectedness of vision, action, and generosity. I learned on the fly that it was important for me, as the leader, to understand the finances (which required seeking out opportunities to learn and build my skill set), to communicate honestly about our financial position, and to provide theological interpretation to connect the numbers on the page to the vision in our spirits. We dug deep into our most generous spaces because we believed together in what God was doing in and among and through us. For a time, we glimpsed the realm of God right there in our own community.