by Herb Mather
Reviewed by Jeffrey K. Wilson, Director, North American Trust Services
No, this is not a book about farming (although you may think so from the title and the picture of the cover). Using humor to lubricate important biblical stewardship principles and church governance, this book takes a very serious look at outdated fund-raising methods used in the majority of churches today. The book is also filled with pithy quotes and practical suggestions of how to move the church from obligatory giving to partnership.
Author, Herb Mather, is a stewardship specialist with the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship and speaks from a background dissimilar from Seventh-day Adventists (for example, annual financial campaigns for church giving). He suggests that the typical congregation is like a farmer who continues plowing with a horse in an age when tractors are readily available. Although Seventh-day Adventist churches typically don’t run annual campaigns, the methods outlined in this book will help them find new ways to promote tithes and offerings.
Mather suggests that in the twenty-first century we need a variety of methods to nourish giving: Whatever the method, encouragement for a life of generosity needs to enhance the spiritual development of the people of God—not detract from it. Our imperative is to weave giving as a joy-filled spiritual discipline into the fabric of the church’s life. Just as the farmer plants and cultivates in ways that follow the contour of the land, our encouragement of Christian giving will harmonize with the life experiences of the worshiper (p v).
While addressing the practical components of a complete stewardship education such as spiritual leadership and building trust, Mather stresses the need for creativity in worship—creativity that instills natural, and not forced giving. In Old Testament times the offering was a festive occasion, filled with drama and rejoicing (Deut 14: 22-27). Bringing tithes and offerings was an occasion for delight. We come close when we bring food, flowers and clothing with singing to the front during a Thanksgiving or Christmas service. We need to find ways to do more of this. Giving is an important spiritual discipline. Ways can be found to make the offering much more inspiring and exciting. Almost any form can become routine and drab, but the challenge before the contemporary church is to discover symbols and actions that will communicate gratitude and joy (p 57). A word of warning: Don’t do away with the passing of the offering plate until you have experimented and have a better way. In other words, don’t shoot the horse until you have bought the tractor and learned how to drive it properly!
Mather suggests that every sermonic year include one or more stewardship sermons. Two chapters are devoted on the art of crafting such sermons. One suggestion is the use of real life experiences: Elementary-age children are as likely as the Ph.D. to understand a good story. A well-told story is a picture that tells much more than a million bits of hard data....The most effective way to describe the impact of money upon people is through stories....Give stories life. Help them breathe with passion and excitement (pp 65, 66).
To those who hesitate to preach on money and possessions, Mather says Stewardship preaching is a call to the central motifs of the gospel. It is grace-filled preaching. It is confrontation by invitation rather than obligation. It calls for free response. Preaching about giving invites people to accept the worth that is declared upon them by God (p 75).
He puts the lie to the theory that people will give when they are converted and there is no need to mention the topic or giving opportunities in the weekly worship life of the church. Silence is no more viable than the traditional . . . campaign in helping people grow spiritually (p 92). While a focus on the giver rather than the budget is not a method in itself it informs all authentic methods and assists dramatically in their success. At this time in history, we would do well to place our energy in building up the soil rather than in harvesting a crop. The long-term health of the church depends on a rich soil of faith. Nurture the soil. Develop the giver. In faith, the harvest will come in God’s time (p 92).
The book is very readable, practical, interesting, and yes, even fun. It contains a valuable bibliography in the endnotes. Reading this book will bless you and your ministry.