by Charles R. Lane, Augsburg Fortress, 2006 ISBN 0-8066-5263-2 Pb. 128 pp. $11.99
It has long been my contention that, with very few exceptions, stewardship is the aspect of church life most neglected. Ask, Thank, Tell is one more welcomed book on the subject.
Charles Lane, Director for Stewardship Key Leaders in the Lutheran Church of America, brings to the table pastoral experience and a fervent desire to teach stewardship through faith commitment. The author clearly believes and states that stewardship begins with one’s relationship with Jesus Christ, but then proceeds to present an open, honest conversation about money.
This book is about equally divided on two subjects: the theological and biblical foundation for stewardship; and secondly, the practical easy-to-follow steps for churches who want to develop their stewardship ministry. It may be helpful for you who read this review to know the chapter subjects in each of these two sections. Chapters one through five are: Discipleship, Not Membership; It All Belongs to God; Money and Possessions in the New Testament; Portrait of a Biblical Giver; Practicing Biblical Stewardship. The second half of the book is the practical section. Ask: The Annual Response Program; Ask: Making the Pie Larger; Improving How You Ask; Thank; Tell; Organizing For Your Stewardship Ministry.
Lane has a belief that stewardship “has been kidnapped from your congregation and replaced by paying the bills” syndrome (p. 8). He believes that only when a congregation “re-kidnaps stewardship” will a congregation get rid of the idea that stewardship is just a matter of raising enough money to pay the bills. In fact, Lane states it this way: “I am convinced that there is little in life today that can help a disciple grow in relationship with Jesus more than a good, solid intentional biblical stewardship” (p. 9).
Experience teaches us if we do the same thing in the same way over and over again the result can be precisely predicted. Tragically, this is the mistake many congregations make year after year. The practical advice in this short book, if followed, can transform the life of a church. This may be one of the most practical books available on stewardship.
Lane describes six different types of stewardship programs to vary the annual approach to a congregation’s members and the effectiveness of each one. The least effective is to conduct the annual stewardship program entirely by mail. On the other hand the most effective stewardship program is commitment at worship. The giver completes his or her estimate of giving as a part of Sunday worship. Time is allotted for a direct personal ask. The “estimate of giving” cards are brought forward by each person and are dedicated and celebrated.
Lane makes a strong point on focusing on the giver’s need to give rather than upon God’s need to receive. Stewardship is not about getting enough money to “run the church,” it is about being faithful to Jesus Christ with what God has entrusted to us.
The section on “thanking” is most helpful. Four aspects of this caught my attention: Thank everyone at the same time, thank personally, thank immediately, thank often. This leads to the final word from the book title: Ask, Thank, Tell.
This author states it emphatically: “God’s people want to know that their giving makes a difference in people’s lives. They deserve to know that their giving makes a difference–each giver deserves the joy of knowing that God’s work has been done because of his or her giving” (p. 113).
Nothing is more important than information when you are thinking about the stewardship aspect of a church’s life. How do we do that? Lane starts with the importance of telling your church’s mission story. This is done through the church’s newsletter, e-mails to members, through a church’s Web site, stewardship bulletin board, talks in worship (minute for mission emphasis), bulletin inserts, church school classes, a mission fair.
Chapter 11 is on “Organizing For Your Stewardship Ministry.” By this point in the book the reader may be thinking, as Lane puts it, “Wow, our stewardship committee is never going to be able to do all of this” (p. 124). At this point the author describes the formation of three work groups, each assigned to one of the three subjects of the book: Ask, Thank, Tell, with a clear description of how the work groups are to do their tasks.
Regardless of the quality of the stewardship program in your church, no one can read this book and fail to reap the benefit of new ways of thinking and implementing a better stewardship season in the church.
Robert W. Bohl is a past moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly now living in Naples, Fla.