By Pastor Lenow
The stewardship committee chairperson spoke directly and to the point: “We need something different. We need to take the next step.” He was right on target. For three years we had used the same stewardship program with good results. By now, however, the congregation had grown familiar with it and no longer found it exciting.
Although the congregation had developed a strong sense of financial stewardship, a constant flow of new Christians coming to the church compelled us not to take that sense of stewardship for granted. We wanted a highly structured stewardship campaign, but one that would go further. We needed to incorporate other aspects of Christian discipleship: sharing God’s love with others and strengthening our own spiritual disciplines. This brainstorming session generated the concept of Our Three Gifts.
Our Three Gifts: A Program of Faithfulness plans a season of stewardship focus on the model of the Magi’s bearing gifts to the Christ Child. The program has three distinct but related themes: Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense. Gold, representing wealth, relates to the financial aspect of the campaign. Myrrh, an important ingredient of sacred anointing oil, communicates the need to reach out and minister to others. Frankincense, an incense burned before the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem’s temple, provides the spiritual, devotional emphasis.
Under the leadership of an in-church campaign director (a layperson), our team consisted of the three emphasis chairpersons, one each for Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense. They realized immediately that timing is an important component in this campaign’s design. Thus publicity began early, shortly after Labor Day. On letterhead with a sketch of the Magi (we created it for this program), we sent out a letter to the entire congregation, describing Our Three Gifts as a “stewardship of life” campaign. It briefly explained that the Gold aspect stands for finances, Myrrh for service, and Frankincense for commitment. We began newsletter notices and worship-service announcements, using humor to deflect any criticism about too-early Christmas themes. Images of the Three Wise Men on posters and banners (stating “Our Three Gifts is on the way!”) piqued curiosity and interest in the congregation. Representations of the three gifts were displayed.
Early in September, the Myrrh committee sent out a letter and a list. The letter asked each family unit in the congregation to purchase a specific nonperishable food item each week (for example, canned sweet potatoes one week and cranberry sauce the next) throughout the campaign. By “Myrrh Sunday” each family could collect enough nonperishable food to provide all “the trimmings” of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a family of four. In the letter and periodically in worship, we reminded families that when they sat down to their Thanksgiving dinner, they would also be feeding other families. Their own celebration would be doubly blessed! This emphasis continued throughout September, October, and November.
In September and October, the Frankincense committee members also did their work. They prepared, edited, and collated a daily devotional booklet written by members of the congregation. This month long devotional booklet was written not for Advent (as we had done in the past) but for November. Thus, when all three elements of our program came together, our entire congregation would pray together throughout the month of November.
The Gold committee began its work in mid-October. By this time, all the church had started collecting food, and thirty individuals from thirty family units had written devotions. The Gold theme utilized a traditional campaign format: We sent out three letters in succeeding weeks, three lay speakers offered testimonies in Sunday morning worship, and the pastor preached two stewardship sermons. On Gold Sunday commitment cards were distributed to the congregation to fill out.
Our prior financial stewardship Sundays consistently took place in November on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, usually the Sunday before the first Sunday in Advent. (Thanksgiving day, always on the fourth Thursday of November, usually starts out the weekend of the first Sunday of Advent, a season of spiritual preparation that begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day.) We decided to use the calendar to our advantage.
Two Sundays before Thanksgiving Day, we observed Gold Sunday; the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day was called Myrrh Sunday; and the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day, usually the first Sunday in Advent, became Frankincense Sunday. 1
By Gold Sunday, the congregation expressed tremendous excitement and enthusiasm for Our Three Gifts. We had openly discussed financial stewardship for four successive weeks (and emphasized tithing), yet no one felt that money had emerged as the overriding theme. When members had filled out commitment cards and brought them to the altar, we received a 26 percent increase in the amount committed and a 24 percent increase in the number of family units making commitments. We viewed these results as even more significant because the increases followed
three years of successful stewardship campaigns!
On Myrrh Sunday the next week, a cornucopia harvest theme graced the altar. We held a grand food “pounding” in worship. During a hymn the entire congregation brought grocery bags full of the specified non-perishables. In a spectacular scene, the entire chancel filled with food. A number of people were moved to tears. Special donations poured in, allowing us to purchase turkeys and hams. Scores of members helped with food distribution that very afternoon (we had made prior arrangements through our city’s Social Services Department). More than 100 families received full holiday meals. And volunteers for our other ongoing local missions increased significantly.
Frankincense Sunday, the final Sunday of the campaign, while celebrating the successes of the previous Sundays, focused on re-dedication. At the close of the service we invited the congregation to the altar in prayer. This call to prayer offered both the climax of Our Three Gifts as well as an invitation to an intentional and serious Advent observance. Several persons rededicated their lives to Christ. As persons left the service they received Advent devotional booklets, 2 so for two straight months the whole congregation used the same daily devotions.
Christian stewardship is never solely about money or budgets. Christian stewardship expresses spiritual growth. Christian stewardship is a lifestyle. Through Our Three Gifts we could broaden the scope of our faithfulness and start making connections with other aspects of our lives. For us, it was the next step. The campaign may be over, but the process continues as we stretch and grow together in our Christian walk.
1. In most years, the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving Day is the First Sunday in Advent. In years with a week between the two, use Frankincense Sunday to prepare for Advent.
2. One source for seasonal devotional booklets is Creative Communications for the Parish, 800/325-9414 or 314/821-1363; 10300 Watson Road., St. Louis, MO 63127.
Lenow is pastor of Courthouse Community United Methodist Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Over the past six years, the church has tripled its membership (now 600) and average worship attendance (394).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY NET RESULTS, JULY 1999, PAGES 3-4. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.