Posted: Feb 15

The Process of Saying Goodbye

By JR Lander

jrlander.jpgThis past week, I announced to my parish that I would be leaving to follow my husband and his work.

And now begins the process of saying good-bye to a community with whom I have ministered for over 4 years, and the process of this congregation transitioning to new ordained leadership.

One of the challenges I know my congregation will face is the loss of our pledge.

Tim and I have tithed, and due to Tim's work and the demographic nature of this congregation it has made us the largest pledge for the past few years. I have been very transparent about this during my tenure here. And because of the mutual ministry we have done, giving is up significantly. But our pledge still represented around 9% of the total budget. 

One of the regrets I have in this ministry has been that I wasn't able to adjust how this congregation handled my pledge. We needed it for basic operating. (And given the $40,000 deficit we had when I arrived, we really needed it!) But it does speak to a challenge many of our congregations have: how to both encourage the giving of people with larger incomes and to protect the long-term stability of the parish.

I was once told a general rule.  no one pledge should represent more than 8% of an operating budget.

The logic in this is that if the individual leaves the congregation, or dies, that the congregation's health will not be dramatically effected by the loss of this important gift. But what to do? Do we tell people with significant income "We don't want YOU to tithe"?

What I wished we could have done at St. Columba's was to place the amount of our gift that was above a certain threshold in a separate fund. Maybe it could have gone into the maintenance reserve. Maybe it could have gone into savings. Maybe it could have been used purely for a gift beyond the walls of the church.

When we talk about tithing, we have to be authentic in that we believe that the tithe is a gift from God to help us prioritize our lives. When we think about the Kingdom, it should be just the beginning. Jesus calls us to give everything we have and are to God's purpose in this world. The 10% we give to the church is just the tip of the iceberg. But we have to teach that for everyone.

At the same time- as leaders we have to be stewards of the institution. 

And we have to use the gifts given for God's mission through the church to strengthen our witness to the world. So encourage everyone to tithe. That's what we teach. That's our norm. And if you have a gift or gifts that are dramatically higher than others, shift a portion of that gift into some other ministry need other than normal operations. Speak with the givers. Let them know what you are doing. Use the funds for God's purpose. But in doing so, do not create a crisis for leaders that will follow you.