Remarks to the 2014 Synods of the Moravian Church

Paul addressed the Southern Province Synod last week and hopes all pastors, lay leaders, and members will consider the questions he poses at the end of his remarks.

Good day, friends and colleagues. I am delighted to bring you greetings from the Trustees and staff of your Moravian Ministries Foundation.

Let me begin by sharing a story of grace, generosity and gratitude: Over 17 years ago a group of faithful and forward-thinking Moravians gathered for conversation about how they could bring the two Provinces together and form an organization that would be charged with one purpose: to unleash the power of money- charitable dollars from individuals and the invested funds owned by Churches and agencies- to support expansion of ministry within and across the Moravian Church.

In the summer of 1997, I was invited to meet with the search committee- an Irish Catholic kid from Boston who was then working for the United Methodists in Pennsylvania. You want to know a secret? Just days before my meeting, I considered withdrawing my name from consideration; however, I did not. I traveled to Winston-Salem and met with the committee. Since that interview 17 years ago, I continue to feel like I died and went to Heaven every single day. For this, I am so grateful for the generous gift to work for you.

But my talk today is not about me. It is about you!

Over these past years, I have come to greatly admire the Moravian Church and consider many in this room my friends; for this I say thank you. I am so grateful for your generous and warm friendship. However, as your friend and brother in Christ, there is one thing that greatly concerns me, which is how the Church talks about money and ministry. Or, to be blunt, how the Church does not talk effectively about the vital connection between money and ministry.

How is this evident? Too many churches are struggling to pay and support a pastor and meet other obligations. Far too many congregations are in survival and scarcity mode. The Provinces are also scaling back on the ministries the Church does together. It is very painful to watch.

However, what you need to know is this: It does not have to be this way! The Moravian Church has a unique history with regard to money and ministry that we can build on and replicate together. Let me explain.

For those who took Sociology in college, you will remember Max Weber's classic, The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic. In it Weber notes how the Moravians of his time looked at money and profit in a very different light from other Protestants and saw the good that could be done with it. Money was not a measure of God's blessing, but an essential tool so long as it was earned well and used wisely.

Then there is the landmark and award-winning work of Kate Carté Engel, Professor of Religion at SMU who will be our speaker at the Adamson Forum in November. Kate documents the Moravian Church's unique and creative approach to money, profit, and ministry. She paints a very clear picture showing how the leadership, pastors, and laity saw that to do what the faith community was called to do, it needed well-earned money and profit. In fact, much of the work and organization of the early Moravian community was built around commercial interaction with the broader community to generate profit for ministry. They did not hide from the task of securing those dollars any more than they hid from the ministry they were called to do. This entrepreneurial spirit resulted in supporting the first Protestant missionaries in the Caribbean and the movement west and south.

But along the way this spirit got lost. We began apologizing for the need for money. We created organizational barriers that make asking for help cumbersome and difficult. The talk of money came to be seen almost as unholy. Pastors and laity began apologizing when they stood before the congregation asking for support for the church budget. Many churches became less transparent about their finances and how money was spent; a need-to-know mentality emerged. This was not and is not the case everywhere (that’s the problem with generalizations), but we all know what I am talking about.

So what is the prescription to change this dynamic? The question is not should we change, because if we don’t, I fear the consequences which we are already beginning to see unfold.

First, we must do away with the word stewardship when we are talking about giving. It is the wrong word! Listen to how Webster defines stewardship: The activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something."

This word has nothing to do with giving, more ministry, our calling as followers of Christ, or our response to the Sermon on the Mount.  In its place we need to be talking about Grace, Generosity and Gratitude by sharing the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon us through Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and ministry.

Second, talking about Grace, Generosity and Gratitude is about educating people about OUR calling as followers of Christ, the needs and ministries of the Church that are our responsibility, and providing OUR members with the opportunities to respond. We must do away with the barriers that impede this process.

Third, pastors must own the reality that they have to provide the leadership in this area and they must begin to do the following things:

  1. Know who your most generous members are, visit them, and allow them to tell you why they have chosen to be so generous. I am not talking about asking them for money; rather, this is a pastoral care moment. You must thank them and allow them to tell you their story about why their faith community is so important to them. These stories can and will be helpful as you craft sermons and remarks connecting money and ministry. And you will be affirming their love and affection for their church.
  2. No less than annually, send a handwritten note to every household that financially supports the church. Thank them for their generosity and describe what their support allows the church to do. These don't have to be done all at once; five or ten a day will do. Be assured everyone likes to be thanked and a handwritten note from the pastor is especially meaningful. This responsibility must be an integral part of your pastoral care.
  3. Talk about money and ministry, thanks, and giving from the pulpit. Invite the lay members of the church who are involved in ministry to talk about what the congregation’s financial support allows your church to do. Remember Christ talked about money as much as or more than any other subject and He is our Chief Elder!
  4. Demand complete transparency and accountability in all aspects of your church’s finances.

For the lay leaders, you have new work to do as well:

  1. Invite the congregation to be more generous. Avoid making excuses about why the congregation should not be invited to be more generous. You are not requiring anyone to give, but simply providing them with opportunities to respond to the invitation and support the vital good works of their church.
  2. Create an annual budget that describes the congregation’s ministry, not lists what the heating bill costs per year. We call this a Mission and Ministry Budget. It is a living document that describes a living body - the call by Christ to serve.
  3. Insist on pledging by members. Before you shake your heads, let me ask you: How do you know what you can afford to spend at home if you don't know what your salary is? The notion that we don't pledge is silly. We pledge when we sign up for our cell phone, cable and electric service at home. Why is the church different than Duke Power, PP&L, Verizon, or Time Warner Cable?
  4. Discover why members are not being more financially supportive. Visit and talk to them. You may find out things that go well beyond money and ministry that are impeding them from being more generous. Don’t assume you know. And please avoid generalizing when you hear from one or two voices that proclaim they are speaking for many.
  5. Be transparent and open with the church's finances, assets and expenses.
  6. And, don’t just invite members to give; thank them for their generosity…again, again, and again.

Some may be sitting here thinking: What Paul is saying is all fine and dandy, but I know my members and their finances, and none of this will work; we are a poor church. Well, let me share this fact.

In 2012 we commissioned an independent study that looked at the gross wealth of the church. All this information was taken from the public domain, so it does not include what people have in life insurance, retirement plans, brokerage accounts, trusts and the like.

Here is what we found.

There are 17,500 Moravian households in both Provinces combined, and you and your brothers and sisters have an estimated gross wealth of between 8 and 10 billion dollars - not million – billion!

If we could know and add the non-public info I mentioned which the study did not include, I can only guess how much larger the number is. We could be talking 15 billion dollars or more.

This does not mean that every member is a millionaire, or there aren’t members and communities that are struggling, but the Moravian Church is not a poor church by any stretch of the imagination. There is capacity!

So the question before all of us is very simple: What can each of us do to inspire ourselves, the people beside us today, those at home, and those we pastor to, to become more grateful and generous followers of Christ?

Here is what the Ministries Foundation can do to help.

First, Chi-Chi Messick, our VP who directs Morning Star Campaign Services (and by the way will be among the first graduates from the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving's certificate program), can do an in-depth assessment of the giving health of your congregation and help design strategies that can help inspire a greater sense of connectedness, gratitude and generosity.

An example – Chi-Chi’s recent work with a Southern Province Church resulted in a 15% increase in dollars pledged and 16% increase in the number of pledges in the first year of implementing the plan that resulted from her assessment. While we don't have a magic wand, working together with the pastor and the lay leadership, we took the results of the assessment very seriously and participated in the design of the strategies that produced these results.

Second, we want to have a planned giving program in every church in both Provinces. Remember that $8 to $10 billion in wealth I mentioned? Since we can’t take it with us, just think how our ministries would grow if we could encourage and inspire those 17,500 households to leave 10% to their church or favorite Moravian agency.

We can and will help your church by providing all the resources and support you need to invite your members to consider a planned gift. We have already had a number of successes in churches we have worked with, and our work has helped Moravians give or who will leave over $45 million in planned gifts.

Third, if your church has invested funds and doesn’t invest in the Foundation's Moravian Common Fund, you are missing out on the best-performing investment program among other national faith-based foundations and local community foundations that serve areas where there are Moravian churches. We have completed this study twice and the Common Fund remains #1.

Last year the Common Fund reached $145,000,000, but more importantly, it distributed over $5,000,000 to the churches and agencies that own the funds to support vital ministry. And, we expect to distribute over $6,000,000 in 2014. So join the nearly 100 churches and agencies that now have more money for ministry.

Finally, I am going to give you all an assignment. It is easy, but it may take you out of your comfort zone. However, if we want to change the current culture of money and the church, and rekindle YOUR unique history, we MUST to do things differently. So, if you are a pastor, or a member of your church’s board of elders or trustees, I am going to ask you to bring my talk home and share it with these boards and ask your board and committee members to read it. Then tell them you are going to devote time at your following meeting to discussing these important questions:

  1. How do I talk about money and ministry?
  2. How does my church talk about money and ministry?
  3. How effective are we in connecting money with ministry – not operating expenses?
  4. For pastors: if you are uncomfortable talking about money and ministry, considering our Chief Elder talked about money and generosity as much as any subject, ask yourself and talk with your boards about why you are hesitant to talk about them.
  5. For lay and pastors leaders: how can we begin the process of inspiring the followers of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount to more fully express their generosity and gratitude?
  6. Lastly, I invite pastors and the lay leaders to write or call Chi-Chi or me about what happened during and after these conversations. We want to serve you.

In closing I am going to ask you to stand, open the envelope at your place that has a copy of this talk and join Chi-Chi in reading our Anthem, which is also enclosed. The talk will also be posted on our website and can be downloaded. And please remember: Invest Where You Believe.