For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘generosity

Rich Church, Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry by J. Clif Christopher. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2012. 108 pp.

Rich Church Poor ChurchThis review was originally published at the Center for Faith and Giving, who provided this book to me for review and gave permission to share here as well. If you want more strategies to become a Rich Church, I recommend their work and resources highly. They are a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a sister denomination to my own United Church of Christ.

We’ve probably all heard a convicting sermon—a message in which we recognize for ourselves how our lives have strayed from God and feel compelled to turn ourselves around, seek forgiveness, and try again. J. Clif Christopher’s Rich Church, Poor Church was a convicting book for me. With every chapter, I could catalog the ways in which my congregation has been following the bad habits of a “poor church.” However, like any good convicting sermon, Christopher’s book did not abandon me to my despair—he points the way to a future of redemption, with clear, practical, action and attitude oriented measures for churches to move from scarcity to abundance.

Rich Church, Poor Church has nothing to do with the economic status of the people who worship in the pews. What Christopher means by a “poor church” is one that is “always behind financially and searching for money, as compared to what I witness in churches that are not always struggling to find resources for mission and ministry (Rich Church).” (ix) The book catalogs the different behaviors and practices of these kinds of communities.

For example, one chapter talks about how Rich Churches focus on mission. Everything they do is about serving people, changing lives, making disciples and following Jesus. In a Poor Church, you will instead hear a great deal of conversation about the survival of the church, the need for more money, the costs of caring for the facility, and meeting the needs of the members who are already involved. Most powerfully, while the Rich Church is talking about what Jesus needs, the Poor Church is talking about what the church needs. (My own church’s recent stewardship and budget process failed miserably by Christopher’s measure.)

The chapters continue with discussions about debt management, communication, asking for support, being thankful, sharing information about giving, and more. Each chapter begins with a simple table, listing the practices of Rich Churches on one side and Poor Churches on the other. The chapters conclude with a set of questions for discussion, making this book ideal for group conversation. The book is short and easy to read, and would be a great tool in multiple settings of the church.

I’m planning to order copies for my leadership team, because we need to hear this convicting message, stop pursuing practices that are only making the problems worse, and be moved to change our ways and follow more faithfully, so that we can stop feeling like a Poor Church and start being a Rich Church.

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The Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder. Zondervan, 2009, 151 pp.

Advent ConspiracyI’ll start with a confession of prejudice: Zondervan makes me nervous. They publish mostly materials from a more conservative theological position, and I often find their titles to be interesting at first, but disappointing or downright offensive upon closer examination. If Zondervan makes you nervous too, fear not. The Advent Conspiracy is the real deal. While you won’t find a progressive theology or inclusive language, you will find solid theology and biblical interpretation, alongside a commitment to overcoming consumerism and responding with compassion to the crisis of poverty.

The Advent Conspiracy starts in a familiar place: the feeling that consumerism has robbed Christmas of its sacred purpose.  However, rather than just passionately insisting that we remember “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the authors address the real pressures we all face around secular Christmas traditions, and invite us to practical, challenging steps to reshaping our experience of the season. They do not suggest we can easily accommodate Jesus in our otherwise secular celebrations, and they refuse to make peace with consumerism.

 

Consumerism requires our consciences to stay detached from the moral consequences of our purchases. We buy without thinking beyond the price and the promise of a newer, better self. Yet we ought not to deceive ourselves: this is a religion, and this is worship. (26)

In response, they issue four short instructions, in four short chapters: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  The chapter on Worship Fully looks at what we truly worship versus what we say we worship, and looks at Mary (including the radical Magnificat), Joseph, the Shepherds and Wise Men as examples of worship. The Spend Less section encourages us to look at all our spending and see if it is true to what we say we believe. It is not about avoiding spending, it is about being more intentional and spending on things that matter. They quote C.S. Lewis:

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. (61)

The chapter on Give More encourages us not just to give to charity, but to give better and more thoughtfully when we give gifts to those we love. They discuss giving relationally–gifts that are costly (not necessarily in dollars), honor the recipient and relationship. No more cheap junk to fulfill an obligation. Finally, the Love All section turns toward giving for the poor. It encourages all Christians to honor the God who came to live among the poor by showing a real and lasting commitment to serving the poor in the world today, especially highlighting a water project in which the authors are deeply invested.

The book has an accompanying DVD series, and a lesson plan for each chapter at the back. We offered it as a series at my church, but it was hastily organized and lightly attended. I would like to do it again, and do it better. This is a great resource, and I encourage more churches to make use of it.

I did a guest review for the Center for Faith and Giving this month on Clifford Jones’ Star Bookbook for Judson Press, The Star Book of Stewardship. It is part of their Star Book series which includes handbooks on worship, occasional services and more.

The Center for Faith and Giving is run by the Disciples of Christ, and is a great resource for all things stewardship in the life of the church. Follow the link and check them out!

You can find the review here, or just go directly to the Center’s home page.

Christopher, J. Clif. Whose Offering Plate Is It? New Strategies for Financial Stewardship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010. 145 pp.

This review was originally written for the Center for Faith and Giving, a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), whose mission is to create a culture of generosity across the church. You can find this review there as well, along with my review of the first volume, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. Check them out for great resources for stewardship, giving and growing generosity in your congregation. 

Whose Offering Plate is It? is the companion volume to J. Clif Christopher’s Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. Not Your Parents Offering Plate makes the hard case for why churches need to change their approach to raising money. Whose Offering Plate Is It? offers clear, concise directions about how.

Christopher moves beyond making the case that churches need to emphasize how their ministries change lives. He shows how to follow his advice with practical tips for using testimonies, emphasizing the good news, collecting stories of changed lives. His strident argument that the pastor should know members’ giving habits becomes a strategy to present this case to the church leadership and practical advice for those who might be reluctant about the effect of financial knowledge on their ability to minister impartially. Instead of just making the case for individualized stewardship letters, Christopher offers sample letters and a breakdown of various types of donor groups.

The book is based on a question-and-answer format, as Christopher addresses the most commonly asked questions that arise from his first book. He includes questions that reach beyond his own writing,  such as: “Do We Tell When Things Are Bad?” and “What Do I Do in a Bad Economy?” Many struggling churches and pastors would benefit from reading and discussing his responses.

Christopher manages to be brutally honest at the same time he is full of hope and encouragement about why the church should be excited to ask for generous gifts. He makes the case for the church and its ministries as unique in their ability to offer hope and good news in troubled times, to transform people’s lives from the inside out. He reminds us of why our mission matters, and inspires me to tell our church’s story more effectively and ask for generous gifts more boldly.

In my church, we have put into practice many of the ideas that we read in Christopher’s first book, but we definitely could have used the roadmap provided in this second volume. While you could read both books cover-to-cover, I would recommend reading the first book with a group of lay leaders, and then discussing it. When you find ideas you want to implement, then you can read just those sections of Whose Offering Plate Is It? together and use the strategies to get started. As you grow into Christopher’s ideas, you can return to this volume for the practical tools you need.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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