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Stewardship is more than method to raise funds, It's 100% of our lives


In his passion to promote life-permeating stewardship, the Rev. Hollis Bredeweg sees that fall pledge campaigns can become like business-model fund raisers that narrow the understanding of stewardship and impede results.

Hollis Bredeweg

Hollis Bredeweg

“Stewardship is about everything a person does all the time, he said recently at a leadership retreat at N-Sid-Sen on Lake Coeur d’Alene. 

“It’s about what we buy and how we live more than what goes in an offering plate,” pointed out Hollis, who served several years as associate conference minister for the Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ.

Given that stewardship was a top dinner-table discussion topic in his home as a child—the son of the Indiana Kentucky conference minister—he first chaired a stewardship committee at 20.

Later, he served as stewardship staff in the Nebraska Conference and as a volunteer on the national UCC Stewardship Council and the former United Church Board for World Ministries.

During a “Witnessing Stewards” fund-raising program in 1981, he invited church members to tell why they give.

“Tillie Jahn, the church’s best known tither, was the first one to speak.  This elderly woman of German heritage, formerly in the newspaper business, taught me a lesson,” Hollis said.

“God is not all that interested in my 10 percent.  God wants to know what I am doing with the other 90 percent that I do not give to the church,” Tillie said, “and God wants to know how I got the bundle in the first place.”

Hollis said scales fell from his eyes.  He realized he had mistaken fund-raising programs for stewardship.  Now he realizes fund raising and stewardship bring different yields.

Jesus’ stewardship emphasis was not on 10 percent, but was on 100 percent:  “What I think about and buy in a department store is a stewardship matter,” he said.

“Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees’ legalistic tithing.  I’m not telling people to stop tithing,” he clarified, explaining that “just” tithing, if it’s a stopping point, does not “create 100 percent stewards, who see their covenant relationship with God.”

If the basis for stewardship is Jesus’ preaching, teaching, ministry, life, death and resurrection, then Hollis believes it should be integrated into the full life of a congregation and into all a pastor’s preaching and teaching.

“Stewardship is a long-term education process to transform who we are in relationship to God, the church, the world, others and ourselves,” Hollis asserted.  “Once we create stewards, they cannot be uncreated.  They will give 10 percent, plus volunteer to do the newsletter and more.” 

In 1994, Hollis began following his wife Sally’s career as an agricultural engineer.  In Kansas, he was interim minister and did mental health work.  Next in Mt. Vernon, Wash., he served Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Anacortes, where he successfully tested some of his ideas.

After they moved to Spokane, he served as interim pastor at North Hill Christian Church, until August.

The main Scriptures on stewardship for him are the Sermon on the Mount, reminders not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven and that one cannot serve God and Mammon, and the admonition “do not be anxious.”

As a pastor, he knows pastors become anxious because they earn a living from the congregation.

Facing pressure from rising health insurance and utility rates, some congregations are tempted to hold back a salary increase or cut giving to the wider church, passing anxiety to the regional and national levels, which face the same health and energy increases.

Stewards are caretakers, not owners, but have power, being left in charge while the owner is away, Hollis said.

Some approaches to stewardship can create people who have power to make decisions beyond the level they choose to give.

Often the response to fall pledge campaigns is anxiety, because pledges usually fall short of the budget, he said.  On a situation-by-situation basis, he seeks to learn what congregations do and suggest options that fit.

“A letter from the treasurer saying the church will have to close its doors in two years does not inspire giving or new membership,” Hollis said.

There are various options in budget processes, listening canvasses, developing priorities, facilitating ownership and offering more ways to give,

Hollis encourages churches to relate their budget and pledge process to their ministries and mission—seeing it like advertising to provide vision.

His sermon on the ministry of the folding chair to make a point:

“We may think a folding chair is a squeaky piece of furniture, but those coming to 10 AA groups meeting in the church tell stories and put their lives together while sitting on folding chairs.  The prayer group sits on folding chairs and lifts up joys and concerns.  Children sitting on folding chairs hear about faith for the first time.  Adults sit on them while talking about what to do in ministry.  A folding chair is a place ministry happens.

“Imagine an airline sales person bringing out charts with the cost of the airplane parts, the cost of maintaining a modern fleet, the price of oil and the cost of collective bargaining.  Would the salesperson say: ‘You need to fund our airliner or we will fold’?

“Instead, airline advertisements give a vision—showing Japan, South India or another destination.  That vision makes people willing to pay the fare.  Similarly, car sales people don’t list the cost of car parts, but show their car zooming along the California coast,” he said.

Hollis believes that when churches present their vision for ministry, mission and community, people gladly pay the fare, volunteer, join committees and invite others to come along with them.

While spreadsheets and accounting are important, those in charge of them should not do the advertising, he said. 

“Every church budget reflects every prayer said, hymn sung, Bible study, Christian education lesson, sermon, pastoral call—all on paper in a code,” Hollis said.  “We don’t see it because numbers and lists do not describe mission or ministry.  We need to break the code and translate numbers into our mission and ministry.”

A narrative budget uses a slide show, with pictures of children and people to help members envision how the church would spend the budget amounts.

Pastors may hesitate to preach stewardship every Sunday, thinking it self-serving because a large percentage of the budget may be for their salaries.  Congregations, however, do not mind being thanked and reminded what  ministry they make possible.

Pastors’ salaries provide hours of ministry in the intensive care unit with families and patients, meeting with committees to give them a vision of sharing in ministry and fostering awareness of the world that creates a covenant to care for it as an integral part of faith life, he said.

“Break the code, thank people and tell stories of mission and ministry all year, focusing on content over methodology,” he summarized, “not which pledge card design is best.”

Hollis believes pledges may also be seen as invitations for people to consider their commitments, goals and dreams, as a prayer dedicating their lives to God, and as an investment in creating the world they want to live in, a symbol of who they are.

For information, call 270-5213.

Hollis has completed his service as associate conference minister.




By Mary Stamp - Copyright © October 2005 - The Fig Tree