STEWARDSHIP IN AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN PARISH … IT IS VERY LOGICAL
by Ron Nicola
If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. This most basic of all logic formulas offers a clue about the role of stewardship in the Orthodox Church. Stewardship, as a definable concept with related principles, shall be represented by item A. Parish life, with all its dimensions and complexities, shall be represented by item B. Item C will be labeled that special and important role parish life plays in the Orthodox Church.
A = B:
The reason why A equals B in this logic formula is because stewardship is compatible with the characteristics of parish life. Parishioners who understand the concept, definition, and principles of stewardship harmonize together, producing a vibrant, energetic parish environment.
B = C:
The concept of parish life is relevant to and important in all denominations, but it can probably be said that it carries special meaning in the Orthodox Church. It is correct, then, to say that B equals C. Orthodox congregations, especially in the "new world," are not neighborhood churches. The faithful tend to come from great distances to worship and to share fellowship with other Orthodox Christians. The parish is a place where a person receives enrichment in all dimensions of their existence. It is more than a physical structure in which to worship. In addition, there are often ethnic and cultural ties, which, along with spiritual ties, bond the members together in a tight web of interdependence and mutual support.
The cycle is now complete, and the formula is proven correct. A equals C because stewardship is vital to the health of an Orthodox parish as well as to the well-being of any congregation, no matter what the denomination. It is useful then, to discuss the ways in which good stewardship practices can be brought into the life of every Orthodox parish.
Stewardship on the parish level must be founded on three essential principles. First, the assumption must be made that stewardship is an ongoing process. Year in and year out, virtually everything a church does must be founded in principles of good stewardship. Stewardship must not be viewed by the parishioners as a passing fad or a short term goal. Churches organize fund raising drives which last for a specific period of time because they are geared toward a certain, limited purpose. Congregations identify specific areas of need and design programs to satisfy those concerns. These types of parish involvements are different than stewardship. A parish can recognize that a plan is needed to make stewardship more a part of their church life, but this plan must be designed to perpetuate itself once initial "start-up" goals are achieved.
Second, every parish is unique. This means that no two churches can use the exact same methods of incorporating stewardship into their parish life. Much of the published materials on stewardship describe parish plans which have proven successful. The natural tendency is to try and adopt a proven model. While this may provide some positive results, the better approach is to become aware of the unique needs and special characteristics of a certain parish, and to select features from various models which fit the needs of that particular situation.
Third, all parishes have the talent, resources, and ability to develop their own unique, ongoing stewardship program. Nobody knows the parish better than its own committed priest and parishioners. When these people avail themselves of the existing resources; books, articles, workshops, and the experiences of neighboring churches, it becomes quite possible to design a workable stewardship model.
Once these three principles are accepted as valid, then developing a parish plan for stewardship can begin. Seven basic guidelines can direct this process. These basics are general in nature and can be applied to each and every parish situation. Within the seven guidelines there is room for application of strategies designed and described by others. It is the combination of these guidelines and strategies which results in an effective and unique parish stewardship model.
1. In every parish, there must be an awareness of stewardship. This awareness includes the ability to define stewardship and to understand its role in the parish. Initiating or upgrading this sense of awareness is a task which often falls to the priest and lay leaders of the congregation. The information they gather through study and research can be communicated to parishioners in a variety of ways, with sermons and bulletin articles being the most common methods. In whatever manner the message is sent, the goal should be to make stewardship part of the routine jargon of parish life.
2. The second guideline is closely related to the first, but important enough to warrant separate attention. In an earlier article, the topic of stewardship's definition was discussed. The idea was put forth that while the word-for-word definition of stewardship can legitimately vary, there should exist a consistent, underlying appreciation for the broader concept of stewardship. When parish leaders attempt to heighten the level of awareness of stewardship within the congregation, this point should be kept in mind. This second guideline, then suggests the need to communicate a clear, consistent understanding of stewardship among the congregations.
3. Guideline number three is the implementation step for the first two recommendations. The plan devised for accomplishing the heightened sense of awareness now must be put into practice. It is necessary for this message to eventually reach the entire parish, but an important first place to begin is with the parish council.
A plan to educate parish council members about stewardship has the potential of producing a number of direct and indirect benefits. Typically, there is very little, if any, training conducted when a person joins the parish council. This often results in attitudes about the role of the parish council which are not very sound. Generally speaking, members of the parish council see themselves as caretakers of the church's money and material possessions. Others in the church take care of other parish needs. A special retreat or training session could begin the process of broadening this limited scope. Parish council members must see themselves not as mere caretakers of church finances, but as stewards of God's Word. Knowledge about stewardship would help develop this outlook on a most vital aspect of parish life, service on the parish council.
With the parish council now involved in the "stewardship movement," they can assist in spreading the word throughout the congregation. Those who organized the parish council education program could enlist the aid of the whole council in brainstorming strategies for a church-wide awareness campaign. The collective talents of this group will produce an effective and creative way to make stewardship a common topic of conversation among the parishioners.
4. The education/awareness program is very important, but it is only a first step. It must be followed by a systematic analysis of the whole range of a parish's existence. An undertaking such as this is also known as a needs assessment. It involves asking parishioners for their feelings, ideas, and suggestions. The purpose is to produce a set of identified and agreed upon parish needs which can become the initial focus of a stewardship plan. Marshalling time, talents, and resources of the entire congregation is the ultimate goal of parish stewardship, but there must be avenues down which to channel these energies. Systematic analysis is the process which identifies these specific needs.
There are many different ways to conduct a needs assessment and perhaps there is usually someone in every parish who is aware of these various strategies. A separate article in this series will be devoted to this subject, but again there is no single way to approach this task. Once it is known that this is an important guideline in the process of firmly incorporating stewardship in the parish, it is relatively easy to explore and discover various methods for conducting a needs assessment. Surveys, questionnaires, meetings, and opinion polls are the general approaches, but the subtleties involved are known to people who have expertise in this field. It would be consistent with the principles of good stewardship to seek out these individuals from within the parish.
5. Once parish needs are identified, the fifth guideline becomes clear and obvious; develop a plan to satisfy the needs. This is the heart of the parish stewardship program. The faithful now have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment by contributing to the fulfillment of identified goals.
Development of the plan should be done along the lines of the fourteen stewardship principles outlined in an earlier article. As this is being done, it is most important to build challenge into the plan.
George Bernard Shaw said it best when he stated the often quoted line, "Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?" Parishioners are not fully committed to the faith and to good stewardship if they are afraid of setting high goals. George F. Regas, an Episcopal priest and noted expert in parish stewardship, said, "little plans generate little gifts. Instantly achieved goals aren't worth much. How do you know how high you can jump if you can never kick off the bar?"
A committed parish council becomes essential when the parish plan is being designed. Their enthusiasm can be translated into the leadership it takes to persuade parishioners to embrace challenging goals. Exactly what the goals will be and how they will be implemented become the essence of the parish plan. Specific models and strategies will be discussed in an upcoming article. It should not be necessary, however, to await further direction. Individual initiative, combined with some awareness of the guidelines being described, are all that parishes need to implement good stewardship practices within their communities.
6. The sixth guideline is the implementation step. Once the parish plan is developed as an outgrowth of the identified needs, it is necessary to advertise it to the congregation. The various phases of the program require the involvement of people in the parish, and this is where stewardship is practiced. Whatever the elements of the particular program, it will require many special skills and talents. An awareness of the talents possessed by individuals in the congregation becomes very useful. These volunteer skills not only help to accomplish the various tasks, they allow people to become involved in meaningful aspects of parish life. Special techniques can be used to survey the parish in order to discover people's occupations, hobbies, and special interests. Figuring out ways to gather this information becomes another part of the parish's stewardship development program.
7. Evaluation of the parish plan is not only the seventh guideline, it is also the aspect of the parish plan which allows it to become perpetual. The plan's initial goals need to be monitored in order to determine the extent of progress, but the evaluation process must be set up to continually produce new direction. The needs assessment mechanism, for example, should be geared to operate on a regular basis. Once one set of tasks are completed, new ones are created. It is the responsibility and the role of the parish to produce this kind of continuing challenge. There are always new horizons to discover, and the broad scope of stewardship allows for this continual searching process to take place. The evaluation/parish analysis system will identify spiritual and secular needs, as well as inter-parish, community, and global projects.
This article has been purposely general in its description of how to establish a parish plan for stewardship. In part this is because future articles in this series will describe, in detail, specific strategies which could be used at various steps of the parish plan process. For the most part, however, this general approach should be seen as a way of reinforcing the three principles for stewardship on the parish level.
1. Parish stewardship must be ongoing.
2. Every parish is unique, requiring a personalized stewardship plan.
3. Every parish has the ability to develop its own stewardship plan.
Articles such as the ones appearing in this series should be viewed as helpful resources, not prepackaged models. Experience is the best teacher, so use these resources as encouragement to build a parish level stewardship program. There are parishes in your community and in the Antiochian Archdiocese which have been quite successful in this area. Community clergy associations, as well as the Department of Stewardship in the Antiochian Archdiocese could put you in touch with these congregations. Their experiences are a valuable resource. This department will also be conducting workshops, as it has in the past, at every one of the six 1983 Regional Parish Life Conferences, as well as the Archdiocese Convention in Toronto, Canada. Attending one of these sessions will provide additional information and resources.
The need for every parish to have a systematic, deliberate, and definable stewardship program is unquestionable. The development of such programs should be a high priority item in every church. Once priests, parish councils, and congregations become aware of this, the first step has been taken toward creation of such plans. Remember, if A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. The logic of stewardship's role in parish life is clear. Faith, courage, and initiative provide the tools needed to make it a reality.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America