The accidental stewardship educator

In my experience, it’s the unusual newcomer to fundraising for a faith-based organization that thinks of him or herself as called to ministry. And when it comes to CEOs and boards, even fewer conceive of fundraising as a spiritual activity.  Yet many Christians report that their most intimate conversations about faith and money have been with development staff of a religiously affiliated nonprofit. Quite by accident, fundraisers have been thrust into the role of stewardship educators.

As Thom Jeavons and I wrote in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry:

Recent research warns that a not-so-funny thing has happened on the way to America’s churches. The majority of pastors, we are being told, have decided they would rather talk about God without mentioning mammon, ignoring the subject of Christians and money except for the once-a-year obligatory stewardship sermon. . . Stewardship education is virtually nonexistent in many churches. Persons of faith have been left to learn about giving where they may. By default, the majority of churchgoers today are being introduced to the whys and hows of giving not by their pastors but via fundraising appeals from the myriad religious organizations that dot the North American charitable landscape. . . The plain truth is, the way in which Christian organizations go about raising money is a very powerful form of stewardship education, and the fundraising staff are stewardship educators, whether the work is thought of as such or not.

Now it’s been said again. This time by renowned scholar Paul Schervish, in the 2008 Thomas Lake Lecture titled “Receiving and Giving as Spiritual Exercises: The Spirituality of Care in Soul, Relationships, and Community:”

. . . We need to develop a spirituality of wealth, choice, and giving in a contemporary language and practice. I regret that,with some exceptions, the theology and ethics of churches and pulpit sermons do not adequately offer such a fresh understanding. Instead, the needed spiritual knowledge is emerging at the grass roots among those who conscientiously seek to discern how their wealth is to serve as a tool to accomplish simultaneously a vocation for their self and care for others. It is also surfacing among financial and development professionals who perceive the spiritual horizons of economic life and serve, often implicitly, in what may be nothing less than a pastorate of financial ministry.

The role of stewardship educator is an awesome additional responsibility to lay on the backs of persons who already feel overburdened with aggressive fundraising goals and the challenges of ever-increasing organizational needs. And all the more so when it happens without intentionality. In fact, it’s too big and too important a role to leave up to one person or one department. Everyone in a faith-based nonprofit, and most especially the persons who make decisions about fundraising goals and spending priorities, should join in making certain that the fundraising program is structured to encourage God’s good work in donors’ hearts.


  1. Well said, well timed, well argued. So glad to be hearing your voice more frequently–at least in writing.

  2. Thanks, Mark, for your comment. Just when I think it’s no longer necessary teach that fundraising is ministry and fundraisers are in ministry, I bump into a situation where folks just don’t get it. So I say it again, and again, and again. As I know do you.

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