Faith, Stewardship and Strongholds

Parishioners Give $106,000 over Planned Amount in December 2007;
One Family’s Matching Gift Brings Total to $212,000

By Joy Hunter

(This article was originally appeared in the February/March 2008 issue of the Jubilate Deo, the Newspaper for the Diocese of South Carolina.)

The folks at St. Paul’s, Summerville, believed they were called to something new. Having lived with the old model of stewardship with its fall campaign, pledges and various versions of an every member canvass, lengthy prayer and discernment led the church to abandon the whole package. Instead, the vestry emerged from a year-long Sabbath reflection with a new vision for stewardship. So, beginning in the fall of 2006, for the 2007 budget, they had no stewardship campaign, no pledge cards, no canvas, no reminder notices, and no Sunday offering plates at their main service.

A Whole New Stewardship Paradigm

“We were in a whole new paradigm,” says Rector, Mike Lumpkin. “The operative word became, ”˜We intend to rely upon the Lord’s provision.’ Our task, as a staff and vestry was to pray intentionally, regularly and to trust God for his provision. Meanwhile, we began a long-term project of introducing parish families to authentic financial wellness using Biblically-based financial principles.”

Unfortunately, at the November 2007 Vestry meeting they faced a growing budget deficit. “Our question was, do we go back to the parish and ask them to help?” asked Lumpkin. “We felt like that would be going back to the old model, and we rejected that idea. Instead we stuck with our original plan: faith and prayer.”

Out of that Vestry meeting came the idea of creating a prayer card which was included in every Sunday bulletin in December. Though it didn’t mention finances directly it did call members to offer themselves to God. In addition, the Vestry asked Senior Warden, Scott Poelker, to speak to the congregation, not about finances, but about faithfulness. He agreed with the vestry not to mention the particular circumstances.

That service was a turning point according to many. “I was really touched,” says parishioner Cathie Diggs. “I think what Scott said made people think. It was all about trusting God, and I believe it made people more willing to trust God with their finances.”

A Matching Gift Offer

The same day Scott Poelker spoke, a family came to Mike Lumpkin and said they believed there was a “spiritual stronghold related to generosity” in the church. To counter the stronghold, they were willing to match dollar-for-dollar any gift given to St. Paul’s over and above what individuals had originally intended. The only additional stipulation was that the gift be given by Advent IV, December 23. That left three Sundays and 15 days before the deadline.

“St. Paul’s Vestry has a Sunday luncheon once a month, and it just so happened that our luncheon fell on that day,” said Lumpkin. “The news was received with great enthusiasm,” he said. “One vestry member immediately said, ”˜I’ll commit an additional $1,000 right now!’”

“I met later with the family to go over details,” says Lumpkin. “They wanted to stress that there would be no cap on the gift. I would have thought it would have been quite reasonable to put a cap on it, but they said, ”˜No. This is the way God told us to do it.’”

The church sent out a parish-wide e-mail letting individuals know about the matching challenge. It was also shared during the Sunday services on December 16.

At the December 17 vestry meeting it was reported that 21 families had responded, the parish had received $9,500 as “over and above” gifts. It was also reported that the year-to-date deficit was $84,000! “That response was a disappointment,” said Lumpkin. “We acknowledged that there was a spiritual stronghold and we agreed as a Vestry to pray harder and more intentionally.”

By Friday, December 21 the situation had not changed significantly. “We wondered, again, if we needed to do more, but often messages sent out by the church are considered guilt trips or manipulation, so we didn’t say anything,” says Lumpkin.

A Turnaround

Though nothing more was said to the parish family, Lumpkin sent an e-mail to the vestry on Friday, December 21 asking the vestry to pray more, crying out to the Lord, for the ”˜Over and Above Challenge,’ as it had come to be named, and for year-end generosity through December 31 as well. On Advent IV, December 23, the date the challenge ended, the parish had made sudden significant progress. By then, they had responses from a total of 97 families and $106,000 had been given in “over-and-above” gifts!

Michael called the family about the amount. They were blessed by the turnaround in generosity, but at the same time acknowledged, “That’s a higher amount than we anticipated,” they said. “This is a real stretch for us, as well. But give us a few days. We’re doing this because we know God has called us to.” On Sunday, December 30 the parish received the additional $106,000 gift from that family as well, bringing the total to $212,000!

First Priority ”“ Giving Back to God

At year’s end, the vestry celebrated a $155,000 surplus after closing the books on 2007! The vestry approved three priorities for the initial uses of the surplus: One, to give ten percent to outreach ministries; two, to retire a secondary mortgage; and three, to use a small portion for the 2008 budget. The surplus $50,000 remained for the vestry to prayerfully discern its use.

In reflecting on the experience, Lumpkin said, “It is St. Paul who speaks of ”˜spiritual strongholds’ in II Corinthians 10. He tells us not to use the weapons of the world, but weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds. We believe intentional, focused prayer, plus the kind of faith that is ”˜certain of what we do not see,’ (Hebrews 11:1) are two of those weapons. Anytime a Scrooge-like spirit of hoarding, indifference and apathy exists in a community, then you’re dealing with a spiritual stronghold only God and the supernatural power of His Spirit can overthrow. To whatever degree that particular stronghold exists at St. Paul’s, the leverage applied at year-end by means of the Over and Above Challenge significantly undermined its walls!”

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * South Carolina, Parish Ministry

2 comments on “Faith, Stewardship and Strongholds

  1. Dilbertnomore says:

    To God be the glory!

  2. appletree says:

    Knowing Mike and Ellen Lumpkin, knowing the faithfulness that shows through in their everyday lives, knowing their neverending love of the Lord, knowing their giving all and loving all spirit, I would expect nothing less of the congregation they shepherd.