G&P: WOULD YOU SHARE SOME STORIES OF STEWARDSHIP FROM AROUND THE USA/CANADA REGION?
ML: We have good stories, but I have to preface these stories with the fact that I change the names and the places in the stories to protect the identity of our donors. One wonderful donor was a farmer. Back in a time when farmers were going bankrupt everywhere, he was a young farmer with small children. His cash was down to nothing. He was invited to go to a revival at a Nazarene church and got saved. Two Sundays later, the church had a missionary speaker, and the Lord told him to pledge more money than he had: $1,000. The following week he received a check that he wasn’t expecting, and it was for far more than $1,000. He believed the Lord asked him and helped him to take that step of obedience. That farmer is in heaven now, but he spent the rest of his life giving to others. He wanted to give because he recognized that the Lord had blessed him so much.
This is not about a “prosperity gospel” approach, but this farmer believed that the Lord led him in that instance to step out on faith with a gift that was beyond his ability, and the Lord took care of him. We get that testimony a lot: “The Lord’s done so much for me, and the Lord has been my provider.”
This happens with church boards, too. Part of the pastor’s role is to nd the right balance. A feasibility study would have shown that Noah couldn’t build an ark and shouldn’t have. He had to have faith to get there. You have to pay attention to the reality of the numbers, yet step out on faith when God asks.
G&P: WHAT DREW YOU FROM THE PASTORATE INTO HELPING THE DENOMINATION WITH PLANNED GIVING?
ML: I think God spent a lot of my life preparing me for the things I’m doing right now. Numbers came really easy for me. In college, even as a religion major, I took all the accounting classes I could. I joked that I was trying to bring my grades up in religion. It was a passion that stuck with me.
I remember being pretty young, 27, just out of seminary and pastoring my rst church when the district o ce referred an older pastor to me with a tax question about housing allowance. People were seeing these gifts in me early on. I ended up serving as a district treasurer. Then, in my 22nd year of ministry, the general treasurer called offering me a job, and I felt like that was an easy decision to say yes. That initial transition to serving the general church was as director of stewardship, but that put me in association with the Nazarene Foundation, and eventually I began serving in the Foundation full time.
G&P: HOW WAS YOUR THEOLOGY OF GIVING FORMED?
ML: I grew up on a farm, and when I was still too small to lift bales of hay, I was old enough to drive a tractor. One of the neighbors hired me for a day to rake hay, so I raked hay all that day and walked proudly into my home with a $10 bill that night.
I was waving that thing around saying, “Look what I did! I earned this!” I was probably about 12 years old. My mom stopped me and said, “One of those dollars belongs to the Lord. You will only be able to use nine dollars for you, because one of those you’re going to put in the offering. That’s God’s money.”
So, from early days, the Lord taught me that when I put something in the offering plate, I’m not giving Him my money; I am taking my hands off of His money. That taught me that we don’t have anything that didn’t come from God.
G&P: WHAT DOES GIVING AS WORSHIP MEAN TO YOU?
ML: For me, worship isn’t just about singing songs. It is about putting our lives in God’s hands. So, in those times when giving to God seems very difficult, I believe we should continue to give. It should be our first priority. It is a way of worshiping the Lord by trusting Him completely. If worship is letting the Lord know how wonderful He is and how much we love Him, releasing our gifts to Him when He asks us would be a part of that worship.
I like things spelled out clearly, so it can be tempting for me to depend on my own savings, skill, and hard work to provide for myself. However, God is the Provider. Unlike me (and everyone else), God will never run out of money. God never spends a day worrying about recession. God is the provider, and God’s provision is abundant. A key reason God asks us to give is for our spiritual development.
G&P: WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT NAZARENE FOUNDATION HELPS PEOPLE UTILIZE THEIR GIFTS?
ML: We handle several types of giving, both cash and special items, special possessions. Recently some people wanted to meet with me and give a gift to the Foundation. Usually these meetings involve people bringing a check. However, these people had a special possession: gold bullion. It was $25,000 worth of coins that they’d had for years. With tears in their eyes, they said, “We believe that God is telling us that we’re supposed to give these to a mission project. We don’t know what the project is, so it’s an undesignated gift—but somewhere in the world, God has something He wants to do, and He wants to use these coins to do it.”
This gift was helpful to missions, but it was also an act of worship on their part. They gave something precious in obedience to God. In the Old Testament, a high percentage of worship involved these kinds of gifts. People brought their best gifts to the altar. In America, we like our toys. If God says, “I want you to give that boat or your pick-up truck to the Lord,” or something that’s meaningful to us, it can be a very worshipful experience, just as much as giving cash.
Everyone I have assisted in the giving process has been joyous about it. In fact, we often have people say, “Thank you for helping me do this.” This is especially true in the area of planned gifts.
G&P: WHAT DO CHURCHES NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PLANNED GIVING?
ML: We work with people who have been deeply involved in their church through their life. Many have chosen some kind of non-profit for a portion of their will or their revocable trust.
In conversations with these folks we have asked, “Since you have been closer to your church than you ever were to the other nonprofit you are supporting, why did you choose them instead of your church for a gift in your estate?”
Consistently, the answer is: “This other group asked us to be in our will. The church never asked to be in our will.” So, doing something to make planned giving available can produce wonderful results.
We pastors may spend a lot of time preaching to people that they need to get ready for heaven. What we don’t often consider is that there is a lot of spirituality tied to our possessions. Being a steward of our possessions at the end of life is important. People have peace when they know that when they pass away, they will bless their church and their family. That’s the reason the Nazarene Foundation exists. Our sole purpose is to help Nazarenes make planned and deferred gifts to their church or to any Nazarene ministry.
G&P: WHAT ARE AMONG THE MOST UNIQUE GIFTS PEOPLE HAVE GIVEN TO THE CHURCH?
ML: About seven percent of what America owns is in cash, but when most churches think of taking an offering, cash is the only gift they think about. Opening the door to non-cash gifts is really important.
For example, it’s very advantageous for a farmer to give grain, rather than to sell the grain, pay tax, and give the money. So, we handle thousands of bushels of corn, soybeans, and wheat every year.
We also handle gifts of real estate and stock on a regular basis. A few weeks ago, someone gave us a unique piece of artwork. The owner knew it had some value but really didn’t have any idea what to expect. The art gallery told us that there were several unusual things about the painting that could bring the price down. So, they offered to help us sell it, but they didn’t think it was going to bring more than six or seven thousand dollars.
We followed all their instructions and took it through the sales process. When it sold just a few weeks ago, it brought $68,750! I’ve just had a little bit of fun saying that if the Foundation can sell a crayon drawing on paper for over $68,000, think of what God can do in your church through planned and deferred giving!
G&P: WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO MENTION ON THIS TOPIC?
ML: We preachers often fear talking about money. I was first trained as an auctioneer when I was 18. An auctioneer does nothing all day but ask for money. We’re taught to look in people’s eyes, nod our head up and down, do a little hand motion toward our bidders and say, “Don’t look at him, this is between you and me! You’ll give $50, won’t you?” So asking for money has never really been a problem for me, or even talking about money.
I know that many pastors fear talking about it, but giving is wonderful! It’s a deeply joyful, spiritual experience. I don’t think pastors should ever apologize for inviting people to give. It would be similar to saying, “I know you’re a busy person, but I want to talk to you about prayer. I really hate to take any of your time, but you should be praying.”
It’s just as strange to say to people, “I really apologize that I have to talk to you about your stewardship of the things that God is blessing you with.”
I wish there were ways I could reach into Nazarene pastors’ hearts and just turn the dial over toward “No Fear” when it comes to speaking about those things. I have also heard preachers say, “If you’re visiting here today, just don’t listen for a while, since I’m going to talk to the congregation about money.”
God may have put somebody in the congregation that day because they needed to learn to give. The first step for them in God’s direction might have to be releasing some money and making a gift to the Lord. Any given Sunday could be an opportunity even for a visitor to take a step of obedience in regard to giving.
I just wish I could take that fear away and make talking about money an opportunity to help people grow deeply in their faith.
Giving gives Christians great fulfillment. We are really helping people to do something joyous. We are leading people into a spiritual experience. An attorney once said to me that he would hate my job since I ask for money all the time.
I told him that I don’t ask people for money. I lead people into using their assets for God’s glory. It’s a different thing. They have a vision for doing something significant in God’s kingdom, and I help process that and make it happen. We are helping people fulfill their dreams in God’s kingdom.
God is the provider, and God’s provision is abundant. God is not going to run out of anything. God asks us to give for our spiritual development.