Reviewed by the Rev. Rosanna Anderson, Associate Director of Stewardship Ministries
Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity
by Clayton L. Smith.
Foreword by Adam Hamilton.
Abingdon Press, 2015 (136 pages).
Clayton Smith opens Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity with the hope that “your preaching and leading skills will be empowered to navigate the troubled waters ahead” (page ix). With these words, he invites pastors and other church leaders to engage in his models for greater effectiveness in stewardship and generosity ministry. Like a sturdy marine tripod, this book has three excellent sections that guide readers to more faithful leadership, thoughtful preaching and worship, and helpful giving models.
Based on forty years of ministry experience, this book presents extensive practical wisdom and spiritual insights to guide church leaders today. Smith is the executive pastor of generosity at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, the largest church in the denomination. His doctor of ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary focused on preaching financial stewardship. “How are we to move forward with sensitivity for donors and a bold vision for Christ and the church?” he asks in the preface. “The answer,” he suggests, “lies in raising levels of expectation” (page ix). He provides many examples of positive results emerging from uplifting leadership with members of the congregation.
Smith’s emphasis on personal connectivity constitutes the theological heart of this book: his new preaching model is designed to help pastors reach a deeper level of connection with people. He is convinced that “Our approach to financial stewardship sermons can move from anxiety to urgency, from feelings of inadequacy to hopefulness” (page viii). Shifting to positive tones of faith in stewardship preaching can significantly improve the experience of those listening in the congregation, encouraging them, in turn, to respond with trust and joy in giving.
There is an element to stewardship preaching beyond text and context that Smith refers to as “the intentional dynamic of the preacher’s personality and leadership style” (page 45). It’s important to pay attention to personal elements that God has given the preacher to bring the sermon to life. Although it may be difficult, the key is “greater self-understanding” (page 45). Smith’s new preaching model encompasses a threefold task “to better understand the congregation’s needs (ethos), to know with confidence the biblical imperatives (logos), and to comprehend more fully the role of your personality and its impact (pathos)” (pages 45 and 47). He weaves together various theories from Fred Craddock to psychologist Joseph Luft, among others. What may be most challenging for preachers is to know “how we best practice self-disclosure that is authentic and inviting” (page 45). The preacher is urged to consider how to “best be heard” in preaching the word of God “to produce a culture of generosity” (page 47). He describes effective stewardship preaching, evident in sermons of senior pastor Adam Hamilton at the Church of the Resurrection as well as others (page 49). The steps are to “improve your self-understanding; use indirect communication; build trust; preach with biblical impact; preach with your ears; and evaluate every stewardship campaign” (pages 49-56). Throughout the book, Smith offers essential tools to help leaders establish goals and practices to promote further growth in generosity that are relevant in their context.
Included with the book is a password for access to sixty pages of further resources for stewardship and generosity ministry at www.cokesbury.com. Smith will also make quarterly resources available at his website, www.claytonlsmith.com.