Review of Stewardship in African-American Churches: A New Paradigm by Melvin Amerson
Reviewed by The Rev. Rosanna Anderson
Stewardship in African-American Churches: A New Paradigm
by Melvin Amerson
published by Discipleship Resources, 2006 (126 pages)
Available from Amazon.com
This insightful book offers a biblically-based and practical guide to stewardship. This work has become a classic in the field. While grounded in the African-American church experience, its teachings may be applied to all kinds of congregations.
Melvin Amerson is an ordained elder in the Texas Annual Conference. His experiences as a pastor inform his work as a stewardship consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation. He has taught extensively about “tithing, stewardship sermon series, pledging, sacrificial offerings, capital campaigns, and endowments” (page 39). The Rev. Amerson is currently preparing the updated and revised edition of this book, which will be reissued by Discipleship Resources in September 2015. He is the co-author of Celebrating the Offering with his brother, the Rev. James Amerson, and its companion volume, Fruit for Celebrating the Offering, published by Discipleship Resources.
History and traditions are addressed in the first chapter, with gratitude and respect for the great faith and generosity shown by individuals, families and communities of limited means (page 11). In the past, separate offerings were taken during worship, such as the regular offering for the operating budget and the “penny” offering for benevolence (page 14). Over time, as church members have shifted from farming to a wide range of professional work, the use of special fundraising events such as rallies and contests has diminished (page 15).
In “Developing a Theology of Generosity,” the second chapter, Amerson’s biblical teaching on stewardship soars. He provides analysis of several key passages of Scripture with questions for personal application that pastors may use with church officers (pages 17-31). Amerson is careful to avoid the false hopes of a prosperity gospel. As he writes, “Sowing seeds into the Lord’s ministry is not akin to playing the lottery, hoping for a big payout…. Our windfall or harvest from God often comes in the form of life-transforming ministry” (page 30). His prayerful reflections provide inspiration for sermons to uplift and challenge your congregation to greater faithfulness in giving.
The third chapter tackles common fears and thorny misconceptions in “Leadership Roles in Stewardship.” Two key problems are the view that a pastor speaking about money may be self-serving as it relates to clergy compensation or the view that “how we use our money is material, not spiritual” (page 35). He points out that “money is a spiritual matter that affects several facets of one’s life. If money matters were private… Jesus would not have allocated the amount of time he used teaching on the subject” (pages 37-38). The Rev. Amerson speaks as a seasoned pastor when he urges us to develop a teamwork approach with the other leaders in our local church. He explains, “…the church is an active partnership between clergy and laity, especially when developing a culture of generosity. Clergy and laity need each other in the undertaking of a stewardship paradigm shift” (page 34). “… it is imperative for clergy and laity to support each other as they implement a plan of stewardship for their congregation” (page 35). He offers practical advice to “combat fears of discussing money in our congregations” by always using the Bible and encouraging others to give testimonies (page 38). Amerson wisely lifts up the truth that important leaders in the congregation can influence others to give generously. He sums up his biblical perspective, writing, “Generosity is not measured in amounts, but in the spirit in which it is given” (page 40). This chapter really is the heart of the book.
Prayer is a dynamic feature of the fourth chapter, “Stewardship in a New Era.” When pastors and other leaders share a vision in which they serve together in partnership with Jesus, their stewardship plans may indeed result in a paradigm shift to a culture of generosity. Amerson recommends a variety of opportunities for all members to uphold the church in prayer during stewardship month, such as “a schedule for members to take turns praying for mission and ministry… [or] a set time each day,” or even “a weekend prayer vigil at the church [when] people sign up for thirty minutes or an hour of prayer in the sanctuary or chapel” (page 48). By inviting people to commit to praying for the church, the spiritual and personal dimensions are made clear. He calls a quarterly giving statement a “Statement of Celebration” in order to focus on gratitude for the Lord’s work (page 50).
Stewardship education, the theme of chapter five, calls for “imagination and creativity” (page 64). A range of Bible study ideas are discussed, as well as several Christian finance courses. The over-arching goal is to “help people develop a lifestyle of stewardship, which is part of Christian discipleship” (page 68).
“Celebrating the Offering” chapter six, provides inspiration for lifting up the offering as a highlight of worship. It features hymns chosen for their “deep theological meaning” (page 75). Amerson advises, “do not apologize for what the Bible says about honoring the Lord with your gifts” (page 76). This wisdom is woven throughout the book. When a preacher remembers to “sprinkle your message with humor” (page 76), the congregation will feel at ease rather than defensive.
The final two chapters discuss strategies for planning particular offerings on Special Days and helping people to talk and make plans for leaving a legacy. About the first of these, Amerson writes, “A vision for the future is a spiritual driving force that inspires [a church] to be faithful in their response to God’s mission” (page 82). This will be unique in each context and season in a congregation’s life. But by being intentional, pastors and leaders can have a lasting impact. We are to teach and preach that one’s legacy “is more than accumulated assets. It is a statement of faith and belief; it is a statement of love” (page 86). By being comfortable in speaking about money and priorities, we model the spiritual maturity that we hope will develop in others. As the Rev. Amerson tells members, “Flowers wither away, but memorials keep living and giving” (page 89). When we direct people to consider what is of ultimate importance, our faith keeps things in perspective.
Many helpful resources are included in the appendix section, such as a Congregational Stewardship Analysis tool and a sample Narrative Spending Plan. Some readers may be interested in more information about e-giving, which is addressed in chapter four, “Stewardship in a New Era.” The new, revised edition will include updates on e-giving and e-statements as well as expanded material on annual campaigns and capital campaigns.
I highly recommend this book. It should be read by all pastors and officers who seek to develop a flourishing culture of generosity in their church.
The Rev. Rosanna Anderson ([email protected]) is the Associate Director of Stewardship Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.