I’m tempted to say, “Some of my best ideas for ministry came from other people.” Which is true, of course. Ask any pastor or staffer. And, just as equally true, some of my best ideas bombed and I wouldn’t want to tell you about them. Smiley-face here.
But here are a couple of things the Lord gave me (I know, I know. We should say that cautiously, lest we join the Name Above All Other Names to something unworthy) that not only worked out, but turned out to be some of the best things we did in my last pastorate…
First idea. An idea for stewardship. Purpose: To motivate people to tithe their incomes to the church over the difficult summer months
Summer is hard on churches which live from month to month financially. And yes, sometimes from week to week. People go on vacations or find distractions to take them away on weekends. A large segment of the Lord’s flock give only when they are in church. Sundays when they are out, the church goes lacking.
Once when our church was hurting financially–which seemed to be a constant for that congregation–the Lord gave me the idea which we were to name “SUMMER BLESSED.” (I have no memory of the moment the idea arrived or whether it was sparked by something another church was doing.)
In naming it “Summer Blessed,” the idea was to “make this a summer blessed of the Lord.” With the full support of the church leadership, I threw out this challenge to our congregation: “Tithe your income for the three months of the summer and do so faithfully. Then, at the end of August if you do not feel your life has been immeasurably blessed as a result, if you will request a refund, we will return all the money you gave to the church.”
To get the leadership’s support, I ran this idea by the church staff and got them on board, then took it to the financial leaders of the church (treasurers and finance committee), and finally brought it before the deacons.
Only after everyone was good with it did I go public with the challenge.
Now, I preached this for two or three Sundays–it was the 1990s and I’m rusty on some of the details–explaining that a) God invites us to test Him (see Malachi 3:10), b) how we should give as an indication of our love and devotion to the Lord, and not just “to get something from Him,” and c) that we should give prayerfully and lovingly. This was not going to be a lottery or a get-rich scheme. I was not making prosperity promises, but merely teaching that when we are obedient to the Lord’s teachings, we are blessed. (See John 13:17).
The goal was to encourage our people to form the habit of tithing their income. Knowing they could have it returned if they chose made beginning a little easier for some. I assured the congregation no one would know they had asked for their money back other than me and the bookkeeper.
We kept the challenge before the congregation throughout the summer. In an occasional letter sent to the homes of our people, I reported on how it was going and urged each one to give their tithes even on Sundays they would be out. They did.
Two things happened: 1) The offerings kept increasing right on through the summer. We ended the summer considerably over the budget. This was only one of two times in my half-century of ministry that this happened. And 2) at the end of the summer, one person asked for his money back. My opinion is that he wasn’t really giving a tithe anyway. So it was not a fair test for him. But without a murmur, I instructed the bookkeeper to send him a check.
At the beginning of the emphasis, we hung a large banner across the front of the sanctuary: “SUMMER BLESSED.” Each Sunday we would explain what it meant and try to find a creative and challenging way to explain what we were doing.
For pastors and other leaders interested in doing this, I suggest you take it up with the Lord and make sure He wants you to do it. Never pick up gimmicks to “use” on your people. The Lord said it’s His church and He will build it (Matthew 16:18). Give Him a chance to do that.
And then, once the Lord green-lights it, sit down with two or three of your most godly and creative people and study how to improve on what we did, to adapt as your church and your calendar necessitate, and to put your own spin on it. Consider naming it something else entirely. No one should ever copyright an idea to bless God’s people.
Second idea. We gave away hundreds of Bibles in our community and it didn’t cost a cent.
In my office at the church one day, I counted at least a half-dozen Bibles I no longer used and wished I could put into the hands of someone who needed one. That’s when the idea hit. We put a large box in the foyer and invited members to clean out all their unused Bibles and share with those who needed one. “One day soon we will have a Bible giveaway here in front of the church,” I promised.
When we had the box filled–seems like it was over 200 Bibles–I went through them all and culled the two Jehovah Witness Bibles and pulled the Bibles with no covers (and honorably retired them from service). We inserted material about the Christian life and our church inside each Bible, then posted on the church sign: “Free Bibles. Saturday 10 to 2 pm.” The first time, I handled it all by myself. I was inventing this as it occurred, and trying to figure out the best way to do it. (At the time, I thought it was a one-time thing.)
The church had a nice drive-through in front, so it was easy for people to pull in off the street, park, and talk to us. I made a lot of great friends and gave away all the Bibles.
Next week, we put the box back in the foyer and said, “Let’s do it again.” This time, we pretty much cleaned out all the extra Bibles our people had. When we had the day of free Bibles, I invited a few deacons and spouses to assist. And then…
Nick Carrone, deacon and auxiliary sheriff’s department officer, came to me. “Preacher, would you like me to take the lead in the Bible giveaway?” I said, “That would be great, Nick. Let me know if I can help.” And that was the last thing I had to do with this wonderful outreach.
Nick got his Sunday School class involved. Once a month they would take up a special offering to buy Bibles. When they had five hundred dollars, they bought 200 Bibles, from the American Bible Society, I think, and then went about the special giveaway with a greater focus.
Nick got his whole class out on the front lawn. These were people who loved to share their faith, friendly people who loved to meet strangers, and included representatives of our church’s prayer ministry. The next morning, just before the worship service, Nick handed me an index card with the report from the previous day. “On Saturday, members of the ABC class gave away 212 Bibles to 93 people. We witnessed to 63 people and had 19 pray to be saved. We got the names of 23 service men and women for our prayer ministry.”
Nick refused to make the report himself, but insisted that I make it. I was delighted to do so.
Any pastor would give a year of his life to have such a deacon and Sunday School class reaching out this way.
That ministry, incidentally, occurred twice annually, and ceased only when Nick went to Heaven and God called me to another assignment.
There! A couple of good ideas which might spark something in you! God bless His church with wonderful and creative leaders.