While we might have inherited the expectation that patterns of stewardship or development are fixed, we can break free of “the way we’ve always done things” more easily than we might believe, and effective leaders can bring their organization along with them. Tim Shapiro, in his book How Your Congregation Learns, describes it this way: “A learning congregation facilitates the development of new abilities of its clergy and laity so as to continuously improve its capacity to address ever-increasing demands for the sake or religious claims and commitments.” This sounds to me like a path toward growth and new ways of seeing what might be possible, just as Jesus helped the disciples with his intervention in their fishing expedition.
The impetus for a leader to intervene in the patterns of stewardship and fundraising for an organization or congregation may come from a recognition that the paradigm of religious giving has shifted. This can give us encouragement and confidence in calling for change because we can observe that it is already taking place in some regard. For many years, Americans primarily gave to religion from a traditional sense of duty and obligation, with a priority on doing their part to support the institution. Fundraising in this model is focused on the development, maintenance, and aims of the institution.
Now we see emerging a new paradigm for religious giving, which reflects different attitudes and behaviors on the part of donors, and requires alternative expectations and practices from institutions as well. In the emerging paradigm, donors often emphasize generosity as a response of gratitude rather than obligation. The emerging model is much more focused on donor motivation and a sense of efficacy, and less closely tied to the identity and aims of the institution. Fundraising in the emerging paradigm is all about nurturing the discernment and generosity of the donor.
Leaders have a tremendous capacity to make a real difference in the behavior of their organization or congregation. This can happen in many ways, but in order for it to work, it must result in the organization or congregation learning something new. The intervention might work through incremental change, with a small degree of difference at the beginning of a process resulting in a very different result. Change might begin with something so simple, so fundamental, as a shift in the leader’s own mindset. From there, experimentation can allow for change to be tried on, embraced or redirected. Finally, new ways of thinking about and engaging with stewardship can be integrated through practices, rituals, celebration, and the stories told within the life of the organization. All of this requires a willingness to act as a learning community, as leaders, congregations, or other organizations. With this expectation, interventions can surprise and embolden us, as God continues to intervene in our lives and in the world.