The Power of Story: Creating Personal Giving Testimonies

April 5, 2011

Jesus used the power of stories, often in the form of parables, to point to a new reality of the abundance of God’s grace. His stories point to God’s long-term project of blessing so that we can be a blessing to others.

Whether it is your annual giving campaign or year round stewardship formation, inviting people to share their stories about how the practice of giving has become a blessing in their own lives and in the lives of others, captures the heart and mind of the listener in a way that encourages, inspires and much like Jesus, points to a new reality of life in God.

Read on to learn how Charlene Fabian, Director of Stewardship and Planned Giving in the Diocese of Oklahoma, coaches her diocesan stewardship ministry team in preparing their own personal witness stories:

I often say Tithe and Tell is the silver bullet of Stewardship. Don’t stop reading, I just said two scary words. Let’s upack that a little. The tithe is defined as giving ten percent of one’s gross income to God’s Kingdom through the church. Tithing is a discipline that grows out of prayer and discernment. The tithe can be too much for some and not enough for others. If you give out of thankfulness to God for his many blessings, and truly want to partner with him in his ongoing plan and you give regularly as your response, then you are a proportional giver. You are giving a percentage of your income, regardless of what that may be. The first step of using your giving as a holy habit of discipleship is to know that percentage. Everyone who gives is a percentage giver. The desire to be generous is within all of us. Realizing that desire requires practice. You may never reach a tithe or you may go beyond. Having a generous heart toward God is the goal. The amount is simply a tool to realize that relationship.

The other part of this silver bullet is Tell. There are several aspects to the importance of telling your stewardship story. The first is it helps you crystallize what you personally believe about your role as caretaker of God’s creation and participant in his work. Second, sharing your story of thankfulness for the abundance of God’s blessings, counters the cultural story of scarcity, the narrative that convinces us there simply is not enough: Not enough time, not enough money, not enough love. Third, your story opens up possibilities for the listener to imagine a new way of seeing and believing for him or herself. Stories are not meant to induce guilt or offer advice, they are simply a way to share experience, strength and hope.

Integral to any stewardship ministry team is preparing your own story and in turn you can coach others to give their own personal testimonies. In preparing your story, it is helpful to develop a brief, three to five minute version that can be expanded depending on the venue and format.

This suggested guideline can help you prepare for both a shorter and longer personal giving story. Feel free to address the questions that jump out at you and seem to fit with your experience.

Introduce yourself including how long you have been worshiping in your congregation
What do you value about being part of your faith community?
How do you experience God’s blessing in your life and in your community of faith?
How is your giving a faith response?
How did you decide to become a tither or a proportional giver?
What were the challenges you had to overcome to take up a practice of tithing/proportional giving?
How have your views of money and possessions changed during your life?
How have your goals, dream and fears about money changed over time? What were they like before contrasted to what they are now?
Why is giving a spiritual practice for you?
How is your giving connected to discipleship?
How do you hope to grow in your giving?
Invite others to reflect on how their giving is connected to their life in faith.
For people who are more comfortable writing and telling their stories, begin to layer on other points that may include answers to questions like these:

When did your giving journey begin? Was there a definable moment in your life?
Who was influential in your life, even as a child, in learning about generosity?
How have you experienced God’s generosity in your life?
How have you experienced God’s generosity in your church?
How has your relationship with God changed in your practice of giving?
Offering personal witness stories during worship, at stewardship dinners, in letters, in one-on-one visitations lays the foundation for a strong culture of discipleship that embraces stewardship as a path of transformation, rather than simply meeting the transactional needs of the church. Stories shape lives. We don’t go at this alone. In preparing our stories, we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work, bidding us to give voice to the hope that lives inside. God will work through your story to touch someone’s heart, so Tithe and Tell, my friend.

-- Charlene Fabian is the Director of Stewardship and Planned Giving in the Diocese of Oklahoma.