Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And Now, a Message from My Inner Geek

Kenneth Burke,
My Favorite Rhetorician

A Glimpse at My Geeky Side

I received my MA in Communication & Rhetoric from Ball State University and have used this degree to teach Communication classes including undergraduate speech & graduate level persuasion & rhetoric classes. I also have 15 years experience competing and coaching speech & debate. I see stewardship as a rhetorical act and my role is to understand my audience, their values and what they will find persuasive. As such, I consider the context in which I am discussing stewardship. But you don't need a MA in Communication to apply basic rhetorical strategies. I have included one set of questions for you to consider and use for stewardship. (For the rhetoric geeks reading this: In case you didn't figure it out from my picture choice, I'm applying Burke's Pentad...and yes, rhetoric geeks, I'm certain there are more appropriate strategies, but we need a simple starting point!)

Think about your church (Synod, nonprofit, etc) Consider these questions. Invite your counsel or ministry teams to consider these areas. DON'T OVER-THINK THIS--

ACT: "What was or will be done." What happened over the past year in your church? What action has been taken? What will be going on in the months to come? (Example: Did your church hold VBS? Did you feed people? Did you have a choir that sang every week? Is something growing?)

SCENE: "Background, location & context" Where is the action taking place? What is the background situation? What is your context? Is your church located in a town where the factories have shut down and unemployment is higher? Is there a college or university in your town? Are you in a farming community? What is the background of your church? Has your congregation had a Pastor for 10+ years, or has the church experienced a high turnover in staff? How have ELCA churchwide decisions impacted (or not impacted) your congregation?

AGENT: "Who is involved in the act" Think about the people in your congregation, especially those who are involved with your stewardship team. Do they represent your congregation as a whole? Do they participate in the life of your congregation (teach Sunday School, help with outreach, read and assist with Communion)? Are you, as Pastor or leader, involved in this process?

AGENCY: "How the agents act" I covered some of this under "Agent" But this area helps you consider the ways you and your stewardship team respond to stewardship. Do you hold 1 meeting a year to set the budget? Is it generally an uplifting meeting, or one that you dread? Why? How do you and your stewardship team members respond to the ideas presented? How do YOU view stewardship? What is the level of your financial health?

PURPOSE: "Why do the agents act" What motivates you and those who make financial decisions in your congregation? (You ARE motivated by something) Fear? Necessity? Joy? Are you motivated to create a budget because your constitution requires it? Or, do you create a budget to organize your ministries and share the resources you have with the greater community? Why are you supporting certain projects and not others (Why do you have VBS? Why have you increased or decreased giving to the ELCA in the past 2 years?)

What do I do with this information?

Once you have answered the questions above, you will have a deeper understanding of your context and the motivations of you and your congregation. You may like what you see. You may not. This exercise is not intended to judge your context, it's simply to understand why you do what you do. From that point, you can begin to lean into your strengths and work on your growth areas.

For example: Let's say your stewardship team (or congregation) is made up of fiscally conservative people who have the opinion that government spending is out of control and should cut back on "entitlement programs." Your role in a stewardship celebration is not to reinforce or change their opinion. You don't have to agree with their values. Your role is to understand your congregation's values and show that giving to the church is in line with their values. This will allow you to demonstrate to them that you understand and respect their values. A letter may include a line such as:

"We are living in the midst of divided times. Many people have lost faith in the government and in corporations, as they watch the world change around them. But, as Christians, we do not place our faith in a government or in a corporation. We place our faith in Christ, whose message of salvation and forgiveness can unite us in changing times."

But isn't this manipulative, dishonest, or "a game"?

No. Rhetoric helps you understand your audience. You need to understand your audience and context if you wish to be persuasive and achieve your goal--In this case, the goal would be increasing financial gifts and helping people to have a deeper commitment to the mission God has given your congregation. You are also providing assistance to help improve their financial health, which is directly connected to spiritual wellness.

People have a deep spiritual need to be heard, respected, and understood. You can demonstrate to them that the church's values ARE their values. We need to be reformed and renewed. The goal of a stewardship celebration is intended to renew and celebrate the mission of your congregation and encourage people to participate on a deeper level with this mission. Stewardship is the time to demonstrate unity and to focus on the ways people can participate in God's mission.

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