Guest post by Pastor Jonathan Arosemena
(see more of Jonathan at Gateway Stewardship)
I don’t know what being a stewardship pastor during Covid looked like for you, but we were flooded with people who needed financial help. Due to the inability to meet with people in person, the degree of economic setbacks and furloughs many congregation members were facing, church leadership creating Covid safe ministry strategies from scratch, and many other hurdles, there were times I was completely at a loss for words.
We were right in the middle of a seven-week financial stewardship curriculum that we had started in the Spring when everything started to shut down. We shifted from in-person meetings onto zoom, and I remember thinking, “yeah, this will only be two weeks and then we will get back to our in-person classes.” I had no clue how this pandemic would affect our congregation spiritually and financially in the long term.
As time continued, faced with questions that I had perfect answers for in a normal environment; I was beginning to realize we were in anything but normal times.
Questions kept pouring in:
Is 3-6 months enough for my emergency fund?
Should I sell out of my stock to have cash on hand?
I’ve had this job for 20 years, and now I’m being let go…does God provide?
Should I tithe on stimulus money?
Where is all the Toilet paper!?”
Through all of this, I've learned many lessons personally and from other Stewardship pastors.
Practical Online Curriculum: With the inability to meet face-to-face, having access to solid online financial curriculum was imperative in the Covid-19 season, and the need for strong online curriculum will only grow in the future. Before Covid, I was heavily biased towards in-person financial training (because who doesn’t love to hear my incredible stewardship teaching in person). Still, the more conversations I had with people, the more I learned that people follow through with the online financial curriculum and leave with a solid knowledge base. So, don’t underestimate offering someone an online financial curriculum. If they are really hungry for financial discipleship, they will take advantage of the resources you offer.
I get that people are “zoomed out” by now, and it is more relational to sit next to someone in person but doing financial coaching meetings via zoom is a game-changer for my long-term ministry. When congregants would send me their budgets and spreadsheets, I was able to take their work and walk them through screen sharing. The screen share technique is advantageous in providing clear direction and easily communicating complex topics.
While I do love meeting in person and still believe it's highly effective. I've found that online meetings can often be just as effective and come with many benefits. I don't have to wait to schedule a meeting when both parties can physically be in the same place. I avoid travel times. I'm able to easily introduce people to online resources. And I've actually found that the meetings move faster and carry less distractions.
Trust: I know we are all perfect pastors and ministers here, we love tending the sheep no matter what their need is, but let's be vulnerable for a moment, have you ever just gotten tired of the same voicemail message in your inbox over and over?
After five voicemails in a single day of people reaching out desperately saying, “Pastor, I need financial help! I just lost my job, and I don’t know what to do?” I began to feel exhausted.
I would send recommendations and encouragement and end every email or phone call with “God will Provide.” But I had to wrestle with whether I believed this for other people amid a situation that seemed hopeless. I had to go back to Genesis 22, where God commands Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” And then Abraham responds with action, and “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.”
There is cooperation and obedience that has to follow when we hear from the Lord. When this happens, there is a grace and a blessing that comes next. Not just a ram in the thicket for an immediate provision, but a generational blessing proportionate to the obedience required. In our financial curriculum, we have a saying that goes, “If I can, I will, and God will do the rest.” I had to remind myself of this as I was pastoring in this Covid season. I will listen for the voice of the Lord, and I will diligently work to help the sheep, whether it’s an email, a phone call, another financial class on zoom, and I will trust that He will do the rest of the work in someone’s life because He is their provider.
Jonathan is an associate pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. Before serving on staff at Gateway, Jonathan got his bachelor's in finance from Ouachita Baptist University and then started his career in finance at Charles Schwab Investment Co. He now serves as an Equip pastor focusing on discipleship and teaching and has overseen much of the stewardship ministry at the Southlake campus for three years. He is married to Alexis for three years and has three Labrador retrievers.