Cheaper Than Hamburger

I remember. The first “solo” pastorate, 1973, Lakewood, Colorado. My third pastorate, but first time I was not on a staff…was asked to serve a congregation without any other ordained minister.

It then came to me…I needed to help the church, work with them was my primary [read that, exclusive] belief, develop their operating budget. That is, raise enough $$$ to make sure the church didn’t fold. And I knew. I DIDN’T have all the answers. Maybe not enough of what I knew. For certain. I knew. I knew that I needed all the help I could recruit. For me it’s sadness when a leader eschews help, sending helpful inquiries away.

The conference minister at the time, George Otto, said before my first sermon, “Mark, in a year the church will either have a wedding or a funeral. Their needs cannot be overstated.” Oy boy. Or something like that. The world of stewardship swirled without focus. I NEVER had to provide that special leadership before. At St. Pauls, before Fred became our leading pastor, the senior minister had lots of last-week-of-the-year support from some key church leaders. The church, years and years, had no stewardship program and no goal budget and no pledges. As far as I knew. Balance, balance, balance was always the result. Besides, I was the summer day camp guy, partner with Fred and Herb in Confirmation, church high school basketball league director [wonder how that looked in my profile?!] and youth minister. Just fine.

Then in Eugene the senior minister never asked for help [see above], the promise of partnership was broken and I was left with a similar positon of Associate Pastor, devoting lots of time to Confirmation and youth ministry, with no little energy to develop a local community/church mission ministry.

But. Lakewood, Colorado. Circa 1973. No associate nearby. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do. Had the first meeting of the Stewardship Committee…we named it that. They looked at me, “Mark, what should we do?” Truth…I didn’t know what to say, sharp chest pain took over. I slumped in my chair. Oy, boy–again. The doctor said it wasn’t my heart. Still, I had to do something to reduce the inner stress.

So—remember this was October, 1973. I took a tape recorder and sat down with the 3 ministers for whom I had the highest respect, and in the least knew so much more about stewardship than I, “Okay, you have agreed. You have 30 minutes to tell me everything you know about stewardship.” I turned on the tape recorder.

Ah, my first seminars. Lots of ideas, none of which need be charted here. But, they worked…and literally since 1973 I am indebted to George Otto, Bruce McKenzie and Stuart Haskins. I then decided, because he was the best ethics and stewardship teacher ever, for Doug Meeks to be my mentor deluxe at Eden Theological Seminary, to write my DMin paper for him on “Becoming Stewards,” which put together what I had practiced and the wonderful additional pages that Doug taught. Even today I will never be able to thank him enough. But. I try.

Yesterday when I cruised through hundreds of pictures of my early life, I saw a picture that sent laughter bouncing off my home office wall…and it perhaps triggered the most significant strategy for stewardship. Why? I’ll get there shortly. It was mainly what I have learned…most ministers know a nudge above nothing about stewardship, especially including conference ministers [dreadful I must add during my conference ministry], and most believe it’s ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

I’ve learned nothing could be more false facts than that. Each church requires specificity, with regard to the church’s history, laity leadership, pastoral leadership. It requires knowing what the church values…for instance, if you need to build a new parking lot, learn whose Easter shoes were ruined Easter morning because the 16 inches of snow the day before mostly melted to make mud in a dirt parking lot. That actually happened in Lakewood…and Easter Monday we had a parking lot committee, and I knew a resourceful member of the church hated the mud…which meant it was a good question to ask him to match whatever we raised. Our theme was direct, “We have a $million church but t looks nothing like that on the outside.” Hey, it worked. Themes aren’t bad.

Overall though, what I learned…in everything about Stewardship, the key is CREATIVITY. What works best with YOUR OWN situation. For instance, last October in a Stewardship Seminar with 7 Seattle churches, we developed an individual program, different for each congregation. And it felt good that the lowest increase of those churches in the next year annual budget was 7%.

Back to the Creativity…a picture triggered that…I laughed…and want to share. A picture of the car is what I’m talking about. The question, “How to sell a pre-owned car [used to call them used car] I thought was simply to list the information in the Eugene Register Guard want-ads. So, I did…1963 Mercury Comet, $400. With my phone number.

It ran for six days. Not one call. Not one.

I then thought to myself, “There’s got to be a better way to do this….” And then. Of all things—in 1973 almost all grocery store meat was in a counter. I looked and saw the price per pound of hamburger. BAM. Time for creative marketing.

The next weekend, the ad, posted on Friday, said, CHEAPER THAN HAMBURGER. MERCURY COMET. $.35/POUND.

Before that ad I had to know what that might be. So I called the car dealer and asked the weight of the car. Hey, have to HAVE back up…don’t want to not know what the weight is. Learned that and saw how to get to at least $400. By 3 p.m. on Friday the car was sold and all weekend, disappointed inquiries got the news.

So. Creativity. Lots of examples, but EVERY church is different. And, if anyone’s interested, I’ll find out the current price/pound of hamburger…but it has to be Ground Chuck.

Meet my beloved Mercury Comet…doesn’t look like hamburger but hamburger made the sale.

About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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