Perhaps, the humble article that follows should be filed under, “Things I need to know in the pastorate but didn’t learn in seminary.” There are quite a few of those. Here’s one:
Are pastoral letters to the congregation and the community vital to a spiritually dynamic and effective Gospel ministry? The letters of the New Testament shout out the reply: “Yes!” Pastoral letters are instruments for discipleship, evangelism, and pastoral care. And stewardship.
Of the pastoral letters that you will send across the year (think about your writing ministry to your flock as an annual planning necessity; naturally, one doesn’t anticipate tragedy; I am referring to seasonal letters, liturgical movements according to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus) there is none more critical to building a Biblical practice of stewardship than the year-end letter. Your “epistle” is composed and dispatched, primarily, as an act of “pastoral sabotage:” to transform the ordinary tax-deductible-charitable-giving-reminder (e.g., “We know you are going to try to squeeze one more tax-break in there before 12:01 a.m., 01 January, so why not us?”) into a dynamic opportunity for building up the Body of Christ, and fulfilling the mission of God in the world.
The following annotated example represents the kind of pastoral letter that I used throughout my ministry. Fragments of the verbiage of this brief letter remain from my early years in ministry, though it is fair to say that my letters evolved over time. As I began to practice what I preached, to borrow from John Donne, that “every season is a season of God’s grace,” I came to the conviction (by exposition of God’s Word and experiences of God’s world) that all pastoral communication carries the proleptic seed of the Gospel. I came to believe that a pastoral letter promoting stewardship was as important as the pastoral epistle urging support for missions. This conviction not only supported vocational fulfillment (“I am a pastor; I do not write marketing pieces”) but also helped believers to see that God cannot be compartmentalized. Jesus Christ is, indeed, Lord of all. Directing the giving of the Church to the work of the Gospel is always worth the effort.
So, I present this little template with guide-points for you to shape your own year-end epistle, according to your context, and your convictions.
Year-end Pastoral Letter to your congregation (to include members, regular visitors, occasional visitors; if a church plant, include core group members, visitors, and supporters)
Purpose: To cultivate a culture of gratitude to God and to develop financial support for the Great Commission by intentionally transforming the year-end charitable giving season into a Christ-magnifying, Gospel-centered, Great Commission ministry opportunity.
Pattern: A pastoral letter of this genre must be marked by the following:
- The Year-pastoral stewardship-letter must be personal (use appropriately genuine language and context in your letter)
- The Year-pastoral stewardship-letter must be pithy (be concise, and do not exceed one-page); and
- purposeful (be clear about your aim);
- The Year-pastoral stewardship-letter must be BLUF: Bottom-lineup-front (be quick to indicate your purpose very early in the letter).
Here is a template for this unique but crucial instrument in the soul physician’s briefcase:
Mr. and Mrs. John Jones
Dear <Jill and Jack>, [Use merge manager in Word or Pages, import first names—wife’s first—unless you use the formal, then, Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones]
First paragraph: Advent and Christmas Greeting
[Prayerfully, consider your first words in the letter—as in a sermon—. What character of God is needed for this time, this occasion? Think on that. No: pray on it. Anything less than a prayerful approach to speak ministry to the People is a denial of God’s call on your life. Pray. Pause. Reflect. Then, respond. Compose the pastoral greeting.]
Grace and peace from our Emmanuel, the Lord Jesus, the One who is with us, and who will never leave us—the Christ who loved the Church and gave his life for it” (Eph. 5: 25).
[This is your “BLUF:” Your place to give the “Bottom line up front.”]
I write to encourage you to remember <your church or ministry> in your year-end giving plan.
[This “movement” is the place in your letter where you open the front gate to enter the life of the one who reads—not “the lives of those who read—but the life of one. You must write to a person across from you, not a faceless crowd. This can, unintentionally, cause you to think of your People as a commodity. You know the truth: God’s People are special to the Lord. Consider a quotation or an opening thematic pastoral insight to “open the gate.”]
The season of Advent and the Nativity of our Lord reminds us that we can’t “go it alone.” We need God. We need each other. For so St. Paul taught us):
Indented Scripture Citation:
[Select the appropriate Scripture text to establish a theme: e.g.]
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3–5).
Scripture Summary and Appeal:
[Never deal with God’s Word as if you were a fund-raiser. Fund-raising is a noble profession. Don’t diminish it by acting like you are one. You are a Christian shepherd. Study Paul’s letters for how to speak about money. Read the Gospels. Study Christ and demonstrate His values for grateful giving.
Handle the Scriptures with integrity. But do, please, handle them! In the taxonomy of authorities, the Word of the Lord is without peer. Frame your “argument” for promoting grateful giving with the inerrant and infallible guidance of Holy Scripture.]
How powerful! Paul is clear: “Partnership in the Gospel” promotes propagation of the Gospel. Such faithful ministry is precisely what stewardship is all about—including your year-end gift to < church or ministry>. Our partnership in the Gospel extends from “being there” for a member—or anyone in our community—who are in-need—to preaching the glory of Christ. Partnership means what Paul was teaching: “Together we do more.” As we wind our way into a new season of ministry together, let’s conclude our 2019 pivotal year with collaborative, Christ-exalting success.
You may give your special year-end “Partnership Offering” in the plate at 7:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service. You may also give through our secure online link: <URL.com>. If you prefer to mail a check you should do so—how do they say it?—“postmarked before midnight of December 31st.”
[Your close? Throw-away ending or a doctrinal denouement that challenges everything we are as human beings? Well, how important is the close in your sermon? In your small-group teaching? You say, “Yeah, but I’m not preaching. I’m not teaching. I’m writing, and I am writing, of all things, a development letter that our deacons forced me to write! I’m just not as concerned about a letter as I am a sermon.” Gotcha. But wait. I must tell you: If you think like this then you are still missing it. What is “it?” “It” is that anytime a Christian shepherd opens the Word of God to speak forth God’s Word to God’s People (and God’s world), he is, de facto, delivering a “Word from another world.” Don’t throw away any opportunity to prosecute the case: the world is broken because the world is in sin. The God-ordained remedy is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now. You close your appeal.]
I am honored to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with each of you, and on behalf of the many people in our community who will soon become a part of <our Church name or abbreviation for church>. Give to the glory of God my beloved in Christ! Make your year-end gift to Almighty God an inspired act of defiance against the devil’s desperate scheme to blind the spiritual eyes of God’s creation. Give joyfully to free the frozen captives. Give to unshackle those neighbors and friends; those relatives, those men, women, boys, and girls who have been shamed by sin and Satan. That is what I am writing to you about today.
Give and then give again—not for your singular tax-relief but for a the Believers’ campaign for Gospel victory in our generation.
Commending you to Jesus Christ, and thankful for our partnership in the gospel, I remain
<The Pastor’s Name>
[You may feel that your close is adequate. You have left the impression that you knew when you took this matter to the Lord. If, on the other hand, you feel that your message could be underscored with a coda, then, by all means: add this extra line. The purpose is merely to reinforce, never to introduce new material.]
PS: Your special year-end gift, above your regular tithes and offerings, helps <Church name> to realize our vision: <vision statement, or a fragment thereof: e., “gather, grow, and send forth strong disciples of Jesus Christ.”>
Why have I taken the time and energy to help craft year-end pastoral letters? I do so because it is a good and right thing to do. If I am to shepherd the shepherds who shepherd the Flock, I must give attention to your entire ministry. For so Paul declared and so I follow the Great Apostle of the Heart Set Free in this conviction:
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.—Acts 20:27 ESV.
And that is what you must do as well.