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A little financial faith at Light of the World Church

At Farmington's Light of the World Lutheran Church, putting your faith in God means trusting He will provide. Even when it comes to paying the bills.

That approach has earned the three-year-old church a spot in a study being conducted by Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Light of the World is one of nine churches nationwide selected to take part in the two-year, $1.6 million study of churches identified as part of Luther's Vibrant Stewardship Congregation Project.

The church was chosen from among 75 that applied, said Chick Lane, director for the center of stewardship leaders at Luther. Lane said the seminary was looking for congregations that have demonstrated strength in how they talk about money.

"They see that Light of the World has some fresh ways of living out our values about money and they want to sort of study us for a couple of years, then share with other churches what it is that makes us what they say is vibrant," said pastor Deb Stehlin.

In this case, a big part of what makes Light of the World vibrant is that financial faith. Some churches, Stehlin said, come to members with requests for money and threaten dire consequences if the funds don't come in. Not Light of the World.

"We do not want to live our lives with money based in fear and scarcity," Stehlin said. "We want to live our lives trusting that God has given us everything we need."

That's a lot of trust. The church needs money to pay its staff, and to pay rent at North Trail Elementary School, where the congregation holds its Sunday services. The church also gives away 10 percent of the money given to it each year in what it calls its Big Give.

Each year as Light of the World asks members to consider its pledges to the church they ask people give an amount that gives them joy. In a difficult economy, when church members have lost jobs and are worried about foreclosure, that number can vary significantly from one member to the next.

But so far the church's faith has always been rewarded.

"It's a beautiful way to live," Stehlin said. "The cool thing is we're not doing this out of fear or scarcity. We're just maintaining that when we trust that God gives us everything we need, we trust that God gives us everything we need."

The vibrant communities study is still in its early stages. There will be surveys for church members about their attitudes and behaviors about God and money. There will also be face-to-face conversations with "a couple dozen" church members.

Lane said about 30 percent of Light of the World's congregation has filled out an online survey. Study organizers were hoping for 20 percent.

Later on, the church will have a chance to read through the research and come up with plans or experiments based on what they've learned. Lane hopes to come out of the study with both a process churches can use to examine their own approaches to finance and a set of best practices for churches.

"What we're trying to do in this study is identify what makes them strong already and what they can discover about themselves that they'd like to work on to build on those strengths and make themselves even stronger," Lane said.

Stehlin is looking forward to the experience. She expects to learn more about her church, and to learn from the other churches involve in the study.

"It's such a great privilege," Stehlin said. "We are going to learn a lot."

They can have faith in that.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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