Practicing Gratitude

Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?

Gracious Stewardship

In the spring of 2016, Sean Mitchell, Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, was the keynote speaker of our Annual Leadership and Stewardship Event. This past week he and the Rev. Dr. Millie Snyder published a book “Gracious Stewardship: Developing the Church in the Way of Jesus.” Today I share with you a small glimpse into the ideas that Sean and Millie explore in their book. 

Sean reminds us, “We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that of gracious forgiveness offered by God to all members of God’s family. Our stewardship ministry is part of our overall proclamation of the gospel, and not a separate fundraising effort to provide the finances for our proclamation. Stewardship must be integrated, both in content and in methodology.” 

Let’s reflect with Sean and Millie on Jesus’ parable about a father and his two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it in a distant country. When he had spent everything and found himself working in the fields feeding pigs, he decided to return home in hopes that he might become a hired hand for his father. Instead his father welcomes him home and throws a party for him. The older son who had remained home all along found it hard to understand why his father had never shown that kind of attention to him. 

In this story we see a father who enacts grace with both of his sons. This grace was the foundation for his own stewardship. 

  1. The father is a gracious steward of the wealth God has entrusted to him. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, his father was generous and gave it to him.
  2. The father is a gracious steward of his relationships. When the younger son was seen far off, his father saw him and ran to embrace him. This father was willing to accept his son without condition. He also went into the fields to reassure his older son that he had always been a part of the family and had always had a share of the father’s blessings.
  3. The father is a grateful steward. He offered grace freely to both sons. He did not put conditions on their role in the family, and he didn’t withhold blessings from either son. He celebrates and forgives because he is a thankful soul and takes nothing for granted. His gratitude keeps him centered in gracious generosity.

Sean and Millie begin with this biblical story to lay out what they see as the three core values of a grace-based stewardship ministry. 

  1. Transforming Fellowship – relationships are vital to our formation as stewards. What would that mean in your congregation? It would mean:
    ➢ moving toward one another in community
    ➢ sharing our stewardship stories and listening to one another
    ➢ hearing the stories of people who are taking steps toward contented lifestyles
    ➢ hearing the stories of people whose lives and wallets are over-leveraged
    ➢ nurturing an environment of trust where it is safe to listen and challenge one another
    ➢ creating relational communities where we discuss and embrace the gifts of God and discern what gifts we might each share in response to God’s amazing grace
  2.  Gratitude – embracing God’s abundant grace fosters peace, trust, and celebration. Stewardship teams need gratitude as a core value. Without gratitude, stewardship ministry is merely a string of tasks with no acknowledgement of grace. Learning to regularly acknowledge and thank God for provision and resource is a spiritual discipline. Creating special occasions where you can lead the entire congregation in practices of gratitude are appropriate responses to God’s generous grace.
  3. Equipping the Saints – encouraging the church to share, practice hospitality, and live generously. Gracious stewardship teams are encouraging and equipping. They join with the mission of other ministry teams to build up the body of Christ. Their work presents faith-formation opportunities for members to learn how to practice stewardship in real life. They expand the understanding of stewardship to be more than giving and finances. Equipping the body of Christ to embrace stewardship of all of life and creation gives them joy and purpose.

If this grace-filled message from Sean and Millie resonates with you in your Stewardship ministry, I encourage to get a copy of the book to read, invite your Stewardship Ministry team to study the book with you, share a copy of the book with the session, and most importantly consider the values of grace-based stewardship in your own life and ministry! 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship 

The Currency of Money

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

The Rev. Lisa Cressman, an Episcopal priest and the Founding Steward of Backstory Preaching, recently wrote an article for the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary titled, “How Our Failure to Address the “M” Word Damages More Than Budgets.”

With stewardship season fast approaching and knowing many preachers feel uncomfortable talking about money, Lisa wanted to know why. Why does preaching about money — or talking about money in just about any context — make us squirm with awkwardness? Here’s what she concluded:

When did talking about money become taboo?

Interestingly, while talking about money may be taboo for you and me, it isn’t off limits for everyone everywhere, because talking about money—or avoiding it—is culturally specific.

For example, in some cultures talking about money is seen as genuinely helpful, and not discussing it is rude. If I’m paying a higher price for rent than you are, or I paid less than you did for a car, it’s polite to talk about it so we can both pay what’s fair. In the United States, especially among the middle class, it seems we inherited the taboo of talking about money from early American colonizers from England.

In England, the wealth of others was easily estimated based on the amount of land one owned and all it required to build up and maintain it. A person’s wealth, and the status, power, and prestige it implied, was self-evident. People who had money didn’t need to talk about it. Therefore, those who talked about money were the ones who didn’t have it.

And thus, the discussion of money was associated with those in a “lower class.”

To oversimplify hundreds of years of social development, to be “classy” (meaning to be polite, genteel, respectable) meant not talking about money—and so our social norm was established.

What is the cost of avoiding the “M” word?

Think about how much time, emotional energy, and relational labor is spent worrying about money in the life of your average congregation member. Practically speaking, this taboo around money talk traps people in ignorance, stress, and scarcity:

  • financial illiteracy leads to uninformed consent when we sign on the dotted line, leading to unwelcome surprises when the bills come due
  • as a country, we continue to amass the greatest amountof personal debt in the history of the world
  • financial distress is a factor correlated with domestic violence
  • immense unnecessary stress occurs when the spouse who managed the finances dies without leaving a trail of bread crumbs to the family’s bank (or the computer passwords to the online accounts)
  • college grads amass student loan debtwithout calculating whether a chosen profession provides an adequate salary to pay it off
  • women and minorities continue to experience injustice in pay equity because ignorance of what others are paid makes it impossible to know if they’re paid the same

What we gain by breaking the silence? 

Money itself is amoral—neither evil nor good. But our perspective toward it can make it decidedly corrupt or benevolent. As Stewardship leaders, we have a responsibility to disrupt the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture of silence around money to cast a sacred vision for money.

When we avoid discussions of money, we forfeit an opportunity to free people from the anxiety or shame of financial distress. Here are some of the ways we might do that:

  • promote justice for our lesser-paid colleagues by advocating they receive the same pay we earn for the same work
  • teach financial literacy—beginning with our kids so they learn sound financial decision-making skills
  • focus on the joy of living well within one’s means with enough left over to give to those in need
  • learn the virtue of patience, which is so often missed with every purchase we pay interest on
  • provide dignity and respect to our loved ones after we die by sharing with them the amounts and locations of our assets and debts
  • experience joyful financial giving because we no longer care whether we are “keeping up with the Joneses.”

During this season of Stewardship, find ways to truly talk about money, not in terms of scarcity, but in terms of abundance. What does your budget say about your mission and ministry? How can you free your congregation to share their own financial stories and how it impacts their ability to freely give?

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James