Now in its twentieth year, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for churches and denominations throughout North America. It is published annually and available sometime early in May each year. I have found this magazine to be a helpful tool for congregations to select a theme and a method for conducting an annual Stewardship program as well as learn more about Stewardship to enhance the church’s overall ministry.
Each magazine is packed with resources to support stewardship in the local church. Articles explore the intersection of faith and giving, offer practical information on Christian stewardship for all generations, and critique the newest resources on stewardship. Each issue of “Giving” also includes a center section that outlines a simple response method for an annual congregational stewardship emphasis which can be used “as is” or supplemented with additional theme materials and companion resources.
The past four years of the magazine have been devoted to the theme, “Life That Really Is Life” based on I Timothy 6:18-19: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasures of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” The sub-themes have been “Live Free,” “Live Simply,” and “Live Generously.”
This year the sub-theme is “Live Courageously.” In her introduction, Betsy Schwarzentraub acknowledges that it takes courage to follow Jesus and live a life trusting in God, especially if we’re seeking to be good stewards, or managers, of all God has entrusted to us – including our own lives and the Good News itself. So what does it mean to “Live Courageously” and further, what does it mean to “give generously?”
The words courage and courageous appear only a few times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, we find some variation of “Be strong, and be of good courage” twelve times. This certainly suggests that life is not easy or carefree. Modern labor-saving devices and procedures may hide this truth. The same is true of the spirit, of living well; there is no labor-saving machinery.
Sociologists tell us that people today desperately want and seek community, but their experience tells them it is hard to find – in the church or anywhere else. Scripture and tradition tell us that the life that really is life is a life in community, in relationship with others. The world around us usually tells us that we should live as if we are the center of the universe. Our tradition tells us that we meet God through our relationships with others. Our task as church leaders is to help nurture a truly welcoming community, one that is able to maintain and nurture a richness of life that is both difficult – because of differences in race, age, sexual orientation, and social standing – and vital, for the same reasons.
To be that kind of church is to live life that really is courageous. This is a life that is guided by our hopes more than our fears. When we live this life, we are courageous enough to admit that much of the time we fail to be our best selves and our best community.
At first glance, stewardship might lead us to picture the exact opposite of courage. Isn’t stewardship about good management, preservation, and limited risk? But that is not exactly the stewardship metaphor we get though scripture. In the Parable of the Talents, it is the servant who buries his talents who is chastised by the master. It was the servants who risked their talents and increased them who were praised and rewarded. It was the trustworthiness of the servants that the master praised. Living courageously and stewardship are directly tied to trust.
When we are living courageously, stewardship calls us to do good, be generous, and be ready to share so that we might “take hold of the life that is really life.” Living as Timothy suggests in the midst of the world in which we live takes great courage. If we limit our theology of stewardship merely to how we invest our money and possessions, then we have missed the message. God has chosen to work through us to transform this world.
Stewardship, therefore, is not merely a church word associated with fundraising, pledging, and annual budgets. Stewardship is a theological word that leads us to cling to God’s promise for the future, to announce that vision to the world, and to live into this vision by working for that change right now.
If this idea of living courageously and giving courageously seems to strike a chord for you and your congregation, why not choose this as the theme for annual stewardship program this fall? I would be happy to share with you some ideas for this program. You can contact me for more information.
Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts taken from “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” in articles by Betsy Schwarzentraub, Hermann Weinlick and David King.