A couple of years ago, Farley Lord, Associate Minister of Stewardship, and Christian Peele, Executive Minister of Institutional Advancement, at Riverside Church in New York City expressed a sentiment that is often overlooked about the core of Stewardship. Simply said, “Stewardship is Love!” Stewardship is a spiritual practice!
“To practice Christian Stewardship and be moved by it is to consider how we shepherd our whole lives – through word and habit, and with God and each other – to be expressions of gospel love in the world. Christ’s gospel calls for an alternative way of being in the world that places love at the center — not money, power, validation, possessions, popularity or even security.
Exploring Christian stewardship involves inviting members of the community into an ongoing spiritual practice of self-giving. The spiritual practice of stewardship forms the way we see the world and ourselves within it as people of faith. It hones every virtue on Paul’s list of spiritual fruits: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — in addition to generosity and gratitude. It calls us to steward every part of who we are for love’s sake.
Like all spiritual practices, including prayer or regular worship attendance, stewardship is more than a one-time event or a seasonal program or campaign. It is an ongoing commitment with endless opportunity for growth and increased attunement to God’s call. The thermometer for measuring meaningful stewardship is much more than the meeting of an annual financial goal. It is instead the degree to which a church body looks more and more like the beloved community.”
What might it look like to create experiences that help our congregations engage a holistic practice of stewardship?
We have an opportunity to incorporate a myriad of ways for church members to think about using every resource of their lives for love. In addition to the traditional Stewardship practice of commitment cards, giving envelopes and recurring online gifts, we can introduce our congregations to the diverse tenets of stewardship. We are called to talk about giving, but we should also emphasize hospitality, forgiveness, generosity, risk-taking and selflessness as part of the vocabulary of stewardship.
Giving and serving
A central pillar to a holistic practice of stewardship is the inseparable pairing of giving and serving. Holding these practices together helps us emphasize a life of self-giving as key to discipleship. Giving and service walk together. Stewardship involves faithful giving of our financial resources alongside opportunities for service within the congregation and beyond the congregation into the community. We are called to be engaged in volunteer activities that fulfill this sense of discipleship.
Community and culture building
Stewardship is as much an individual spiritual practice as it is shared in community. Strengthening the bonds of love within our congregations is our calling as pastors and leaders. We do this by sharing the impact of our gifts in programs and ministries and embracing the importance of stewardship as a way of life. As a community of faith, we explore the themes of gratitude and generosity and the practice of Stewardship. We are called to ground our stewardship in a sense of abundance over scarcity.
Stewardship is intentional ministry
The work of stewardship is deeply pastoral and an expression of ministry just like pastoral care or preaching. As ministers of stewardship, we delve deeply into study, theological prodding, and engagement with Scripture. Our faith formation and education classes can help our congregations broaden their understanding of Stewardship and help us to see ourselves as stewards of this important part of ministry and gratefully feel responsibility to meet this work of ministry with excellence.
Stewardship ministry is at times challenging and demands much of us in terms of study, time, preparation, vulnerability, creativity, and willingness to challenge our congregations toward a less than conventional approach. It is so easy for us to focus on the financial aspects of Stewardship, especially if we are struggling to fulfill our mission and ministry because of diminished resources.
The beauty of holding this work in community is that it is evolving as we speak. We work on, wrestle with, and pray about how we can lead faithful and fruitful stewardship in our congregations. Our commitment to the ministry of Stewardship is a reminder that developing stewards who take love seriously really matters for the health of our congregations.
Imagine if every day was Stewardship Sunday in the fullest, deepest, holiest way possible. How might that enliven how we live, love, and pursue the practice of stewardship?
Deborah Rexrode, PhD
POJ Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts taken from an article, “The Core of Stewardship is Love” in The Presbyterian Outlook in February 2019.