Recently I participated in a “Teach-In” with Diana Butler Bass. Over the course of three seminars, we revisited Diana’s seminal work entitled, “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and The Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.” This book was first published in 2012 so we are approaching its tenth anniversary. Some of the statistics have changed but overall, the foundation of this book has propelled Diana to write three additional books delving deeper into some of the key themes she explores in the original book.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1).
From the opening chapters of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible teaches us that God is the creator and owner of all things. It also teaches that we are trustees (stewards) and accountable to the owner. Jesus’ parables often emphasize this theme. Whether it is the parable of the householder (Matthew 20:1-16), the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), or the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), the message is the same: God is the owner and master, we are the trustees and servants.
We are a generation of recycling bins. Many of us have taken on the challenge of having bins in our garages where we sift and sort the glass bottles, the aluminum cans, the plastic, and the cardboard. In some of our communities, we have one-stream recycling bins trusting that the sorting and recycling is happening once it has been picked up at our home.
“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
In the Parable of the Talents, we are reminded that we are called to steward that which God has entrusted into our care. We are called to receive what we have been given, nurture and grow it, share with those in need, and return to God what belongs to God having been faithful stewards of many things.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31a
This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10
So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.
People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
Associate for Stewardship
One of the blessings we receive from God is that our faith causes us to strive to be more godly people. When I think about this from a Stewardship perspective, this means that what God does for us, God then enables us to do for others. For example, the phrase we know so well from 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Playing with that wording, we also might say, “We promise because he first promised us.” God in Christ has offered humankind a splendid promise, which we in turn can offer others. In so doing, we as believers become stewards of the promise.
One of the lectionary readings for the last Sunday of the calendar year is I Samuel 2:18-20, 26 which begins by addressing the power of a promise. Hannah is a barren woman who prays fervently to God for a child. The story also relates that Hannah’s husband, Elkanah has another wife, Peninnah. She has children, but Hannah has none. Peninnah taunts Hannah incessantly. For years Hannah has bargained with God to dedicate any child to God’s service if God will give her a child. This was Hannah’s promise to God. The biblical text tells us, “In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord’” (1:20).
This is often the time of year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to make promises to ourselves, others, or even God. Unfortunately, breaking promises happens easier than keeping them. We have become so familiar with broken promises that we see promise-breaking as a likely human failing, and we are pessimistic when someone offers us yet another promise. We are often hesitant to make promises for fear that we will not be able to keep those promises and cannot bear the guilt of falling short.
The promises we make before God and one another help us recall that a promise is a pledge or a covenant. So reliable stewards learn to know what it means to manage our promises. We promise our children at baptism that we will raise them in a Christian home and place them in the worshiping community. The church promises to help raise them and teach them the faith. We promise to “love, cherish, and honor” one another in the church’s marriage ritual. We build strong families on such promises.
Think about the vows we take to become faithful members of a congregation. When we promise to be faithful to our church community, we promise to be loyal to it with our prayers, presence, gifts and service. We build a strong church by way of that promise. Genuine church growth is not numerical. It is a result of people keeping their vows to God. It is a result of true faithfulness to the promises we have made in response to God’s promises to us. Israel’s history changed because Hannah made a promise to God and kept it.
As we approach a new year, I think we are called to pause and consider the importance and freeing exercise of making promises. A promise is what makes us who we are and what we are to become with God’s help. Perhaps our promise to God comes in the form of a pledge to the ministries of this congregation. Perhaps it is a commitment to teach a Sunday school class. We promise to be more faithful in worship, to attend regularly, to join in the ministries of the church and be engaged in Christian relationships and fellowship. These promises are part of what God has called us to steward, to manage and care for our own spiritual lives and to care for one another.
This year when you think about making promises, consider most importantly the promises you are making to God. How can we be good stewards of the promises we make? How can we live out those promises in the most faithful way possible? What will your promise be to God in the coming year? How will you steward those promises?
May you be blessed during this Christmas season, and may you experience the promises of God in a special way!
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
(Excerpts taken from “The Stewardship Companion: Lectionary Resources for Preaching” by David N. Mosser)
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (I Peter 4: 10)
We spend a lot of time during the fall Stewardship programs of our church helping our congregations understand what Stewardship is and what God is calling them to do as good stewards of all that God has given to them. We challenge them to consider their response to God for all that they have and all that they are. We plan programs to inspire and encourage them in their personal journey of faith and specifically in their giving.
As pastors and leaders in the congregations where we serve, I think we too are called to be good stewards of the resources we have been given, to serve our congregations with whatever gift each of us has received. We have been given both a responsibility and an opportunity to steward the congregations in our care. How is God calling us, as leaders, to be good stewards of the church? What are some of the gifts we have received?
We are stewards of God’s Word. In First Corinthians 4, Paul describes the ministry of the apostles in this way, “We are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” That message is just as important to us today. In all that we do, we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. God has entrusted us with something precious to submit our lives to Christ and to proclaim the Word of God. Every leadership decision or action we take is first and foremost spiritual in nature and should focus on connecting persons to God.
You and I have been called to steward the amazing mysteries of God revealed to us in Scripture. That’s part of our stewarding of the church, being good stewards of the gospel so that it is God for whom we bring glory.
We are stewards of God’s vision. We are called to listen deeply to the heart-songs of God’s people and articulate the vision God is imparting to them. The vision for a church answers the question, “What does God want us to do?” We are called to help our congregations embrace a clear vision of God’s call. Every congregation is unique, and every congregation has its own unique vision for what God is calling them to do and be.
We are stewards of trust. We are called to develop and nurture authentic relationships that cultivate trust. As stewards of trust, we serve one another in an open transparent way. We keep the lines of communication open, avoid judgement, become vulnerable, offer and receive forgiveness, and model Christ’s love and sense of welcome to all.
We are stewards of administration. This involves coming alongside our congregations to help them fulfill their vision and mission. The most essential ingredient in this area of stewardship is identifying and equipping new leaders. Most of the issues that plague churches – giving, attendance, evangelism, leadership, and mission – are minimized when church leaders focus on equipping the saints. The process of equipping and empowering people is what helps someone move from simply believing in Christ to being a true disciple. When people are growing spiritually, they will give, attend, tell others, volunteer, and serve.
Finally we are stewards of financial resources. At the core of being financial stewardship leaders is creating a culture of extravagant generosity. Generosity is a spiritual attribute that extends beyond merely the use of money. There are people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity is something people acquire in the actual practice of giving.
In Second Corinthians, we read, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Churches that practice extravagant generosity don’t talk in general terms about stewardship. They speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ and in the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.
Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity. Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission. People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.
As you make your way through this particular season of Stewardship, consider how well you as leaders are stewarding your churches and your congregations. Be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching and teaching and leading your congregations to become faithful disciples who know what it means to be stewards of all that God has entrusted into their care.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James