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.
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.
Congregations and clergy across the country and around the world are navigating uncharted waters as we struggle to deal with the effects of COVID-19. Some are scrambling to implement new technologies related to connecting and giving. Others are advocating for a time of Sabbath rest.
Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.
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?
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Indianapolis at the annual spring Ecumenical Stewardship Center conference. The theme for the conference was Generosity Transformed! The keynote speakers addressed transformation in three main topics: Mission, Ministry and Money.
What is the importance of telling our congregation’s story? First, and foremost, we tell our story so that others can hear the message of God’s love. We are called to “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” This is the mission God calls us to in our congregations.
“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?
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
For many of us, our earliest memories of giving occurred in church. We watched our parents put their offering envelope in the plate, and we looked forward to getting something from them that we could also add to the plate. So how are we teaching our children stewardship and the joy of being generous?
“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity,
which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;
for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints
but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”
(II Corinthians 9:11-12)
The practice of generosity stretches us to offer our best to God, to have an attitude of giving that is joyous and from the heart. It is a practice of thoughtful giving that is planned and extravagant. It is giving that is more than dutiful, required, or simply doing one’s part. It is giving above and beyond the limits of what we think we are capable of accomplishing.