Changing the calendar to a new year looked somewhat different this time. It did not feel the same as it has in the past where the excitement of a new year brings resolutions and goals for what we hope to accomplish. It is hard to think about planning for what we might do this year when we are limited in our ability to be together as we have been in the past. Some days it is hard to think about what we can do at this moment let alone think about next month or the month after.
I find we often use the words “thankful” and “grateful” interchangeably, but are they really the same? Do they express the same understanding? You may say I am simply playing with the semantics. And that may be, but I encourage you to give these two words some thought and consideration.
Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day
“For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives.
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
“Think of us this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”
I was recently asked to prepare a Statement of Faith as part of my training to become an active elder on the session of my church. I’ve read many well-articulated Statements of Faith from candidates who are being examined for ordination as pastors, so I considered this to be both a privilege and a challenge.
“It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”
(I Corinthians 4:2)
How We Regard Money
When we are faithful stewards, we regard our money in God-pleasing ways. The Bible encourages us to take a positive attitude toward our possessions.
“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.
I recently attended a “Healthy Congregations” Seminar at Montreat Conference Center. This seminar is based on Peter Steinke’s book, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. The book is about the stewardship of the congregation: how people care for, respond to, and manage their life together. It is about holding in trust the well-being of the congregation.