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.
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!
“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.
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.
Some stewardship committees focus most of their attention on the fall Stewardship emphasis. Frankly, that’s plenty of work. But our calling as stewardship leaders is not just to the fall “ask.” We are also called to help shape the identity of stewards among our peers and as a community. We are entrusted with many assets, some of which are physical (like buildings and money) and some of which are relational (like our congregational community or our congregational mission). All of these are inflection points where we can invite others to think and act like stewards.
Stewardship is not just a way of life; it is a good way of life. In fact, for many, it is a way to a better life. Stewardship means belonging to God. It means allowing God to rule our lives, putting God in charge of everything, including our time and our money. Surrendering control does not come easily to any of us. But God is good at ruling people’s lives. If we really do belong to God and if we really do put God in charge of everything, we will not be the worse for it.
Recently Minner Serovy, one of the Ministry Relations Officers for the Presbyterian Foundation, shared an interesting experience she encountered while participating in a panel for an adult education class. The opening question was, “Is the church a business?” All the other panelists were members of the church where the panel was taking place, and all were businesspeople. They explained their reasons for thinking of the church as business. With some discomfort, Minner said, “I could not find my way to agreement.”
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)
December is just around the corner. From a stewardship perspective, December is typically the biggest giving month of the year in churches and also for many non-profits. So, what can we do as church leaders to provide an opportunity for our members to give to the ministries of our churches as part of their end-of-the-year giving?
Charles Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation” reminds us that the focus of biblical stewardship is on the fact that generous giving is one of the basic acts of discipleship. Charles suggests that there are three foundational verbs that help us to focus on this aspect of stewardship:
- Ask. If you want people to give more as year-end approaches, you need to ask them. You can communicate this message in whatever way works for your people: letter, from the pulpit, video, whatever social media platform works for you. We are often far too hesitant to ask people to give. The message can, and should, come from the pastor as well as from leaders of the congregation.
- Thank. As you ask, be sure you clearly thank people for their giving so far this year and for their commitments to give next year. If you didn’t send out thank you letters or notes for pledges, do it now. You can’t thank people too much. Most churches do it far too little.
- Tell. There are two ways you called to tell the story.
Tell the story of your ministry this year and your vision for the next year. Hopefully you already did this as part of your fall stewardship emphasis. Don’t worry about repeating it. And if you didn’t, do it now! Share with people the difference their giving has made. Whether or not they make an additional gift, it further reinforces their commitment to give to your ministry in 2019.
Tell the truth about your financial situation. If you are facing a real shortfall, be honest about it. Do it clearly and calmly, without a “sky is falling” panicky message. It’s not helpful for leaders to protect the congregation from financial challenges. They can’t step up to help if they don’t know about it.
If you have an abundance of resources, be honest about that. Some leaders think, “We don’t want to let people know because then they will stop giving.” People will keep giving if you give them a reason to give. Make your Christmas offering something significant that will benefit the wider community, and invite people to give generously.
Charles concludes his book with this wonderful vision of Stewardship ministry:
“One of my favorite novels is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Each year at Christmas I try to see either a play or movie version of A Christmas Carol, or to read the original. A big part of the appeal of the story is the incredible contrast between Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story and Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.
Notice Dickens’ description of Scrooge from the first pages of his novel, ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’ Many, many pages and three Christmas ghosts later, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. To say the least, he is a changed man. He sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit’s that is twice the size of Tiny Tim.
And then Dickens writes, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”
I don’t wish for any of God’s children to be scared to their senses by night visits from past, present, or future ghosts. However,
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation so enjoying their generous giving that they chuckle until they cry.
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation who discover the radical truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation whose generosity grows by leaps and bounds, and who discover that this generosity has indeed led their heart to Jesus.
- I do have a vision of people chuckling, or at least smiling as they drop their offering into the plate on Sunday morning.”
If you have a special story to share about your fall Stewardship program, I would love to hear it! What’s been special about your celebration of stewardship this year? You can contact me at email@example.com or 434-996-6032.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
“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