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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

 

The priorities we set in our lives are challenged by the stewardship approach. We are asked to examine the foundation of things that our culture deems highly personal, and thereby problematic, in our relationship to God and each other. Especially in the western world, particularly in the United States, we are inculcated with the idea that who and what we are in the world is judged upon what we do and own. How we choose to spend our time, our abilities and our money is our business. People may believe that the church cannot dictate those aspects of our lives.

A commitment to change is challenging in the most profound way. People who have chosen this commitment are quite explicit in discussing the changes brought into their lives by entrusting their lives and possessions to God, to a higher calling than what we witness in our consumer society. This approach is a radical departure from the norm, from what our society perceives as important.

In studies of congregations with a stewardship model, researchers have found personal and institutional perspectives have changed. Discipleship, as expressed in giving one’s time and talent, is considered as a high priority, with its importance being equal to generous financial giving. This is the heart of the difference between fundraising and stewardship. We are not paying God back for the generous gifts we have received; we are giving from heartfelt gratitude. The difference may appear to be subtle and lends credence to the idea we may need new language to discuss stewardship effectively.

The notion of giving for the sake of giving is contrary to our experiences in most other areas of our lives. The result of giving is expressed in the programs and ministry offerings of congregations. For instance, money alone cannot produce an enthusiastic choir, dedicated lay ministers devoted to teaching, leading groups, or visiting people at home or in the hospital. Those acts of ministry spring from a desire to do God’s work.

If we are convinced that our lives matter to God, that we have something to bring to the world, we want to allow those fruits, the spirit of God at work in our lives, to flow out to other people. This generosity of spirit brings new purpose and joy to our lives. We know we are acting on those gifts we have been given and perhaps enlarging our capacity for love and compassion.

On the other hand, money cannot be discounted. Churches need money to meet the parish budget. Good thoughts and prayers probably won’t keep the doors open or the lights on in the building. As surely as we must have a realistic budget at home, the church must work within the confines of a budget. The financial responsibility for a parish is intertwined with responsibility for each other. If we are to celebrate in worship together, we must make plans for that together. If we are to glorify God in His house, we must take good care of that house through proper stewardship.

Parishes choosing the stewardship model prayed about adopting it. Led by pastors, congregational leaders discussed stewardship, sought understanding of what the ideal means, and then proceeded to give the plan time to work. By sustaining parish members through changes, encouraging them to enhance or expand their ministries, involving more people in more diverse ways, congregations have made significant changes through a difficult process.

In fact, as people have adopted a stewardship approach, the gift of freedom from our selfish, consumption at any cost society became evident. As God’s people in the world, we must live in the world, yet not become exactly like the world. The rediscovery of lay vocations is endemic. The reformation, for that is truly what stewardship means, allows people to be free from a worldview and move into a discipleship view. Emerging from a secular only viewpoint irrevocably changes people in many ways. The essence of living out Christian mission in the world becomes real and a focus for energy.

 

 

 

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Why do we give money to the church?

 

This is the time of year many congregations launch a stewardship campaign. I believe it is imperative to discuss giving, or rather, living a life in stewardship. Considering the confusion and lack of clarity about giving in some churches, it seems some words of wisdom are in order. Because I am firmly committed to the belief that all we are and have belongs to and comes from God, my words will reflect that belief.

 

These ideas might be new to you. Or you might be living your own life in accordance with these ideas. One thing I can promise you: the concept of tithing (giving 10 percent) and giving the first fruits of your income to God did not die after the Old Testament age. We are commanded by God to return those first fruits to Him. And therein lies the problem facing many churches: a denial of God’s commandments.

 

I invited you to challenge yourself by reading about stewardship for a couple of weeks. You might come away with a new perspective on your life and your relationship with God!

 

In most congregations a discussion of stewardship brings forth anxiety, or perhaps resentment, about asking for money. The problem is that we have confused stewardship with fundraising, to the detriment of both. If we are to grow spiritually into mature Christians we need to understand a theology of stewardship and its concommitent affect on our lives.

 

Church consultant Loren Mead believes most Christians view stewardship as fundraising. He criticizes churches for their approaches for handling a serious component of Christian faith in a cavalier manner. In his book Financial Meltdown in the Mainline (Bethesda, Md.; The Alban Institute, 1998), he states:

I yearn for a more complex and straight-talk theology of giving and of money that takes seriously the ambiguous character of my life, of my use of everything I have, and the straight-out sick way that I often relate to money and possessions as well as my whole life. Stewardship leaves out my sinfulness, my need for repentance, and the reality of the grace of God. I don’t mind it as a simplistic theology, I just wish we had a theology of money and giving that had more substance.

 

Any discussion of stewardship needs to begin with a definition of stewardship and an explication of stewardship theology. Stewardship is more than money, more than fundraising, in the life of a congregation and each individual member.

 

Stewardship involves a commitment of our lives to God. We acknowledge our lives as a gift from God, beginning with the grace of Jesus Christ as our savior. Our response to God comes in gratitude for the gifts He gives.

 

God made manifest in our lives is not predicated upon our wealth. But the fruits of the spirit could be evident in our lives and congregations by our commitment to the stewardship ideal. The expression of the theology of stewardship may translate differently in various traditions or denominations, but the underlying premise is the same: stewardship involves our whole lives.

 

We give our time, talent and treasure to God in gratitude for the gifts we have received. The form and function of our time and talent may vary and the amount of treasure we give may not be a full tithe, but rather, proportional giving.

 

Most people do not tithe, yet they may practice proportional giving, a certain percentage of their income, on the way to tithing. Others practice a sacrificial giving, a giving of more than a tithe. The majority gives fewer dollars and may feel that is enough, or think the church doesn’t need more money. The spectrum and reasons for giving is broad.

 

Taking the risk to empower parishioners to be intentional in their giving frightens some pastors or members of stewardship or finance committees. Laying a foundation for stewardship, for intentional giving of time, talent and treasure takes time. It is a countercultural notion, one that demands that we examine our relationship to money and possessions, our use of time, our gifts and our relationship to God and other people.

 

It is a revolutionary idea to demand that we stop being passive observers and become fully engaged in the work of God in the world. It can, however, lead to a new sense of ministry and dynamic congregations of people who are inspired to be the Body of Christ.

 

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