I’m afraid to say it, but once the aisles brimming with Halloween candy are cleared, they’ll probably be filled with…Christmas items! I’m shaking my head just thinking about it, but the holidays are upon us -- or, at least, retailers want us to think they are.
In today’s post, Rev. David Loleng considers what simplicity and “creating margin” might have to do with stewardship and generosity. It’s a great message for any time of year, but particularly when the candy cane decorations are threatening.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Rev. David Loleng
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -- Matthew 6:19-21
Among the shifts in religious giving, the church must transition away from seeing stewardship as focusing on “funds development” towards a stewardship that focuses on “people development.” Best practices, new strategies, and deciphering giving trends are helpful, but our focus needs to be on forming generous disciples of Jesus Christ. The language about creating a “culture of generosity” in our churches is ubiquitous, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that transformed lives have to be at the very center of any culture change. How can the church encourage individuals in this process of spiritual formation?
For real and lasting change to happen in our churches and in people’s lives, we need to see a change not only in our beliefs but also in our behaviors. So, I wonder, what are some spiritual practices that will help cultivate generosity and Christ-centered stewardship in the lives of those in our churches? Next, I’ll briefly share two spiritual practices that have become important for me as I have thought about how to be a steward of my time, talents, and resources.
Living with Simplicity
The first is the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Simplicity helps us to let go of our inordinate attachment to things (possessions, experiences, achievements) and our insatiable desire for more. Simplicity embraces the uncluttering of our lives of excess and practicing things like frugality, contentment, thankfulness, sustainability, integrity, and generosity.
Richard Foster describes the importance of simplicity in his book Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, writing:
The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more threatens frequently to overwhelm us…Christian simplicity… brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit…It allows us to see material things for what they are-goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions…it is the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity that gives us…a strategy of action that can address this (poverty and hunger) and many other social inequities.
Simplicity helps us to re-calibrate our lives back toward God and God’s will. It frees us to be more generous and mission focused.
The second spiritual practice is closely related to simplicity. It is creating margin in our lives. Creating margin makes space in our lives. As Dr. Richard Swenson describes in his book Margin, it is like the margins on a piece of paper: there is no text on the top, bottom and sides, just empty space. As James Bryan Smith explains, Swenson “believes our lives are like that. We add so much to our schedules that we have no ‘margin,’ no space for leisure and rest and family and God and health.”
Just as simplicity addresses the insatiable desire for more things, creating “margin” addresses what some have called the great enemy of our spiritual lives, which is “hurry.” Hurry is symptomatic of a culture that, as James Bryan Smith states, “rewards busyness and overextension as a sign of importance.”
Creating “margin” means uncluttering our schedules, our time, and our lives. When we have more “margin” in our lives, we can be more generous with our time and our talents. Creating margin affects our relationship with God and others, our health, and our ability to join in Christ’s mission in our communities and world.
The spiritual disciplines of simplicity and margin not only help to cultivate a culture of generosity, they also help support people in our churches who are growing as generous disciples of Jesus Christ and who then might impact our communities and world.
Rev. David Loleng is the Director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership at the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA). He is the co-author of the Engage Curriculum and Resources.
New digital resource launched: Voices on Stewardship. Launched by Vanco Payment Solutions, the new Voices on Stewardship website promises to be a growing site for information, resources, and guidance relating to stewardship and generosity. Check it out at voicesonstewardship.com.