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More than Money: Portraits of Transformative Stewardship

The following review of the book More than Money: Portraits of Transformative Stewardship is by:
Dr. Steve Ramp
Senior Pastor
Westminster Presbyterian Church
115 N 25th Ave
Hattiesburg, MS 39401

This is one of the best books I have found on stewardship. McNamara, a Roman Catholic, is a sociologist. He suspects that stewardship is in the doldrums because it is too easily and too often associated with the obligatory annual fund raising drive. Missing from this, he notes, are:

"1) an awareness of stewardship as involving the giving of one's time and talent and 2) more basic by far, stewardship's essential spiritual ideals of receiving God's gifts and responding to those gifts by returning one's time, talent, and treasure to the service of God in this congregation. Inject these two themes, and stewardship embraces an inspiring theological vision." p 1.

McNamara studied 11 mainline Protestant churches known for their stewardship approach in order to understand what accounts for their success in this area.

Five characteristics disclosed themselves again and again and are well summarized by M. Douglas Meeks in the foreword:

1) Congregations work at a theology of stewardship vs. philanthropy and secular fund raising. Stewardship emphasis goes to identity, vision, and direction of the church. It takes time and consistency.

2) Inspiring and helpful pastoral leadership based on a partnership (vs. parenting) model.

3) These congregations emphasize the actual experience of God's grace. They do not expect people to express gratitude unless they have received grace. They know there will not be any real stewardship except it arise out of the means of grace: lively worship, encounter of God's Word in Bible study, the experience of forgiveness. Only the passion of the gospel creates passion for self-giving. Stewardship churches have a sense of mission and of lives being changed. This is a compelling difference in ethos.

4) Stewardship is part of commitment to service. Mission and stewardship go hand in hand.

5) Stewardship congregations are bold in calling each other to give.

Acton Congregational Church, Acton, Mass.

1. Affluent, growing, seasoned pastor has been there 17 years.

2. Worship is central activity of the church

3. Tolerance and focus mark this church. The pastor is on the national board of the Confession Christ Movement within the UCC. Pastor Olmstead: "We are all trying to grow in one direction, into deeper discipleship to Jesus Christ, and we are very clear about that. There are a lot of churches that are very clear about where they are going but not very tolerant about where people are; other churches are very tolerant about where people are and have no idea where they are going. This church combines both of those things together, and I think that is part of its unique genius."

4. Faith-Promise (what they call pledging) is a promise the a member makes to God. Everyone receives an accounting from the church financial secretary of what they have actually given, but no one except the donor knows whether that amount matches the pledge. Herein lies the "faith element." 85% of the active families pledge.

5. Acton funds its own mission projects, locally and globally.

6. Pastor Olmstead preaches on stewardship, from time to time, emphasizing grace, not law. He offers a Biblically based invitation to commit to the person of Jesus Christ.

7. Worship Plus Two is their theme for all members: new Members are encouraged to pledge financially and also with time and talent. You are asked to become involved in at least two activities during your first year. One activity that is for you (a fellowship group, Bible Study, Mother's Day out) and one activity that is in service to others (food pantry, coffee hour, teaching, etc.). This grows out of the new members class, in which an interest survey is carefully discussed and reviewed. The Coordinator of Lay Programs and her assistants plug people in quickly.


Patrick McNamara is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and past president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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