Fall is busy time for stewardship leaders, and my guest preaching schedule is quite full. While I love to preach about stewardship topics around the church, I’m also aware when I do so of the danger of passing the buck. Preaching on stewardship is a powerful opportunity for local pastors to share the gospel and invite God’s members to join share in God’s mission through giving. But how?
This week, Alex Benson reports on her takeaways from Craig Satterlee’s fine book, Preaching and Stewardship.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Preaching and Stewardship
I recently read Craig Satterlee’s book, Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow (largely because Adam said, “Hey can you write a post about preaching and stewardship?” and I said, “Ummm…” and he handed me the book to read.) Turns out, Preaching and Stewardship is a helpful resource, and I recommend reading the whole thing for insight on an array of topics from biblical and theological perspectives on giving to practical tips for exploring stewardship with your congregation. For now, however, here are five nuggets of wisdom gleaned from Satterlee’s work -- maybe just in time for your next stewardship sermon!
1. God is always the subject.
Satterlee argues that preaching first and foremost should create an experience “of God, grace, or the gospel for the congregation to respond to” (27). A stewardship sermon is not merely a fundraising pitch, a lesson on money and giving, or even a convicting presentation about the congregation’s vision for the future. Preaching is an opportunity to invite a congregation into God’s unfolding work in the world and to experience God’s love, mercy, and justice through Jesus Christ. Acts of stewardship should always be in response to the gospel; the gospel is not a supplementary tool on the road to stewardship. Ultimately, our claims about stewardship become claims about who we say God is.
2. Preaching is not done in a vacuum.
Preaching is but one part of the life of a congregation, and people implicitly create a stewardship framework from messages received through everything from offering envelopes and Sunday school lessons to pledge cards and fellowship meals. Perspectives are also shaped in worship: for example, one cannot overlook the significance of the language and liturgical practices surrounding the offering/collection. Giving practices should always be in line with the gospel message and are most effective when they are consistent with the framework presented by the preacher. Questions to consider might include: What language is used to talk about regular giving during worship? When during worship does the offering/collection take place, where are the offering baskets positioned, and what is the role of digital giving? How is generosity talked about in Sunday school or confirmation classrooms? What biblical messages, giving practices, or ministries are emphasized in stewardship campaigns?
3. Preaching about stewardship requires us to confront our own money narratives as well as those of the congregation.
Any stewardship sermon should contain a clear definition of stewardship made evident to the listeners. For example, if the preacher is talking about financial stewardship, he or she should make a clear claim about finances as opposed to only vague references to “stewardship” or “generosity.” However, a specific claim about financial stewardship then requires preachers to confront their own discomfort around money. Undoubtedly, confronting one’s relationship to money can be a daunting task, but Satterlee suggests asking, “How has money shaped -- and how does money shape -- me?” (111). As preachers explore their own financial narratives, they should also assess the financial narratives of the congregation. What power does mammon hold in a particular community? How does money determine people’s worth? What are the financial realities of congregants, and how might sermons address those realities? Only once we ask these types of questions can we begin to challenge congregational norms around money and giving.
4. “Biblical stewardship” is complicated. Consequently, preaching on stewardship should explore the depth and breadth of Scripture.
The Bible has much to say about money, and we do a disservice to the mystery, power, and complexity of Scripture when all of our stewardship sermons reflect the same narrative or biblical perspective -- or a confusing mashup of multiple perspectives in one. Instead of speaking in broad generalizations about “biblical stewardship,” we might more effectively open up conversation by “untangling biblical perspectives,” (53) exploring in depth a single story or giving model at a time (tithing, first fruits, cheerful giving, etc.). Finally, preachers do well to remember that we “stand with our people” under the text (51). As people of God, we are in the stewardship adventure together.
5. Preaching about stewardship should not be isolated to the annual stewardship campaign.
Opportunities for preaching about money abound in the lectionary. For example, God’s covenantal relationship with the Israelites has profound economic implications, particularly in the charge to care for those most vulnerable in society, and Jesus also has much to say about money in relationship to love of God and neighbor. When we preach about money year-round, we can help people more intentionally explore the hold money has on their lives, inviting them to experience the liberating power of the gospel as opposed to the oppressive weight of mammon. Our conversations around stewardship become deeper, bolder, and more effective when stewardship is not reduced to a single Sunday’s plea for financial support. Check out Satterlee’s book for preaching suggestions throughout the entire lectionary for year-round resources!
For More Information
Alex Benson is an M.Div. student at Luther Seminary. She serves as Program Assistant and Editorial Fellow for the Center for Stewardship Leaders.
Check out Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God's Invitation to Grow by Craig A. Satterlee. (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute. 2011.) on Amazon.