Sometimes I like to play a word association game with church groups. It all goes fine until I get to the word, “stewardship.” Let’s just say…the church has work to do to reclaim the deep potential, and holy tradition, of the word. Today’s post by pastor Byron Wade takes up the challenge. By considering the point of view of members, not stewardship committee members, he invites us into the freeing -- even calming -- challenge and opportunity of stewardship.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Moving from “Ugh” to “Ahh!”
Rev. Byron Wade
As the summer season swiftly comes to a close, many of your church members are getting in their last vacations or spending precious time with friends and loved ones. In the meantime many pastors, church staffs, and committees are preparing for the fall church programming season. This also means in many churches that the Stewardship Committee/Ministry Team is either planning, developing, or putting the final touches on the traditional fall campaign.
Likely, stewardship themes will be developed based on a scripture passage, member giving charts will be carefully prepared, pledge cards will arrive, and everyone -- including the pastor -- will review their own role in the effort. Certainly, when this is working well, the committee and pastor will feel they have done their work and look forward to a successful campaign.
Your church members, however, may have a different view. Many view stewardship season as a necessary evil. While members may understand the purpose of the yearly stewardship campaign, it always seems to focus on their financial contribution. Their motivations for giving (or not giving) will run the gamut. Some give the same amount every year. Others are hesitant to make a commitment, afraid of failing if they don’t fulfill what they have pledged. This is the “Ugh” of stewardship from a member’s perspective.
How can we communicate a greater understanding of stewardship to church members? In other words, how do we move from the “Ugh” to the “Ahh?”
As an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) serving a congregation for the past 22 years, I have understood stewardship as not just a personal financial commitment but a holistic approach which involves more than just money. In my denomination’s constitution (we Presbyterians like our polity), it reads:
“The disciplines of stewardship and self-offering are a grateful response to God’s love for the world and self-giving in Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are called to lives of simplicity, generosity, hospitality, compassion, and care for creation. . . We are accountable to God for how we use our material goods, spiritual gifts, and time in God’s service.” (W-5.0103)
Notice how broad this call to stewardship sounds? Let’s step back, then, and embrace the full disciplines of stewardship.
Hospitality. You may ask, “What does hospitality have to do with stewardship?” Everything! As the gathered community called into being by Christ each Lord’s Day, we are called to extend welcome, grace, and presence to the friend and the stranger. Money is a very personal subject and many people consider it private. However, in extending hospitality to others there is the opportunity to develop relationships and in turn shared lives and interests. Much like Acts 2:44-45, when the new believers shared what they had for the common good, practicing hospitality moves us from a position of thinking about ourselves to one of sharing with others.
Recognition of gifts and talents. Our churches are filled with talented, gifted members. Many sing in the choir, teach faith formation with youth and adults, or are great cooks! In my ministry, I have found I need only listen carefully in conversation with our members to discover their (sometimes hidden) talents. One woman used to write regularly for the newsletter at her former church. A few have been community organizers. A vital understanding of stewardship embraces the God-given talents and gifts of each person as the church participates in Christ’s mission to the world.
Time. In today’s fast paced world, time is a precious commodity. Time is also a vital part of our understanding of stewardship. The time that we have is not ours but God’s. Our life of service becomes, then, our response to God’s graciousness in partnership with the gathered community. Many churches are becoming more flexible in how people can serve in the church. Whether it is a set two or three year term on a committee or serving on a temporary, short term, or one-time basis, there are periods of time where people can serve others inside and outside the church.
How we frame the ministry of the church matters deeply. Embracing the fullness of stewardship, I pray, will help you communicate the depth of the topic, and move the church from “ugh” to “ahh!”
For More Information
Byron Wade is the Pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. He is married to Regina and they have one teenage son, Andrew. He is still trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents!