Stewardship is an act of practical theology. Accordingly, context matters deeply. In today’s post, pastor Larissa Kwong Abazia engages the contextual challenges of contemporary culture and the call to stewardship.
Additionally, I invite you to check out the “Invitation for Groundbreaking Research Project Participation with Fundraisers of Color” announcement at the bottom of this post. Larissa, with an amazing team from The Collective Foundation, is undertaking some timely, much-needed stewardship research with communities that have often been overlooked. Check out the blurb and please help spread the word.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Illuminating Stewardship in Today’s Culture
Larissa Kwong Abazia
Let’s be honest: It’s either stewardship season or the congregation’s own sustainability that get our fiscal attention in the church. The act has been expanded to include “time, talent, and treasure” but is this simply a strategy to make people give more, feel good about what they decided to give, or calm anxieties about “the ask” rather than embrace a fuller understanding of what offering is meant to be?
I’m just going to cut to the chase and share these knowledgeable words from Walter Brueggemann:
“We live in a society that would like to bracket out money and possessions (politics and economics) from ultimate questions. The Bible insists otherwise. It insists that the issues of ultimacy are questions about money and possessions. Biblical testimony invites a serious reconsideration of the ways in which our society engages or does not engage questions of money and possessions as carriers of social possibility.”
As long as we continue to engage in the offering as merely a financial ask for the church’s vitality, we disregard the call to discipleship that requires us to see money and possessions as a disruptive force for change in ourselves and the world.
We must rid ourselves of a few myths:
Myth #1: What you possess is due to the success of the work of your own hands. Need we be reminded who created each one of us, who claimed us in our mother’s womb before we drew our first breaths? We cannot celebrate being created and called by God, yet avoid the required response to give back what was never ours in the first place.
Myth #2: Offering and stewardship are primarily about maintaining, sustaining, or building a legacy. A budget should neither define the life of the church nor its endowments or investments be solely about its own future. It ultimately reflects what we value and where we place our trust (consider looking at the church budget through this lens at the next meeting!). Withholding the money and possessions of the congregation risks keeping us from the exact neighborhoods in which our faith communities reside. We must stop utilizing the first fruits of what we collect for the church, giving only scraps out after our needs are determined.
Myth #3: Offering is what we give inside the walls of the church. We need to act as though what we do inside the church has the power to transform how we live outside of the walls; the concept of giving does not stop at the offering plate but involves every way that we choose to use or cling to our money and possessions.
Myth #4: Offering is just about money and finances. Racism, sexism, other-ing, assumptions, and hierarchies impact our engagement with and participation in Christian life together. We are called to a different kind of community: a diverse gathering of people who create a new lifestyle together. So when our churches say, “All are welcome,” it means that the visitor and stranger transform us, not the other way around. It also means that those who have power, privilege, and authority must share and/or utilize these possessions for the good of the whole.
What would happen if money and possessions were seen as disruptive forces of change for the church and people of faith? We would see Christ in every face and respond with hospitality, generosity, and love. We would acknowledge the truth that, if the marginalized remain in our midst, our money and possessions continue to oppress the exact neighbors we are called to care for and love.
American culture encourages us to clench our fists, take care of ourselves and those we love for first, and celebrate the freedom of individualism. Instead, our faith calls us to challenge these assumptions and live in a community where everyone’s needs are met and all contributions are celebrated, no matter the size. We need to witness to and embody Christian communities where the binary structures of this world (insider/outsider, foreigner/citizen, us/them, haves/have-nots) are replaced with a true reflection of the body of Christ.
For More Information
Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia is a pastor, speaker, writer, and consultant with the Vandersall Collective. She is also the project manager and a team member for the Collective Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting research into fundraising practices in Christian communities of color. Larissa has served churches in Chicago, New York City, and throughout New Jersey. She currently serves as the pastor-in-residence at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, CT.
A version of this post first appeared in a web series, “Worship Outside the Box” curated by Katy Stenta and NextChurch.
Invitation for Groundbreaking Research Project Participation with Fundraisers of Color
The Collective Foundation, an organization that supports Christian faith-based leaders who have traditionally been overlooked for positions of leadership due to their gender, sexual orientation, race or combination thereof, will host research gatherings across the country into fundraising practices within Christian communities and churches of color.
This research will fill a huge research gap in giving characteristics for communities of color. Through qualitative research we will collaboratively learn from a diversity of communities of color so that they will have the resources needed to fulfill their purpose in the world. More information concerning the importance of this work can be found here. We will gather stories, experiences, and questions from fundraisers of color serving in diverse/racial ethnic congregational contexts: ministers, fundraising professionals, congregation members, or volunteers. Participants will be selected by an application process to ensure diversity and commitment to the process. Each individual is required to fully engage in two days of worship and conversation in small and large group settings. We will provide all meals, reimbursement for travel, and a modest stipend of $300.
If you fit the description above or know of others who might be interested, please apply or share the application: https://collectivefdtn.org/gatherings. General information concerning the Foundation and this research project can be found here: http://collectivefdtn.org.