It’s getting that time of year again, for those of us on a January-December fiscal year. Stewardship season. Pledge cards and budgets and all that.
I love and hate the season of stewardship.
I love the idea of recommitting ourselves to being good stewards of all of God’s gifts: our talents, our time, our finances, our very selves. I grew up reciting a church covenant that included that concept of stewardship. We all participated, in all of who we are, with all of who we were. A little startup church that began in 1985 and sometimes had no more than ten members has managed to not only survive but thrive as a small church with this understanding of stewardship.
However, the first church I served in, a much larger church, talked about stewardship in the concept of filling out a pledge card. Don’t get me wrong—there were great “Stewardship Moments” during the worship which were mini-testimonials of what the church meant to them. We did a Gift’s Survey and tried to expand our concept of stewardship. But when it came down to it, the pledge cards were what drove the budget and drove the pulse of the congregation. A church with an operating budget of over two hundred thousand dollars, with an endowment—and every year there was talk of cutting the budget, cutting ministries—and cutting salaries. There was fear about not having enough.
I now serve a much smaller congregation. Pledge cards haven’t been filled out in years, and I have been told by leaders in the church they won’t fill them out on principal—it’s no one’s business to know what they will give except for God’s. While I could argue about giving as a spiritual practice and just like being concerned about their prayer and devotional life the church is concerned about their financial giving, I need to back up for a minute.
I believe that we have failed to teach about stewardship well in the church.
This isn’t to say there aren’t good models of stewardship practiced in churches. But generally speaking in the churches I have served, and in conversation with many of my colleagues, we have limited stewardship to being about pledging or about financial giving only in our conversations.
We need to change our understanding of stewardship and we need to not be afraid of talking about all of our resources. Not just our finances, but using our gifts. How many of us scramble to find teachers every year for Christian Education programs? How many of us cannot find enough volunteers for our weekday ministries? So are we limiting Christian Education to an outdated model of Sunday School? Are we continuing weekday ministries during which most of the people likely to volunteer are working? How can we use our resources of time, talent, finances—and our very selves—to the best of our God-given ability?
We may need to rethink our ministries of Christian Education and worship to be more inclusive, as evidenced by many churches ending traditional Sunday School programs and incorporating education and worship together in a multi-generational setting. We may need to rethink how we ask people to contribute to the work of God through the church. Maybe traditional pledge cards don’t cut it any longer. Maybe we need to commit ourselves, every year, to the fullness of the call to be the body of Christ.
We need to teach stewardship, that all of us have a responsibility to contribute and participate in the body of Christ. The old ten percent tithe doesn’t cut it any longer, as very few can afford to give ten percent with student loans, medical bills and just the plain old cost of living. But we can give in multiple ways. All too often, stewardship has been understood as financial giving alone. Volunteering one’s time has been a response to a call for a need for volunteers from leaders in the church. Instead, we need to think about all the ways we can give, and share what our gifts are instead of waiting for someone to ask. But we need to retrain the ways we talk and think about stewardship in order for that to happen effectively.
I don’t have all the answers—I’m still working on it—but for the past two years I have made new pledge cards that I distribute to the church. On them we write what we are thankful for in the past year. Then we write what we hope we can give in the coming year. Only a few write down a financial amount. Most write down a gift they can share—praying, helping in the church kitchen, volunteering with children. And all of us work to contribute out of what we have.
I believe not only will we survive, but we will thrive, when we all take part, recognize we are all the body of Christ, and that we are in this together.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.