Jul 12, 2012

Does the Word “Stewardship” Make You Nervous?

Hilarity and mirth often mask our deepest anxieties. For example, about 20 years ago I led a group of moderately young church leaders through their first bona fide “Fall Stewardship Campaign.” Naturally, what most churches call the fall stewardship campaign is generally a code word for “budget raising.” To this end, our congregation’s veteran leaders determined our church’s next generation needed a direct and hands-on experience in financial leadership. Thus, our young leaders learned personally what raising a nearly one million-dollar budget consisted of.

To inaugurate this crash course in faith-finance for beginners, I led a Bible study and stewardship reflection. Afterward, the youngish committee chose a theme and delegated individual responsibility for this essential undertaking. We all sensed a certain tension in the atmosphere. Perhaps, most of those 11 people gathered understood that their church’s ministry was at stake. They knew that churches with financial problems experience more sustained worry and pressure than do churches without monetary troubles. In this way, churches and families resemble one another. Each person present that night felt a deep responsibility, and, to a person, they all loved their church.

I selected the story of Ananias and Sapphira for our meeting’s meditation (Acts 5:1-11). This story is so chilling that most lectionaries tend to pass over this text. In fact, most folks who present that evening have little familiarity with the story. After I concluded my remarks, the group discussed Ananias and Sapphira at length. Subsequently, suggestions for our church stewardship campaign theme came pouring out. The most appealing theme, and the one that best captured the group’s imagination, was a succinct slogan.

One young man said, “I know, let’s use the theme: ‘Give or Die.’ ” We all laughed and laughed about how on target this theme was. The group decided the “Give or Die” slogan would be easy for our congregation to remember. It was short and to the point. This crass slogan also conveyed plainly the message of Acts 5. Sensibly, we all knew that this theme would have been inappropriate, even offensive to some, especially for a church-wide stewardship campaign. Ironically, however, we all also realized a deep truth—Hilarity and mirth often mask our deepest anxieties. Our excessive laughter that evening symbolized the modern, mainline church’s anxiety about speaking to the issue of financial stewardship.

Without question, a stewardship campaign focuses on the management of a congregation’s fiscal resources. Realistically, however, stewardship in its broadest definition of “managing the whole household” is a year-round endeavor for church leaders. It sounds a constant refrain in the life of the church because it is one of the most tangible practices of discipleship.

To be a disciple is to practice stewardship in all its manifold expressions. Teaching, listening, visiting, praying, leading, organizing, and giving are each forms of stewardship of which there are hundreds and possibly more diverse expressions. Pastors as leaders need to help people come to terms with each member’s God-given gift to offer something to Christ’s church through stewardship.

As one of my preacher colleagues fondly pronounces, “Giving leadership is leadership giving.” In other words, if pastors expect those who follow us to respond, then we must do ourselves what we ask others to do. The best leaders have always understood this leadership principle.


Dr. Dale Schultz said...

David, thank you for your honest practicality about stewardship. I wonder what positive results might be the fruit of a church actually using the Acts 5 story... I may find out this autumn. After all, an intentional consideration of the scriptures suggests than more than ministry is at stake when we offer faithful leadership.

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