Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stewardship and the Church

On Tuesday night, I went to a Synod-wide webcast that discussed the topic of Stewardship. While I liked not having to drive to a central location (a trick in Florida!), it took me some time to get used to the jerky video quality and the occasional audio problem.

I wasn't sure what to expect--and to be honest, stewardship is not always one of my favorite topics. Although I do manage to give away 10% of my income most months, I always wonder if giving 10% is enough. The world's need gapes before me, and I wonder if I really need that bottle of wine, that new skirt. So the whole topic of stewardship can make me feel guilt and weirdness.

I'm happy to say that the webcast left me with a lot to think about, while avoiding the guilt trip trap. Our speaker was Charles Lane, the author of Ask, Thank, Tell. He stressed that churches should move away from the traditional stewardship approach, which presents the budget and asks everyone to dig a little deeper. He said, "Budgets motivate no one." Amen to that!

He says we should focus on the need of the giver to give, not the need of the church to receive.

He wants us all to be fearless givers, to be wildly generous people.

He talked about the idea of being stewards. Our job is to manage God's assets in a way that is consistent with the desires of the owner (God); everything we have is not ours, but God's. He stressed that God doesn't entrust stuff to us just so that we can accumulate stuff. We're given stuff so that we can share it.

He read Luke 12:34: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Treasure leads our heart. If we put our treasure in a 401K, our hearts will be there (and as the cover article in this week's The Christian Century reminds us, God doesn't love your 401K--if the article makes it to their website, I'll post a link later). If we put our treasure in our churches, our hearts move closer to Jesus.

You might be like my inner 19 year old, who immediately protested, "I don't see Jesus in my church!" Perhaps many ELCA members agree with my inner 19 year old; the average ELCA household gives only 1.7% of their income to the church.

Happily, I don't agree with my inner 19 year old. I do see my current church doing the Kingdom work that Jesus commands.

Believing that we're loved by a generous God is a faith matter. Relying on our bank accounts and not on God leads us into spiritually dangerous territory. Jesus reminds us again and again throughout the Gospels that God will give us everything we need. Being clutchy with our money leads us away from God. The only way to break the hold that money has over us is to give that money away--the Bible reminds us of that fact over and over again.

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