Sinking the Steward Ship

sinkingFunny thing.  Writing about stewardship all this week resulted in a 30% drop-off in my readership.  I’ve gotten a handful of emails this week expressing sentiments like “I expect better from you,” and “you’re as bad as my local church,” and “why are you marching out this tired old song,” and “you’re selling out to the mainline.”  First of all, I wonder if these people actually read more than the titles.  The other emails I have received are telling me that I am full of fertilizer and that if any of the stuff I am writing is true other people would be saying it, too.  The bottom line is that people struggle with stewardship.  The wonderful term and concept of “stewardship” has been usurped, co opted, and compromised by the institutional church so that it makes almost everyone squirm.  I wish the concept could be redeemed.

In my understanding discipleship and stewardship are two sides of one coin — the yin/yang of the authentic Christian life.  Discipleship is based in learning, growing, developing, and following.  It is a lifelong process of discovery and empowerment.  Stewardship is based in doing, leading, teaching, working, improving, and testing.  It is a lifelong journey of managing and employing all that God has placed in our care.  There is a dynamic tension between the two that propels a Christian to ever higher expressions of faith and ever deeper relationships within the body of Christ.  It is about the whole person — including his wallet and her pocketbook — and all they are and can ever be.  It is too bad we have so radically reduced both concepts.  In research I did for the denomination, 71% of United Methodists define discipleship as “believing in Jesus as the Son of God,” and 84% define stewardship as “giving time, talent, and treasure to the church.”

Is it any wonder that we produce such meager fruit from such barren soil?

I spoke with someone the other day who wasn’t too keen on my recent blogs.  He asked me, “when are you going to get back to the really important stuff?  When are you going to shake things up?  Your blog is pretty tame these days.”  Well, excuse me for being boring! (Just kidding.  I mean this jokingly, but written out it looks defensive…)  I wish stewardship were controversial.  I wish it were “important stuff.”  I wish these blogs would “shake things up.”  But I’m living in a fantasy world, I guess.  What’s important to me is dull and pedestrian to someone else.  (But keep an eye out for my article, Cannibalistic Wiccan Libertarians Seek Ordination, coming soon…)

The one aspect of stewardship I didn’t explicitly talk about this week is trust.  To speak of money, to speak of lifestyle choices, to speak of spiritual commitment and lived values — these things require a great deal of trust.  And trust is one thing lacking in many of our congregations.  One appropriate definition of a steward is “trustee” — one proven worthy of trust.  Perhaps the greatest challenge to our stewardship is our inability to build trust in the church.  Where there is no vision the people perish, but where there is no trust there is no “people,” just an assemblage of individuals doing their own thing for their own reasons.  Nothing kills stewardship faster than a lack of trust.  In fact, nothing kills the church faster than a lack of trust.  “Think of us in this way,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Furthermore, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”  Perhaps we need to hold annual trustworthiness campaigns instead of financial campaigns.

11 replies

  1. Thanks Dan for all the insightfulness to this stewardship dilema that is like an anchor round the neck of the local church. As consumer driven go-bots, we have become so self focused that we can no longer see past the limits of our personal satidfaction to the life of being authentically Christian, both in what we know and in how we live. My fear is that the Christian church as we know has died and no one has bothered to lay the carcass to rest so that something new can sprout up and once again proclaim that Jesus Christ is alive! and therefore, we have hope for all eternity!

  2. I, too, have shared them with the finance team. I certainly have read others who are looking at these issues and come to similar conclusions — I just finished “Changing the Conversation” by Anthony B. Robinson. While it is not entirely about stewardship, it touches on core issues of Christianity in the 21st Century, as do you. I believe we must encourage and support each other to be as generous as possible in all aspects of our lives– and the Ginghamsburg church shows what can happen as a result, as do your examples. Miracles can still happen!

  3. The only thing I have seen in your posts on stewardship is that they are all right on target. I have emailed them to my finance team and especially to the treasurer. At the last Council meeting he even referred to them as he would not entertain a discussion of “scarcity” and “can we afford this?”. He is usually right in the middle of these discussions complaining how little we have. So you have hit the right buttons. Keep it up.

  4. We much prefer to read and shout “Amen” when the preacher is telling us about the heathens up the block. When he starts talking about the offering, we grab our wallets.

    If you want ratings, keep smacking around topics that get you hostile e-mail from denominational leaders.

    I found your posts on this topic helpful.

  5. Frankly I appreciated them and e-mailed them to my finance team. There wasn’t much to comment on, for I agreed with most of what you said, but trust me that these issues go to the heart of what it means to be a decaying church.

    BTW, can you e-mail me your new e-mail address?

    jv

  6. Do I agree with everything you post? No. Do I appreciate everything you post? YES!!.

    Thank you for this discussion on stewardship. I met this week with some of my stewardship team, and you provided great fodder. You are saying things, many are thinking, so I appreciate you being ahead of the curve.

  7. Back to the trust issue. Now that stirred up some conversation. Seriously, as I was getting ready to check out your blog today I thought to myself how odd it is that something as important as authentic, faithful stewardship had dried up the usual, vibrant discussion here. Thanks for stirring even what people mistake to be a mundane pot. I suspect it has prompted more thought than the lack of comments would indicate.

    The question for me is how I model and promote faithful stewardship and generosity from the my vantage point as a development director of a UM related agency. We too face the temptation to beg for money so we can continue to serve in the name of God, rather than nurturing relationships with compassionate people and communities. From a secular perspective the best writing I have seen on this subject comes from Katya Andresen on her non-profit marketing blog. Although it speaks to non-profits more broadly, I believe her often cutting points are relevant to churches:

    http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/

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