Good morning! It is a pleasure to be here this morning at Trinity Presbyterian. As a Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, I frequently travel all around the Mid-Atlantic region, meeting with congregations on a variety of topics, related to stewardship, legacy giving, and other matters of financial health. For the past several months, I have had the fortunate experience of working with your pastor and other members of your congregation on a couple of these topics. In all honesty, I don’t believe I knew at the time of our relationship building that these interactions would lead me here, speaking for you on a Sunday morning.
As a ruling elder in our denomination, I don’t exactly jump to do preaching engagements. When I first began my role, I anticipated mostly meeting with committees on the topics mentioned – investments, stewardship programming, etc. I didn’t envision, however, speaking and preaching about stewardship too much. That task seemed a bit daunting. After all, often ruling elders take comfort in leaving that stuff to the teaching elders. Or maybe that’s just me. So, the first time I was asked to do so, I wasn’t all that excited. But, after talking to my boss, I was advised to calm down and just be authentic – speak about what does stewardship mean to you? I responded with, “really? It’s just that simple?” So, for the next few moments, I would like to take you on my journey with stewardship.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, perhaps we can start with the basics…what does stewardship even mean? Stewardship is about caring for all that God has given us. If you look up the definition of stewardship, you might even see something like this “the responsibility of overseeing and protecting of something considered worth caring for and preserving” I guess it’s not technically wrong. I think God’s creation is something certainly worth caring for and preserving. But for us church people, stewardship has become to mean so much more. I believe it’s one of the words I have encountered in my career that virtually has a different meaning from church to church. Stewardship is definitely multifaceted. It not about the budget – though pledges and budget are byproducts of a successful stewardship campaign. Stewardship is about the “why”. About the ministry. What are we pledging to and for? And why are we doing it anyway? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Stewardship is about Gratitude – I HAVE to start there. The other day, I was with a church that used Psalm 18: 16-19 for a stewardship gathering. I would like to briefly share those verses with you now:
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
That passage really stuck with me, because it’s kind of hard to read the scripture from Psalms and not leave with a sense of gratitude. The scripture speaks of God that rescues…God that supports…God that delights in us. I read those words and immediately become grateful for all that God has done for me in my life. And such gratitude suggests some sort of response is in order. I AM grateful, so how do I reflect such gratitude in my life? I am reminded of the account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. If you recall what was read earlier, in Luke 17, we hear about the ten lepers that were cleansed upon meeting Jesus. Yet, though ten lepers were cleansed, the text describes that only one made the seemingly unpopular decision to come back. Only one managed to come back to express “an attitude of gratitude” for his cleansing. My bible describes this one, wise leper through the use of the passage subheading “the grateful leper”.
Perhaps the simplest takeaway about the grateful leper is that he came back! After petitioning Jesus to have mercy on him, heeding Jesus’ directions and journeying to the priests, and subsequently being cleansed — he didn’t forget his blessings. He remembered his petitions to Jesus. Remembered his plea for cleansing. Remembered his healing, and felt compelled to say “thanks”. It was just that simple – how could he not say thanks for having his prayers answered? How could he not say thanks for receiving such a blessing? Yet how many times do we forget to do just that? We lift prayers for healing. Prayers for employment. Prayers for green lights when we are running late to church … prayers that are often answered, yet quickly forgotten and not acknowledged with a simple “thank you” to God, with whom all things are made possible.
Many translations also say that the grateful leper returned to thank Jesus “in a loud voice”. The text suggests that sometimes we may not simply need to be thankful for our blessings, but we must do so in a loud voice. Now, have no fear – I recognize I am in a room of dignified Presbyterians. For many of us, the thought of us doing anything in a loud voice can be a pretty scary thought! But I am suggesting that we consider using “a” voice to be thankful, demonstratively using whatever voice we have been blessed with from God.
In fact, I contend that a “loud voice” doesn’t mean we have to necessarily speak at high volume to others about how good God has been to us. Or even ‘speak’ at all. Sure, it can mean that, but a loud voice can just be ‘doing something’ and be communicated through many other ways:
One such way is being generous – Acts of generosity can certainly be a way to loudly demonstrate God’s goodness and blessings upon your lives. Regular giving of tithes and offerings to your congregation are examples of such generosity. Planned giving in conjunction with your estate plan is another example – a lasting legacy of an endowed gift can speak loudly for generations to come. If you have never considered such, I would be happy to explore this topic with you at another time. The Presbyterian Foundation has many resources in planned giving that may be of interest to you as you ways to express your gratitude to God.
Stewardship is also about Spiritual Growth – I believe this term sums up the description of the journey I started and will probably continue to be on the remaining days I have on earth. Unpacking our views on stewardship is certainly a spiritual journey – one that I believe is rooted in prayer. Our views on money – our relationship with stuff – came from somewhere. I often say that stewardship is the theological antidote to the chief idols of our age – consumerism, materialism, and acquisition. We live in a time where the culture tells us the more we spend on ourselves the better. Vacations, homes, and luxury indulgences are seemingly becoming the norm. So, when the church talks about ‘stewardship’ and ‘giving’, it can sometimes almost sound counterintuitive. Maybe even give you a nervous tick. To help us to combat these views, however, we sometimes have to go back to the basics. Where did our understanding of stewardship begin? Where did we gain our understanding of money and possessions? These answers require us to look back before we can look forward.
Over the next few minutes, I would like to challenge you to reflect and develop the basic components of what I like to call your theology of stewardship. We will do this by silently answering the next few questions. First one – what is your first memory of stewardship? Or, it may be easier for some to answer “what is your first memory of generosity”? Secondly, “who taught you how to give”? And lastly, “why do you give to your church”?
I often encourage session elders and stewardship committees to take some time in a meeting setting to unpack one or all of these questions. It can be a different way to move your stewardship ministry forward.
Your answers to these questions will begin to reveal a lot about your personal views on stewardship. Your answers will also take you back to when you learned about the relationship between money and church. Some of us will probably have memories of a loved on nudging us to put a coin or dollar in the plate. Or perhaps memories of special collections you did as a child to support one church ministry or another. Others of us perhaps didn’t grow up quite ‘as churched’. Our memories of generosity may take us to community activities, neighborhood relationships, or even family dynamics. Regardless, we all were introduced to generosity somehow. Those memories and experiences influence if and how we support our local congregation. Notice I said “IF”. Financially supporting our congregation isn’t always a given for many, especially when we start looking at generational differences. This is what makes stewardship committee work so much fun!
Once you’ve answered those questions, I encourage you to continue the soul work. Study scripture. Pray often. Discuss your questions and concerns with others. Again I say, it’s a journey. We didn’t get here overnight, so it will definitely take us time to review and reflect. But here’s the good news – as you do, you will grow spiritually. It’s almost impossible not to! As you pray often about your memories of generosity…as you turn to scripture to learn more about what Jesus teaches about the topic…as you converse with others on the topic…I promise you. You will grow. And as you grow, you may notice some things begin to change. The way you approach life may be a bit different. Which leads me to my last point ..
Stewardship is about making choices – I wish I could tell you that the spiritual journey of stewardship yields to an easy road of generous living. Everything will then fall into place and you will never have to worry about the temptations of extravagant spending again! Sadly, this is not true. Stewardship is a daily walk and often requires us to make choices:
You may not consciously realize it, but you made a choice to be here today. Virtual worship and the variety of Sunday activities often complicate this once simple decision of coming to church. Guess what – that’s stewardship. We have made stewardship strictly about money. But stewardship is much more – it’s time, talent and resources. Stewarding your time is as challenging as stewarding your resources. We must choose how to utilize our time. We choose to attend worship. We choose to actively participate on session. We choose to come hear a crazy guy from the Foundation talk about stewardship. Yes, stewardship is about choices.
The grateful leper chose to come back. Joshua chose whom he would worship. In the lesson read earlier, we find Joshua addressing the tribes of Israel. He identifies the option at hand – either worship the gods of the Amorites. Or worship the one, true God that led their ancestors out of Egypt. But Joshua is clear during his address, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.
A choice. Looking more closely at the stewarding of our resources, stewardship certainly requires us to make daily financial choices. I frequently lean into Matthew 6:21 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. I use this scripture as a mantra of sorts – how does my personal budget reflect my values?
I have a confession. My time at NC State, followed by my first career at AT&T, caused me to have an unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets. I love formulas, cells, conditional formatting, and all of the mathematical computations Microsoft Excel offers. So, when I began my stewardship journey, I decided to use this obsessive compulsive tendency for good. I designed a spreadsheet to track ALL of my expenses. From large to small, mortgage payments to coffee, I began tracking every dollar I spent. Further, I categorized my spending into line items. I started this process years ago and it is a process that I continue to this day. It allows me to track how much I spend on household expenses versus entertainment, etc. It alerts me when credit obligations are out of hand and to forecast annual car repair estimates. But here’s the good part. It also forces me to look at my charitable giving. How does my giving to my church compare against the other categories? And what about the other charitable organizations that I am supporting? How does the total charitable line item compare to the other areas?
Imagine it this way – if a stranger should happen upon my spreadsheet and analyze my spending – what would the numbers show? Would the spreadsheet reflect my love for my church? My love for helping others financially? Where would it show where my treasure and heart meet? Would I be pleased with the answer? Similar could perhaps be said about our church budgets. If I were to look at the budget of Trinity Presbyterian Church, would it become abundantly clear on what missions are valued by the church? Or would I find incongruence between your mission statement and your budget? Just a thought. It’s not about judgement. It is perhaps a good temperature check , however, to review your budget this way – just to make sure the proper alignment is there.
Friends, this decision-making process it not easy. I can honestly tell you that there are some months I do much better than others. Years for that matter. The key is about accountability – holding yourself accountable for the choices you make with your resources. And, if you’re like me, when you get a little off some months, try to do a little better the next month. It’s all about the choices we make each day. That’s all we can do.
Often in my workshops I use this phrase of summation – stewardship is the joyous discipline of thanking God with the we live our lives and spend and share our money. I sometimes chuckle at the joyous part, however, because much like today, I’ve spent 15 minutes talking and preaching about the spiritual work that is required. Yet, I promise you, joy is on the other side. I also use this statement, as I believe it captures the essence of the philosophy that stewardship is a way of life. When we limit stewardship to be strictly about pledging and budgeting, we miss the fullness of the message. A generous spirit manifests itself in a variety of ways – the sharing of time, talent, and treasures. So I encourage you to spend some time on that ‘theology of stewardship’. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did.
May it be so. Amen.