Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Death, Stewardship and Show Me the Money

It seems like, at least recently, there is not a week that goes by that I don't hear about a death of someone that I either know well or at least know who the other person is talking about.  It's weird, I don't remember so many people dying when I was younger.  I think it's because I wasn't paying quite so much attention.  When I was younger, someone who was my age dying was a shocker!  Young people are not supposed to die.  Young people don't die.  I still think of myself as "youngish" but death doesn't surprise me as much any more.

United Methodist churches and many other churches pay close attention to death rates for one reason.  Many of our members are older and those same members have been the individuals who have consistently put money in the offering plate week after week, year after year.  Finance committees could set the budget with a high level of confidence year after year based on these members annual giving.  Stewardship was not a big deal because giving was pretty consistent.  That's not the case today.  Older members are dying and younger members are not coming along.  I understand the need to set a budget and to take pledges from members about their giving because the Finance committee needs to know if they can plan on enough money to be able to keep the lights on at the church.  But I don't ever remember annual Stewardship drives happening when I was growing up, nor do I remember taking a Sunday church service to collect pledge cards.  And now, it's gone beyond just one Sunday to a month of Sundays where the focus is Stewardship-meaning, fill out your pledge cards and show me the money.  The meaning of Stewardship has been narrowed to mean cash flow.  I really hate Stewardship drives!

I know, I know-you have to have them to get an idea of how much you can expect to come in over the next year as far as cash.  But Stewardship in my mind is so much more than just cash in the coffers!  What about the person who comes early every Sunday and makes the coffee?  What about the member who sings in the choir faithfully?  What about the member who volunteers year after year to teach Sunday School?  Oh, those are gifts and graces-that's totally different.  Really?  So their contribution as a member is not as important as the member who writes the $100 check every week?  So we choose not to do something because it might offend the check writer, even though it could be very important to the community?  Think about it-how much money do you save because someone volunteers to do something so you don't have to pay someone to do that task?  Doesn't that contribution have some impact in the Stewardship equation?  Rarely does that conversation come up in a Stewardship pledge drive.

Stewardship is about taking care of what we have been given.  It's about planting seeds and carefully tending.  It's about watering, weeding and pruning when necessary.   Money matters but it is only part of the equation. At our church, someone years ago must have been a pretty good steward of the children through Sunday School class and Youth Group because many of those younger generation members are coming back and bringing their children with them!  Not only are they coming back, they are finding ways to actively participate!  That is a pretty powerful legacy worthy of celebrating!  Yet, in many churches that probably would not even get a passing glance or mention.

It should be mentioned.  It should be celebrated along with a lot of other small tiny details that keep things running.  Our definition of Stewardship has gotten too narrow and we need to broaden it once again.

Let me quote Paul's words to Timothy in 1 Timothy, chapter 6 (NRSV)
"But those who want to be rich fall in to temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." 
Money itself is not evil, it is the obsession with money that causes the problem.  If I had to point to one thing in the church in general that we have become overly obsessive about, this would be one of the items that would make my list.  We need cash to pay the bills and support missions, no doubt.  But as a church we need more than that-we need faithful stewards who will help out in any way they can and do whatever is needed to spread the message!  Just because someone can not write a big check, do not undervalue their contribution.  Take the time to acknowledge their value as well!

If Stewardship could be viewed and shared through that lens, perhaps less people would feel the need to skip the entire month of November at church.  If, like my church, you added a section for volunteering on to the Stewardship card, members wouldn't feel the overwhelming need to throw up when that pledge card is pressed in to their hands.  Just a thought, but I think it is a thought worth considering!

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