Monday, October 3, 2011

Is Stewardship a Dirty Word?

When I say the word “Stewardship” – how do you react?  Is it a dirty word to you? Do you know what it means?  Have you ever heard that word used outside of the church?  When I google the word stewardship, the first link to pop up directs me to Wikipedia, which defines stewardship as:  “an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources.”  Wikipedia then goes on to talk about how the word was used historically.  In other words, it is not a word that is in circulation much these days.  The 25 links that follow the Wikipedia link are direct links to church resources.  So I have to ask the question, “Are we living in the ice ages?  Do we even know how to talk in a way that is relevant to people?”

After my google search, I went to the Thesaurus.  I thought maybe I could find a synonym that would shed a more contemporary light on this word.  But it wasn’t the synonyms to stewardship that spoke to me.  It was the antonyms.  Sometimes it is easier to define something by first defining what it is not.  The antonyms to stewardship as listed in the online thesaurus are as follows:  destruction, neglect, spending, squandering, waste.  OK – that got my attention!  In other words, to not pay attention to stewardship is wasteful.  And to cease to be good stewards is not just lazy, it is destructive.

When I first entered into ordained ministry, I would get heart palpitations during the season we refer to as “stewardship season.”  I would fret endlessly about how people would perceive being asked for money in church.  I was scared of the people who would leave on a Sunday morning grumbling something to the effect of - “All the church wants is our money”.  When the stewardship committee asked me to preach a ‘good stewardship sermon’, I would carefully craft my words so as not to offend anyone.  

I’m over that now.  Why am I over it?  Because I have seen evidence in families, in churches, in businesses, in nations – that to fail to address stewardship is destructive, wasteful and neglectful – just like the thesaurus says.

We say over and over in our church that stewardship is not just about your money.  And that is 100% true!  Stewardship is about how we care for EVERYTHING that God has given to us.  It’s how we care for our families, our homes, our bodies, our environment.  It’s how we use our God-given talents and how we live as Christians in the workplace.  If we embrace this definition of Stewardship, then EVERY sermon should be a ‘good stewardship sermon.’

So stewardship IS about how we live all of our lives in response to God’s love.  But there is this season – and it is the season our church, Easter Lutheran Church, is in right now – when we specifically talk about financial stewardship and ask people to give generously to a ministry that literally changes lives every single day.

I am completely unashamed to ask for people to give generously to Easter Lutheran Church because I see daily evidence that God is working in this place and through these people.  It is not just about keeping the lights on and the air conditioning running in the summer, it is about SO MUCH MORE.  It would be destructive and wasteful to not ask people to respond in such a way.  Going with the whole rule of opposites, let’s look at some of the things that could NOT have happened without the generous gifts of the people of Easter:

  • A memorial service for a young man who did not have a church home, whose family was shocked at his death and wondering where to turn.  Easter stepped in with offers of food, counseling services, space to grieve and be together, musicians and facilities for a memorial service, pastoral care and counseling for over 700 youth and their parents, and the message of Hope that God through Jesus Christ has conquered death and the grave.
  • A place where hundreds of families who don’t have the means can come and receive school supplies for the fall and coats, hats and mittens for the winter months – all donated by the generosity of Easter people and the surrounding community.
  • A young girl in Tanzania who would have literally died except that Pastor Paul had resources on his hands from the generous people of Easter to transport her to the nearest hospital. Not to mention the hundreds of young Tanzanians who have received an education otherwise out of their financial grasp.
  •  A job transition group that, over two and 1/2 years, has supported 825 people through the life-changing reality of job loss and a ridiculous economy.  Not just helping people find a job, but inviting them to discover God’s calling in their life along the way.
  • Weddings, Baptisms, Small groups, Youth Mission Trips, Thousands of pounds of food donations, worship services that are inspiring and draw people closer to God, Bible Studies that literally transform people’s lives, Divorce Care that meets people on a devastating journey from brokenness to healing…..I could go on for hours!
So – as it turns out – stewardship is NOT a dirty word, and it certainly isn’t irrelevant.  If anything, it needs a rebirth and the church can lead the way!

All of this is to say – first of all – God is doing AMAZING things in the world – and God is doing these amazing things through YOU.  Every time I turn around I see evidence of God’s fingerprints on people’s lives.  Whether you go to Easter Lutheran Church or whether you participate in a ministry that is far from this place – I want to invite you to consider that God is begging, calling, pleading with you to join with Him in changing the world with love.  And yes, love can look like dollar signs.  I say that now without heart palpitations because I am convinced that Jesus calls us to be good stewards of ALL of our resources.  To not do so would be – well – it would be destructive.

For further reflection, read Matthew 25:14-30.  Are you willing to take risks for God? 

1 comment: