This last week I was able to stop for lunch with friends on my way home from meetings at Mingus Mountain camp. We were talking after lunch for a few extra minutes outside of the restaurant. A man named Mitch, who looked like he was at least my age, walked up to us and asked if we had a couple of dollars that we could give him. He needed $1.50 in order to ride the bus. As Christians, how do we respond when someone asks us for money?
A long time ago I adopted the thinking that I am a steward for God, and that many things have been put under my control. How is it different to be a steward than an owner? I consider everything that I have to belong to God, and I get to be involved in decisions on how it is used. I don’t own any of this, but I benefit from it. When I look in my bill-fold, that money belongs to God. The first thing that I try to do when I receive a financial request is to ask God “How would you like me to respond?” Sometimes it is easy for me to hear God, and other times I struggle to hear God’s voice. I have been blessed by the fact that God is generous.
If we accept the steward concept, what are we a steward over? My perspective is that we are a steward over all that we have. Part of this is our possessions, but it is far more than that. I think that it also includes our time, abilities, connections, and things that we have influence over. Each of us has a different portfolio, but all of us have one.
How do we choose to use that which we control? If we consider ourselves to be the owner, is the answer different than if we consider ourselves to be a steward for God? I’m suspicious that if we see ourselves as the owner, we tend to use our resources more for ourselves and those who are closest to us. That it is about what we have earned, and our right to use it the way that we want. I have nothing to support this theory other than a life-time of observations. It seems to me that as a steward for God it is easier to recognize that God has blessed us with more than we have earned, and we need to use God’s resources in a wider circle. It changes things when we see what we have as belonging to God versus belonging to us.
This fall I have been having many conversations with pastors and church members about stewardship campaigns. I have been surprised by how many churches have told me that they don’t do any kind of stewardship campaign. One pastor said that they don’t want to “beg for money”. I agree with them about not wanting to beg, but I don’t see stewardship campaigns as having anything to do with begging. One of my first thoughts is that perhaps we shouldn’t use the word “campaign”. Maybe it is more appropriate to use language like “stewardship training and practice”.
An early step with stewardship training invites our church members to see themselves as a steward instead of as an owner. Has this invitation been given at our church? Have we ever personally been given this invitation? Have we accepted it? It’s hard to give this invitation to others if we don’t accept this invitation first.
If we stick with the terminology of “stewardship campaigns” in The United Methodist Church, it is common to use pledges. This typically indicates what we intend on doing in the next year and can be used as a spiritual discipline tool. I remember as a kid receiving my first pledge card after confirmation. I asked my Dad for advice on how to fill it out. He answered that he always wrote down: “It’s none of your business”. At that time in his life my Dad was not involved with spiritual disciplines. Is it really possible for pledging to help us with our spiritual lives?
My preference for pledge cards is to be broader than just money. I like for the pledge cards to reflect the commitments that we make when we join The United Methodist Church. We commit our: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. What are we willing to give back to God in each of these areas? If we are serious about pledging, it means that we will take the time needed to reflect and pray about our pledge before the new season begins. With the pressures that the world puts on us, it is easy to only give God our left-overs. Pledging encourages us to decide what we are going to give back to God first, not from what is left. Pledging is being bold enough to share our intentions with the church, and not keep them a secret. Although pledges can always be changed, it is easier to break our pledges when we haven’t shared them with anyone. Many times over the years I have heard people say that their decisions are strictly between them and God. I wonder, though, how many times they didn’t really make a serious commitment? This statement always struck me as a way of saying that we don’t want to be held accountable for our decision. I have a feeling that God is OK with us sharing our intentions with the church.
These two concepts—being a steward and pledging—can both put a new spiritual twist on our lives. I have found both of them to be important in my life. It can be easy for me to be selfish and want to keep everything for myself. God is always stretching me to see beyond myself. In what ways is God stretching you?
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Health Update: This Wednesday (09-26) is my next procedure in the saga of my staghorn kidney stone. This time the doctor will try sonic vibrations to see if the stone will break. Prayers that this stone will shatter are appreciated! We fully anticipate that we will need to follow-up with another procedure. I’m now starting to hope that we are finished, and that the kidney stent is out, before Christmas!