Imagine you are at your Parish Pastoral Council meeting and you are rather passionately encouraging the leadership and the Pastor to get involved in promoting better stewardship in the parish. They ask you why…the parish meets its financial commitments every month and there are a sufficient number of ‘volunteers’ (many volunteering in more than one ministry or service), why do we need more stewardship? You respond by describing the amazing transformation that you have witnessed in another faith community, and believe that the same conversion can take place here with a greater commitment to stewardship! The Pastor and others are quite comfortable; they say “The parish is doing just fine. We already do stewardship”, on to the next agenda item. “Why don’t they get it?” you wonder… “Stewardship is more than meeting budgets and getting volunteers.”
Or maybe your congregation has a pressing financial need, and the leadership might view ‘stewardship’ as a quick fix to their problem, only to discover that stewardship requires a patient, persistent, and long term vision to be fruitful. The best solution to an urgent financial need is a well coordinated capital campaign. Why would stewardship help in a capital campaign?
You would be surprised by the impact of infusing the spirituality of stewardship into a capital campaign. A few years ago, I co-chaired a $500,000 parish campaign. Half way through the campaign, I convinced the leadership that some stewardship teaching and language would be helpful. In the second half of the campaign we focused on cultivating a greater understanding of stewardship and giving back to God in gratitude for what God has given us…gifts in the second half of the campaign increased by 160%.
Is stewardship just an ecclesiastical term for fundraising then? Stewardship and fundraising are not the same thing. Fundraising is about giving to a need…stewardship is about the people in the pews needing to give, because they recognize how much God has given to them. Stewardship has the power to transform the hearts and minds of the people who sit in church Sunday after Sunday, that’s why we should work to advance the sprituality of stewardship. As people grow in their understanding of stewardship, they come to see all of life through a different lens. They look upon every possession, talent or ability, each opportunity, their monthly income, and every relationship as a gift from God. They grow in gratitude to God for their gifts, and that gratitude inspires in them, the desire to share their gifts generously. Moreover, gratitude deepens their relationship with God.
To be sure, a well executed stewardship education and formation plan does have a dramatic impact on the vitality of a church community, I have witnessed it personally in over 15 years of leading church stewardship initiatives. We only need to look at the incredible journey and example of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita Kansas, http://www.stfranciswichita.com/ as witness to the power of making stewardship a way of life. St. Francis of Assisi Parish began their stewardship journey in 1968, and the fruits have been beyond their wildest expectations. However, stewardship is personal as well as communal. When church leaders look beyond the needs of the church, as they did in Wichita, and focus their stewardship education efforts on the need for the individual person to grow in his or her discipleship, then they discover the power and the beauty of this spirituality. Encouraging people to embrace stewardship in their day-to-day walk as a disciple of Jesus helps them to grow in holiness. Only in this way are we then being faithful to the stewardship we find in the Gospel. Growing in holiness, this is my ‘white hot’ why! I love what stewardship has done for me as I strive to be the best disciple I can be, and that is why I am so passionate about sharing this way of life with others. All of this should remind us that stewardship is not a program, it is a response to our call to be disciples.
Stewardship is not a new program, but is Continuous and Permanent. Stewardship is a way of life, not a program. We regularly experience spiritual programs and movements that come, flourish, diminish, and disappear, only to be replaced by others. These programs and movements do great good, and we will always have them, but there is a problematic instability in going from program to program, a kind of a boom and bust pattern. Stewardship, however, is so deeply rooted in the foundational themes of the Gospel that it involves a permanent and continuous reorientation of our approach to discipleship, and so provides a stable base for the life of faith in our communities. Stewardship calls for nothing less than both individual and communal conversion, rooted in faith and fruitful in action. Stewardship is not a new program, or some magic solution to the challenges we face. It means a change of heart for each of us, a spirit of gratitude that permeates the whole of our life as disciples. That is its greatest benefit.
Thomas Cardinal Collins
2004 Pastoral Letter – Stewardship: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
As stewardship leaders, we must be steadfast in our commitment to not permit stewardship to slide down that slippery slope to becoming a church ‘program’ designed merely to get more volunteers or money in the offering. How then do we consistently raise stewardship to its rightful place in the life of the authentic Christian Disciple? This is an important question and I’d be grateful to hear about your experience in dealing with it. I will share some of my experience in coming posts.
Always grateful and hopeful in our good and gracious God,