Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reflections on Stewardship and Giving

At most churches I've ever been a part of, the season just before Thanksgiving is devoted to Stewardship. In a lot of cases, this is translated as "that time when the church doesn't only ask you to put money in the offering plate, but asks you to tell them how much money you're going to put into the offering plate over the next year." Needless to say, such a characterization makes Stewardship season somewhat unpopular. This sentiment seems to be shared by membership and leadership alike.

Especially given the economic difficulties throughout the news these days, with so many people not even sure how secure their jobs are, I expect that the difficulty is even more pronounced in 2008 than it is most years. But, as hard as it is for most of us, times are tight for churches, too. And since churches do depend on donations from the people who attend, there's little avoiding the need for churches to ask for those donations.

There are, of course, Biblical instructions on giving to God, but I'm not really looking to argue whether or not people should be giving tithes (generally understood to be 10% of one's income) or some other "expected" formula. Rather, I'm thinking about how a church that wishes to be sensitive to the needs of its people (including those to whom giving any amount, let alone 10%, might well be an excessive burden) yet also faithful to the mission God has given to it, not to mention just faithfully paying whatever staff works there (Let's be honest. It takes money to do these things, and besides my reflections on this matter in the past, I'm reminded of Luke 10:7, which tells us that "workers deserve their wages") manages to juggle these responsibilities.

I'm a strong believer that how one asks for money can make all the difference. I've seen some attempts that were downright insulting, and which certainly didn't encourage me to give, no matter how much the money might have been needed. I think that a successful request for funds (or, more properly, pledges to give in the future) must acknowledge that giving can be difficult, and won't lay on the guilt too thick (there are those who argue that tithing, let alone giving, is an obligation. Even so, I don't think guilt is the way to go if you're looking for people to actually do it!). Moreover, I think that giving is (or at least, should be) an act of worship, and so a Stewardship letter does well to acknowledge this.

My wife was asked to compose a Stewardship letter for the church in which she works, and I think she successfully kept all these concerns in proper balance. With her permission, I share the text of that letter below:
The month of October is a time when we give greater attention to what is commonly called “Stewardship.” While considering how to wisely and thoughtfully give of our money, time, and abilities is a year-round activity and an integral part of our life of faith, October is when we as a community will consider this more deeply together. On November 2, you will be invited to respond to the invitation to be a part of our vision of “Building Up, Reaching Out” by making a financial commitment to the ministries of (our church) for the coming year.

As I write this, I am particularly mindful of headlines these days. Talk of money is in the air in unprecedented ways, and many of us are doing an extra review of our budgets to make sure ends meet. While talk of Stewardship may seem insensitive at this time, please consider this season an invitation to consider how our faith and our money relate to each other rather than as a burden. Committing a portion of our financial resources to the Church is an important way to recognize the connection between what we believe and what we live. If you have been especially hard hit by current financial circumstances, please consider this letter instead an invitation to receive prayer, the love and concern of our community, and the further pastoral support that (our church) can offer you.

Our Stewardship theme—“Building Up, Reaching Out,”—sums up a critical aspect of what it means to be church. Through our learning and response to Scripture, through our sharing the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and through sharing life’s ups and downs, we become able to reach out and offer Christ’s love to our community. While pledging is about giving money, it is also on a deeper level about giving of ourselves. Pledging is also the primary way that we address the very real budgetary needs that must be met in order for (our church) to continue its vital ministries. Every pledge towards this end helps, big or small. Thank you for taking the time to consider how you can make a commitment to the ministries of (our church).

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