It seems the end of summer and approaching fall season aligns with the beginning of Stewardship campaigns. In seasons past, the return to school parallels a return to weekly attendance at one’s home church after a summer of vacation travels. The return of the scattered membership to its weekly gathering affords new programming, new projects, and an adjusted projection of spending and income.
Of course, this year has not followed tradition.
The losses have been deep: loss of jobs, loss of dreams (from closing of family businesses to cancellation of long desired wedding venues). The shift for many is to a mode of scarcity rather than abundance. In this turbulence of shifting patterns, new modes of working, and recovery of what indeed is essential, maybe we can reimagine stewardship as well.
My students and former parishioners will tell you I am always suggesting that as a community of Christians, we offer a glimpse of the presence of God’s peace on earth. So, a steward is a person who is actively and intentionally imitating Jesus in their everyday life. I am a preacher, and I was significantly imprinted by the description of the Christian preacher as a steward of The Story…an agent intent and eager to see the consequences of that telling influencing in personal and social history, as described in “Stewards of The Story: The Task of Preaching” by James Earl Massey. I love the idea of a steward being one who remembers and retells the stories that testify to the presence of God in the world. We then live so the drama narrated in Scripture continues to unfold today. In this way, stewardship curates the good news of God’s justice on earth rather than just funds a capital campaign for projects.
This suggests stewardship is more than the money. There must be resources to make things happen—but the financial piece is a means to an end, rather than a measure of success. Making disciples of Jesus who feed the hungry, shelter and clothe the homeless, reform systems of education and detention—these are the campaigns that witness to a God who is forming a community of belonging that revels in outcasts and mocks the powerbrokers of society. These are stories like the story of transformative generosity found in Acts 2:43-47, the story of caring for the least of these as described in Matthew 25:31-46, and having an abundance mindset as outlined in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and demonstrated in Exodus 15 and 16. These are the campaigns that make our telling of the story worth repeating with our lives as much as our lips. Stewardship in this way recovers why we tell the story of a Creator God who chooses to make God’s home among humanity by bringing heaven to earth.
Imagine what could happen if your congregation scatters Monday through Saturday to live out the stories (and The Story) they heard on Sunday morning! When church is a spirit-filled movement with Jesus’ followers sharing God’s story by living their faith in the world every day, that is a compelling advertisement for the gospel and for generosity.