For a project to be revealed later (how’s that for suspense?), Alex Benson has recently read through hundreds of past stewardship newsletters. I thought that presented a wonderful opportunity, and invited Alex to share her takeaways from her marathon stewardship reading sessions. The top ten list below is a splendid summary of our archive. Where is your congregation aligned with these takeaways? What ones might you engage anew?
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship Marathon: Top Ten Takeaways
It’s truly been a gift to read, listen to, and otherwise absorb the wisdom of the stewardship community connected through this newsletter. One of my tasks this past semester as a program assistant for the Center for Stewardship Leaders was to read and archive the entirety of the newsletter pieces on the website. (Fun fact: as of today, there are 720 pieces, dating back to 2001!) As I read, I was struck by a number of recurring themes that ran throughout. On the off-chance that you don’t have time to read all 700+ posts, I’ve collected the top 10 stewardship takeaways that emerged from my reading:
- Christian stewardship is rooted in the nature of God’s very self.
Throughout Scripture, God creates and nourishes life and abundantly provides for God’s people time and again, despite difficult, sometimes near-impossible circumstances. In Jesus, God gives the gift of God’s very self, embodying radical love, mercy, and hospitality. In the Spirit, we encounter the God who stirs the early church into existence, calling communities together who share all things in common and then sending them out in mission. Abundance, generosity in love, and mission — grounding principles of Christian stewardship.
- Generosity begins with hearing the cries of our neighbors, but the act of giving also transforms the giver.
In order to be faithful stewards of our money, our time, and our vocations, we must listen carefully to the needs and experiences of our neighbors. However, we can also expect to be transformed through acts of generosity and shouldn’t be surprised to discover that as people of God, we actually have a need to give. After all, we are made in God’s image.
- Stewardship practices are often learned within the context of one’s family.
Many of today’s stewardship leaders remember watching their parents write out checks to the church even when money was tight, delivering meals to sick or elderly neighbors with their siblings, or setting aside 10% of their babysitting money to give to people in need. We learn much from our families of origin, and churches have a profound opportunity to engage entire families in conversations around stewardship.
- Storytelling and stewardship go hand-in-hand.
Our brains are wired for story. While a budget spreadsheet has the power to convey facts about how much money is needed to meet a goal, stories of lived human experience have the power to invite people fully into ministry and mission. In an era of growing consumerism and mistrust of institutions, the Church more than ever needs to share with intention and integrity the impact of stewardship practices through stories of the Spirit’s diverse and beautiful work among us.
- People really are longing to talk about the intersections of faith and finances– preferably before the annual stewardship campaign.
We live in a culture in which faith and finances are often confined to distinct realms of life, at least until the church asks for money. However, Scripture has much to say about the ways in which we manage our resources, and a number of posts from this newsletter suggest that people really are longing to explore what it means to manage financial resources with faith at the center.
- In order to cultivate life-giving stewardship practices, the church must be attuned to the cultural context of its people.
For example, while the practice of collecting offering in baskets during the service certainly has theological significance, the reality is that many people simply no longer carry cash or checks; instead, online and electronic giving is on the rise. Creating space for people’s preferred giving methods is an act of hospitality and establishes greater connection between people’s charitable giving practices in the church and to the broader community.
- Stewardship is certainly about money, but it’s also about how we manage all of life.
While financial stewardship is an important part of the stewardship conversation, as people of God, we have been called to steward all of life. This includes nurturing and giving generously of our time, our talents, and our vocations, keeping in mind the needs of our neighbors and all of creation.
- Similarly, stewardship is not solely defined by what one gives to the church.
As Christians, we profess that God cares about all of life, not just one’s church attendance on Sunday morning or one’s financial contribution in the offering plate. While churches certainly want to encourage members to give financially and otherwise to the ministries of particular congregations, stewardship leaders do well to recognize other forms of charitable giving as participating in the work of God’s kingdom.
- Effective stewardship leaders practice the art of saying, “thank you.”
Generosity is often born from gratitude. When we recognize all of life as a gift, we are more likely to share of that gift as an act of thanksgiving. Similarly, stewardship leaders are called to recognize the gifts that others offer, financial or otherwise, and to respond with gratitude to the giver. Cultivating a climate of gratitude helps grow future acts of generosity.
- Stewardship resources abound!
It turns out that the Body of Christ is overflowing with gifts for stewardship leadership: the newsletter archives are filled with reviews of books by biblical scholars, theologians, and leaders in finance, Bible studies and devotions on stewardship, sample sermons, temple talks and newsletter write-ups, prayers and stewardship hymn suggestions, tips for seeking personal financial wellness, and ideas for congregational stewardship campaigns. Check them out!
Alexandra Benson is an MDiv student at Luther Seminary and serves as Program Assistant & Editorial Fellow for the Center for Stewardship Leaders.
Upcoming Stewardship Education
Lakeside will present the Generosity and Stewardship Conference on August 6-9, 2017. Major keynote speakers include: The Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith, Executive Pastor of Generosity at Church of the Resurrection, J. Clif Christopher, author and founder of Horizon and Bishop Ivan Abraham, former Presiding Bishop of Methodist Church in Southern Africa. Lakeside Chautauqua is located in Ohio along Lake Erie with a beautiful backdrop of spiritual opportunities, educational lectures, cultural arts performances and recreational activities. www.lakesideohio.com/generosity
Upcoming Learning Experiences
Hybrid Ministry in a Post-Pandemic Church
Understanding, Exploring, & Managing Bias and Burnout
Mere Science and Christian Faith
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