A Stewardship Story

So, my friend Ken has been stewardship chair at his congregation for the past 3 years. What a soldier! We were talking, and I mentioned that we’ve recruited a new chair at Christ Church. He thought that was pretty interesting!

“What did you tell her about it?”

I got thinking about it. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember what all I told her. But I do remember that it kind of fired her up a little bit. Of course, I’m relieved to have a replacement. Leading stewardship is usually like marriage – till death do we part. Councils love you for taking up that cross, and they never want you to leave. Heck, every time I told someone I was thinking of doing something else, they’d say:

“Denied. Not allowed!”

Nice vote of confidence, that! And to tell the truth, if it wasn’t for discernment, I might still be chair.

Because it changed my life.

So for Ken’s sake, I thought I’d bang out some thoughts about it. What would I tell you about the pleasure of stewardship?

It never belonged to us in the first place.

I was reading Giving to God, by Mark Allen Powell, and watching his Biblical Stewardship video series. He kind of has a central message about how our possessions never belonged to us in the first place. Everything belongs to God. Apologies to every pastor I know, but I don’t think I’d ever heard that message before. Kind of a kick in the head, but it worked for me. I started to realize that this thought brings huge liberation. Because, what if I’d never happened to have the things I have? No guarantees on that. What have I got to lose, really?

And then a story….

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy landowner with three trusted servants. About to take a trip, he entrusted one with many talents, another with some talents, and the last with one talent. The first two got all entrepreneurial, and made many more talents each. The last, not so much. So when Master returns, the first two excitedly gave him quite a profit. And he was so very pleased with them!

But that last one – he was terrified. He buried that talent, and gave it back. For he knew his Master was harsh, and reaped where he did not sow. And what did the Master do? Sent that worthless slave to the land of teeth gnashing!

My creative paraphrase… Now, that story always made my head explode. Sounds like God really demands a lot from us, doesn’t it? So, what do we naturally do? We up our giving so that God doesn’t kill us. And we love to prove ourselves. Thanks for that one, Jesus!

When you start to believe in a God of grace and trust, everything gets sticky. How in the world do we make any sense of this story? It finally dawned on me that this is a story of faith. The God who trusts has decided for us. We didn’t choose to be God’s stewards – God just up and made us stewards. Deal with it. But that’s a lot of trust – God trusting us with his most precious treasures. And we’re a sketchy bunch. Would you just invite some shifty dude off the street to watch your house for you? Right. But that’s the kind of crazy God we believe in. Do you feel honored? I sure do.

And what about the grace? You know, the landowner was already wealthy. I’m sure he was more than capable of increasing his own wealth. Yet, he incorporated his servants anyway. That’s a pretty risky business plan if you ask me! Where I’m going with this, is that God never expected us to be his hedge fund managers. God made us and knows us. You know, when you’re accepted for who you are, and loved unconditionally, you feel a lot of freedom to risk, and try, and experiment. Wouldn’t you rather believe in that kind of God? Those first two servants were pretty amazing. Maybe we’ll be amazing too.

But what about that last servant? Woe to him! That’s the sticky part that we always obsess over. Because that’s the God that most of us end up believing in. And don’t we just end up living in hell because of it? Let alone if we don’t even tithe 10%! Yipes! Well, truth be told, whatever gave you the idea that 10% was enough? You can’t give enough. 100% isn’t enough. 1000% isn’t enough. All the money in the world isn’t enough. Hedge fund manager indeed. There would be no hope for us, just like that last servant. You could say he got exactly what he expected to get. But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll stick with my God of grace and trust. And grace and trust is just what I expect to get. How about you? Which God would you rather believe in?

That’s my God.

So because that’s what I think God is all about, then that makes me want to be very generous. I can think of God having provided me with many resources that I can tend and care for. Because I feel trusted, I feel like I can do good things with what I have. And that makes me want to. I don’t have to be generous, I want to be generous.

It’s not just about money.

And that’s where stewardship often falls flat. It’s always about money! What about the rest of our lives? Our gifts and our abilities? If you believe in a God of trust and grace, you can believe in a God of vocation. Calling. Calling us to share our gifts and abilities with the world. Frederick Buechner wrote that:

Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.

When the cross is our great liberation, we’re free. I mean, incredibly, unimaginably free. To be, to do, to act. So, how about we learn more about ourselves? What’s our passion? What do we want to share with others? And in that, we can finally, totally, be who we really are. Isn’t that what we wish and hope for? And what about those parts of ourselves that we haven’t even discovered yet? What do you want to learn? To try? To explore? What if we haven’t even discovered our greatest passion yet? The liberation of the cross doesn’t ask us to meet others unreasonable standards. It invites us, begs us, to learn to love ourselves the way that Christ loves us. To discover how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made.

That makes me want to help others discover their vocation. Their calling. To help them unbind themselves from the embedded theology that has burdened them with a sad lie. Stewardship is a way to do that. Church doesn’t have to be about getting you to just sign up for what they want you to do. Church can be a place for you to discover the truth about yourself, and to embrace a promise that will never, ever be taken from you. If you never heard it before, I want to tell you that God is for you.

So that’s what stewardship is all about.

I think that must be a lot of what I shared, when we were trying to encourage our new stewardship chair to sign up. It’s not about keeping our church going – it’s about the possibility and promise of what we can be. And guess what happens in the process? The church keeps going. But my faith tells me this is true. So, stewardship is scary, no lie. What if they won’t give, or be, or do? But I’d rather hang onto a promise, than live in fear. And I still hear about other churches and their stewardship programs, that make me weep. But at Christ Church, we don’t have to do or be like them. We have the chance to tell a story, and extend an invitation, for the life of the world, and for our own sakes.

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