16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3: 16-17
Stewardship. Giving. Campaigns. Budgets. Fiscal years. Volunteer organization. Time and Talents.
These words, and many others, tend to make congregational leaders– institutional leaders in general– cringe. These are the words that make me cringe when individuals ask my advice or opinion, words that make me want to remind them of my age and lack of experience in ministry (who EVER wants to do that!?) Thankfully when the topic of stewardship came up not once, but twice, this past weekend, I was able to tell the congregations to “stay tuned” because I would be taking part in a Continuing Education event about stewardship this week. With that in mind, I offer this two part reflection as a follow-up to Nicole’s post last week.
Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Leadership Institute is beginning to wrap up the academic year, but the final offerings are just as important as those that occurred last September (check out the remaining events here!) This week I have been able to take part in a course entitled “Stewardship: Preaching and Teaching Generosity” led by Revs. Laura and Chuck Mendenhall (MA, 1971 and M. Div., 1973 respectively). The first portion of this course has focused on the Pastor of a congregation as one of the main building blocks for generosity in the Church in the areas of pastoral presence, pastoral conversation, and pastoral initiative. The first portion of the course encouraged those in attendance to reflect on their own ministry to see where they have seen generosity present and how we can encourage generosity in the future. Further, it asked the question “in an era when there isn’t enough, how do we practice, nurture, teach, and preach generosity?”
The first thing that I want say here is what I did tell the members at Cann Memorial Presbyterian Church (Elizabeth City, NC) during our lunch time conversation this past Sunday– stewardship (generosity in the frame of this course) is not only about finances, but includes our time and talents– our life and energy– as well. This reflection is written and shared in that light.
As we began to think about generosity during our ConEd course this week, we took time to think about the most, least, and average givers whom we have met along the way, discussing why each level of giving might occur. As I thought about my own giving to the Church and other organizations, I decided to reach out to some friends to hear what they had to say– friends who are not in ministry. I asked what encouraged them or deterred them from giving (to the Church or any other institution). In light of reading Diana Butler Bass’s “Grounded” (check out my recent post here), I honestly wasn’t that surprised to find out that most people give when it is to something they can connect with, something that has a clear and established purposed beyond a “general fund”.
As human beings, as relational individuals, we seek to connect. We tend to seek to know God in one another’s presence, in nature, and in the world around us (locally and worldwide). We are encouraged to give when those connections are already taking place in our own life and when we see an opportunity for them to take place in the world and lives around us because of our gift. When we see the Holy Spirit moving through our gift of energy and finances, we are able to experience God’s gift to us in a new and incredible way.
As congregational leaders (pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, etc), we are called to develop relationships with one another and with the members of the congregation, and to help one another see other relationships that have developed within the congregation, the community, and the world – not through our own actions but through God’s love and grace, God’s ultimate generosity. We are expected to share how we see God’s generosity in our own lives, as well as how we return that generosity even through something as simple as making sure that we ourselves put our name on the volunteer sign-up sheet or a check in the offering plate and also making it be known WHY we do this. As congregational leaders, we are looked to and expected to be the building blocks, the models, of returning God’s generosity to the Church.
The Scripture verses above kept coming to mind throughout our discussions this week. Our generosity, giving of our life’s energy and our finances, is one of the many ways that God’s love can be and is shared with our neighbors- our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our generosity in the we build relationships, the way we preach and teach, and most importantly– our generosity in the way we live our daily lives– is what good stewardship is built on. When we seek to share God’s love and grace in each of our gifts of our life and finances, we just might change the perception of those awful words– campaign, fundraising, giving, budgets– and our Church will transform and grow in ways we might never expect.
How do you preach and teach generosity in your own ministry setting?
Please share your stories so that we all might learn from you!
Stay tuned for “A Reflection on Stewardship, Pt 2”, coming later this week!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer