A New Beginning

The Rev. Rod Sprange, Pastor of Stewardship

 

Stewardship Defined

Stewardship is responding to God’s radical generosity with responsible gratitude. This means leading grateful and generous lives; valuing God’s gifts and seeking to use them to do God’s will and to God’s glory.

As Christians we believe that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God: all of creation; our lives; all that we have; our relationships; our abilities and intellects; our faith; our capacity to love and recognize beauty - there is nothing that is not given to us by God as a sacred trust.

The fruits of Christian Stewardship become evident when we affirm our gratitude to God by our generosity of spirit.

Generosity of spirit is what Jesus taught and demonstrated. It is when we are generous in our actions, our relationships, and in how we utilize all that God has entrusted to us. It is evident when we put another’s needs before our own desires, when we seek to serve and not be served, when we act with kindness and compassion even when it is costly or requires some sacrifice. It is evident when we joyfully share our wealth and belongings with the church and with others. To succeed in doing this we need to put all our trust in Christ. We need to learn to trust.

 

Background

With some brief exceptions over the years, stewardship at St. Peter’s has been approached in a low-key manner. While the principles of stewardship have been evident in various sermons, presentations and programs, visible formal strategies or implementation plans have been the exception to the rule. In creating the role of Pastor of Stewardship, our parish has signalled that it will be more intentional and direct in offering stewardship programs that inform and provide practical ways for each of us to grow as Christian disciples.

When we use the term ‘stewardship’ most most of us hear ‘appealing for money for church’, and of course that is partly right. The church does need our financial support. Every organization needs funds to operate, and this means appealing to our members for donations. But more importantly, stewardship is about our recognition of God’s generosity. This recognition leads to a strong sense of gratitude that affects the way we live our lives and in turn make generous use of the gifts God has entrusted to us.

The Stewardship Development Group, the Corporation and Vestry believe we should enable and encourage our parish to move towards a more intentional Culture of Generosity. Individually a goal would be to nurture and exhibit the generosity of spirit described above.

The good news is that we are blessed with many generous people within our worshipping community - the issue is whether or not we see the mission of our church as a priority for our generosity? Do we believe in the criticality of the church’s existence and the continuation of its ministries? Have we thought about the church as a priority and where it fits in our hierarchy of priorities? Do we see supporting the church as giving back to God - or as just another bill? Do we see church as just another competing service offered to a consuming public?

Generosity is not just about sharing our financial wealth, it is about sharing our other resources, our abilities, and our time. It is about our willingness to take risks - to move away from our comfort zone, to be willing to put the needs of others above our own desires - and that all depends upon trust and faith.

This reflection assumes that establishing a culture of generosity requires that we build on two fundamental theological foundations.

  1. Trust: First we need to become a worshipping community that can honestly say “I believe in God”; not in the sense of “I believe God exists”, but in the sense of “I trust God.” This would be similar to the way we may say of a trusted friend “I believe in you, I believe you will be there for me if I am in trouble. I believe you will be there to celebrate with me when things go well”. When we trust in God, and as we hear the scriptures and witness the wonders and beauty of creation we start to recognize the extravagance of God’s love and generosity. This sense of Trust leads us to the next theological underpinning Gratitude.

  2. Gratitude: We live in a world of abundance - yet we are repeatedly told and come to believe we live in a time of scarcity. The challenge is to develop and build on changed perceptions: from fear to trust; and from a perception of scarcity (which leads to hoarding, selfishness and greed) to an acknowledgement of the abundance of God’s creation. This can open our hearts to a deep sense of gratitude for God’s abundant love and overflowing generosity.

 

A Culture of Generosity

If we are able to instil these two foundational theological beliefs in our community we should then be in a position to ask “What are we going to do (individually and collectively) to respond faithfully to God and to demonstrate our trust (faith) to a sceptical world?”

How will we respond to God’s extravagant generosity to us? Once we can truly acknowledge that everything we have and everything we are has come from God we start to think and act differently. Perhaps we can come to understand that these gifts have been entrusted to us. And while we are allowed free will to do with them as we please, when we really start to believe, we see that God is trusting us to use them to do God’s will. Jesus spent time in the wilderness struggling with how he should best use the power and authority God had given him, trying to discern God’s will for him. We also need to struggle with how best we make use of everything God has provided us and to discern God’s will for us. In the general confession each week we say “…that we might delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name”.

Stewardship should be a joyful offering to God, not a painful obligation e.g. writing a cheque to the church should feel entirely different than paying the Hydro bill.
Like Jesus, each of us needs to reflect on our own stewardship - how God is calling us to use the gifts that have been entrusted to us; our generous response to God’s generosity to us. The Stewardship Development Group will offer opportunities throughout the year to help us in these reflections.

Stewardship is about what I do with everything I have once I say I believe. We can say this individually and collectively for our parish. We say the creed and declare our belief (trust) in God. This should affect what we do with everything God has entrusted to our parish. We should consider this in all our corporate decision making and affirm its importance in our personal decision making.

We are talking about much more than money for the church, or even the stewardship of our time, talents and treasures. We are talking about a fundamentally different way of seeing the world and our role in it. A generosity of spirit goes far beyond stewardship. It includes things like our generosity to another’s need to be heard, showing empathy to others, letting others go ahead of us, being slower to judgment. We want to establish this foundation as a priority for our parish and create stewardship programs that flow from this vision of the world.

 

Stewardship Programs

We recognize we have individual and collective stewardship responsibilities.
As individuals, it is to our spiritual benefit to examine the areas of time, abilities, Christian formation and financial resources.

  1. Each of us has the opportunity to use our time for God’s work;
  2. We can discern our spiritual gifts and abilities and how to use them for God’s work in ways that bring us a sense of fulfilment;
  3. Christian faith is not static, we need to commit ourselves to exploring the Christian faith and growing in Christian discipleship (Christian Formation);
  4. And, we can look at our financial and other resources and determine how God might be calling us to use them in God’s service.

As we do this we should consider how we support the church’s operation and ministries as well as how we support God’s work beyond the church. In other words, exploring the way we use our time, abilities and resources within the purview of the church, and how we use them in all other parts of our lives.

On the collective side we need to be good stewards of the resources that come to us as a parish: Money, property, equipment, furnishings, people, potential partners etc. And again we need to consider how we use these responsibly and effectively both to develop and nurture our worshipping community but also how we use them to the benefit of God’s work in our neighbourhood, and in the wider world (mission and outreach).

 

Financial Stewardship within the parish

This is where stewardship programs and plans can become confusing with mixed messages. On the one hand we all know we have great need for generous financial support from our parish family. On the other hand we don’t want to use approaches or programs that create a sense of guilt or are manipulative. We will want to give generously to the church because we love God and when we believe the church is valuable in carrying out God’s work; not because we are told it’s our duty. We will be more willing to give and participate in the ministry of the church when it has significant meaning in our lives. If, in our parish life, we experience generosity of spirit we are more likely to want to pass along what we have experienced to future generations and ensure a lasting legacy beyond our own years here. On the other hand, we really need to know and understand the financial realities of the parish on an ongoing basis, and to review our own or family’s financial contribution. The unfortunate reality is that without some form of financial stewardship program most of us will just slide from year to year making the same offering.

 

Church Growth

It is natural to want our church to grow in terms of numbers of worshippers. Good stewardship includes the desire to welcome people to our worshiping community so they know they belong. But we should not confuse the desire for growth in membership with a desire for increased income. The motivation for encouraging new membership should be for the spiritual wellbeing of the new member. We must offer and be seen to be offering them love and hope, not grasping onto them as a source of increased revenue or as another body to help with the work. We all need to be very vigilant in the way we talk about wanting to see more families and individuals joining our church. We must be clear that we want to share the gift of belonging to a Christian family that worships, studies, prays and plays together; to share being part of a community of faith where we feel valued and loved for the person we are without judgement; and because we want to share our faith in the triune God sharing the gift of hope with them. We must avoid making it sound like we want new people for their money.

 

The Challenge

Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to gift us with wisdom and courage as, together, we commit to becoming a faith community that exemplifies Generosity of Spirit. Amen