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Stewardship is a spiritual discipline, not fund-raising


If you were to plan a Spiritual Development ministry for your church, you might start with prayer: the simple but far-reaching act of talking to God.

Your second element might be meditation: the not-quite-so-simple act of listening to God.

On you would go with study, worship, confession – each harder the one before.

Finally, you would get to the hardest and perhaps most critical Spiritual Discipline of all: stewardship. This is the culmination of all the work you have done to transform constituents’ lives and draw them closer and closer to God.

Churches have tended to view stewardship as fund-raising. It generates the revenue side of the church budget. It takes place in the fall, after a few weeks of planning by leaders focused on how to make a lively appeal. A few people will speak to their experience with stewardship. Pledge cards will be handed out and the results tallied. Toward the end of the year, leaders will complete the operating budget for the coming year.

My advice: if you’re about to launch or just getting started, it’s too late for this year. You might get a revenue number for the budget, but you won’t have done much for the spiritual development of your flock.

Instead, launch a solid year of teaching, praying, talking, learning from experience, and asking leaders to lead the way. For now, just ask people to keep giving what they’re giving now. Your sights must be set on transforming your constituents’ lives. That takes time, not a clever brochure.

For example, stewardship comes at the end of the Israelites’ wilderness wandering, not the beginning. After 40 years in the wilderness, they were about to cross into the promised land of Canaan. Moses gave them their creed – “A wandering Aramean was my father….” in Deuteronomy 26. Then he told them how to live in the land: after the harvest, bring the first tenth portion to the priest and lay it before God, for the benefit of widows and orphans. That tithe would express their relationship with God.

Jesus devoted an estimated two-thirds of his teaching to wealth and power. His message: you can’t serve both God and Mammon, and the wealth you have you must share with others. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.

Mainline Christians currently give at less than 1% of their harvest, or a small fraction of what God expects. We have let people down. We haven’t taught them the better way. We haven’t enabled them to experience the joy and meaning that come from sacrificial giving. We haven’t shown them the right relationship with God that occurs when you give back to the Lord of the harvest.

It isn’t that we have failed to raise enough money for our churches’ survival. We have failed to nurture Christians who are steeped in generosity, gratitude and self-sacrifice. Those are the missing elements in modern business, in modern politics, in modern culture. A culture of self-serving to the point of cheating and coarseness to the point of bullying has come about partly because spiritual leaders have been taking the easy road of fund-raising, not training stewards. A people steeped in Christian stewardship wouldn’t behave the way people today are behaving.

My suggestion: unless you have spent the past year training your people in the spiritual discipline of stewardship, don’t try to cram it all into the next few weeks. You would just cheapen their ministries as Christians. Instead, plan a solid year of stewardship training in 2017, and then invite people into harvest giving in the fall of 2017.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.


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