The fundamental principle of biblical stewardship is that God owns everything – we are simply managers or administrators acting on his behalf. Stewardship expresses our obedience regarding the administration of everything God has placed under our control, which is all encompassing. Stewardship is the commitment of one’s self and possessions to God’s service, recognizing that we do not have the right of control over our property or ourselves. In other words, stewardship is all that I do, with all that I have, after I say, I believe.
However, when priests talk about stewardship and what it means, Bishop Douglas Hambidge suggests that our eyes glaze over.” He says that if you tell the congregation that the sermon is on stewardship, you’ll lose all of them, except perhaps the parish treasurer, who hopes you’ll drum up a few more dollars to ease the pressure on the budget.”
Why is this? Why has stewardship or the “S” word gotten so much bad press? Bishop Hambidge, a well known stewardship writer and thinker, had this to say: “It is a long sad story. In Canada, it began when all necessary funding came from the Church of England. When that was cut off and we were on our own, we had to raise money, and we called it stewardship.”
Douglas reflected back on the various “campaigns” which has had limited success when it comes to stewardship. For example, the “Every Member Canvass” which called for a group of laymen to visit everyone on the parish list armed with a calculator. Their role was to discover what percentage of the parishioner’s income they were planning to give to the church. The Bishop described this as ‘Mission Impossible’ and the level of anger increased while the income did not. Another effort was called the Wells campaign which called for a parish dinner calling for public declarations of pledges for the next year. This initiative, he says, was soon a nasty word and the plan faded from the scene.
Next the national church came out with the ‘sector plan’ which suggested the time honoured slogan, “time, talent and treasure” but this boiled down to a thinly disguised attempt to balance the budget.
The problem, according to Douglas, was that “deep down inside, people were convinced the real motive of all stewardship talk was to get them to raise their financial giving level, to provide the church with the support it needed to keep going.”
Every one of the motivations asks the wrong question. In various ways they are asking what the church needs, what project is planned, what crisis has arisen. They are asking to be told what would be a fair contribution, or are they assuming that current giving levels do not need to be revisited.
The Bishop wonders if there is another way of looking at stewardship in relation to what motivates our giving? He suggests the best known verse in the whole of scripture says it all: “God so loved the world that he gave…..John 3:16”
These words sum up God’s attitude towards giving and God’s giving is motivated by God’s love. The Bishop says we have always known this, but most of us fail to relate it directly to stewardship and our approach to giving.
What does this mean? Bishop Douglas clarifies the question : “We are called not so much to engage in stewardship programs as to be stewards. This means that life is lived as an offering of faith and thanksgiving, and in full awareness of the giving of God, which calls from us a life of giving in response.”
Kevin Smith is a gift planning consultant for the Anglican Church of Canada and a long time member of the Parish of St. Mark’s. He can be reached at 709 739-5667 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org