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Faithraising, not fundraising

 

Cultivate generous hearts before passing the offering plate

By Rhonda Kruse | Presbyterians Today

Antonio Ochoa/Unsplash

In the minds of many Presbyterians, the concept of stewardship is forever linked to the church’s fall fundraising campaign to support the budget. This multi-week drive culminates in “Stewardship Sunday,” during which pledge cards are brought forward and prayers are offered that the money represented there will be enough. This process makes some people so uncomfortable that they confess to skipping church, claiming, “I don’t want to listen to talk about money for an entire month.”

It’s unfortunate that money has become such a negative word in the minds of people of faith. Money is, after all, a profoundly spiritual issue in that what we do with our money and possessions matters deeply to God.

Sadly, many churchgoers don’t receive this message on a consistent basis but instead hear about these things just once a year. Yet the stewardship of money and possessions is a theological concept deeply rooted in Scripture. Starting with “In the beginning, God created … ,” the Bible describes all the ways God has acted on our behalf and all that God has given to the world. In short, it all belongs to God and it’s by God’s grace that it’s given to us.

Church leaders would do well to teach and preach about stewardship in this way throughout the year because, as the Rev. Dr. William G. Enright, former senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and a senior fellow at Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, writes, “Joyful and generous givers are people who have grown givers’ hearts before the offering plate is passed.” Or, perhaps, before the pledge card is signed.

1 Peter 4:10, part of a series of exhortations to faithful discipleship, reminds us, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” 

Here the author refers to God’s gifts as manifold — not just a few, but an abundant variety of spiritual and material gifts. Note that because they are “gifts,” that doesn’t mean they now belong to us. God does not transfer ownership but rather entrusts them to our care, meaning the question is not what do we want to do with these abundant gifts, but what does God want us to do with them? Clearly, what God wants is for us to practice good stewardship.

Merriam-Webster defines “stewardship” as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” This is where faithful discipleship comes in. As disciples, we are accountable to God and we are responsible to care for, wisely manage and use God’s gifts in support of others and all of creation. The good news is that in sharing what we’ve been given, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. In our giving, we participate in God’s gracious love for the world and become the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors. Matthew 25:31–46 is a clear illustration of this, showing that when, in faith, we share what we have for the benefit of others, we meet Jesus in their faces.

In this way, stewardship and a congregation’s mission are intimately connected. People of faith want to be part of a church that is making a difference. Stewardship gives them that opportunity. Perhaps this is how we can reclaim the word “stewardship” for the church — by connecting in people’s hearts and minds how the money they give furthers God’s work.

As Henri Nouwen once said, “Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the kingdom.” I would add that it’s also an opportunity for people to grow in their faith.

Maybe fundraising should be renamed “faithraising” in our churches, becoming a year-round educational program about the spiritual aspects of money and possessions and how God would have us steward the gifts we’ve been given.

Instead of fall letters and sermons about bills and budgets, stories could be shared about how our gifts are making a difference in the community and the world through the mission and ministries of the church. If there must be an annual culmination of stewardship efforts, perhaps Stewardship Sunday should become Discipleship Sunday instead. In any case, let us find creative ways to help fellow Presbyterians understand how what we do with our money and possessions impacts our faith and our life together in God’s kingdom.

The Rev. Rhonda Kruse is the mission engagement advisor for the Synods of Lakes and Prairies, Mid-America and the Rocky Mountains. She has served with the Presbyterian Mission Agency since September 2016. Prior to that, she was the connections and change presbyter in Hudson River Presbytery. She has served congregations in New Jersey, Indiana and New York.

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