One of the things I love to check out is the currency of a country that we visit. Foreign currency is so much more colorful and artful than US currency. I love the design, the sizes, colors, pictures, the feel of the paper, etc. The images alone tell a story – a story of what’s important to a culture. For Costa Rica, the animals are important.
This coming weekend’s readings will commonly be classified as stewardship readings. It’s hard to avoid that label when you have the parable of the talents. But really, these readings are another in a series in Matthew on active waiting. In a sense, this is what stewardship is.
Often we equate stewardship only with money. Money is a piece of the puzzle, but it is only one piece of it. If money is the only part of stewardship, then we should just talk about money. The down side of that is that we raise the importance of money beyond what it should rise to.
Given that this is the season in which churches will be passing mission plans and budgets for the coming year, looking at stewardship is really important. And it comes down to the definition of what it means to be a steward and what stewardship is. There are many good resources out there on stewardship and I encourage people to tap into them. The Stewardship of Life Institute is one such resource.
Getting back to the main point, how we approach our mission plan/budget is important. What drives what is the question. Is money the driving force and determines what a church does? Or is the mission plan the driving force and money is a means to carry out the mission?
In our current age of declining churches, where the expectation is decline, many will fall to the first way of making a decision.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. That ways starts with the expectation that there is limitation – limited money, limited resources, and limits to what God can do, and what we can expect our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to respond to God’s call with.
Or we can start with the idea that God is a God of abundance and that God has big plans for us – to use us to make a big impact and change many people’s lives. This goes further than just that though – it’s the idea that changing people’s lives will lead to more people’s lives being changed and more people wanting to experience an encounter with Jesus.
Being a steward doesn’t mean hording what we have and burying it for safe keeping. Rather, we are called on to take what has been handed to us from God, and to go out and use it to expand the kingdom – God’s kingdom. As we do this, people will respond and lives will be changed. And more people will come in search of this Good News for their lives. This is how the Gospel is spread. This is how the kingdom unfolds. This is how we are called to be stewards.
Look out, the pastor’s going to talk about money!!! Take cover, the pastor wants to get into our wallets again! All the pastor ever does is talk about money! Doesn’t the pastor know that if we don’t like what’s going on we can cut our offering and it will impact the pastor’s compensation?
Stewardship. It’s not an easy topic for most pastors to talk about. Often it causes a great deal of stress. Often the people have a pretty negative view of stewardship too. It’s all about money.
Except it’s not. Stewardship is more than money. Money is a piece of it, but it’s not the whole thing. Stewardship is about caring for and advancing God’s kingdom through the resources that God blesses us with. At least that my simple definition for it anyway.
It’s more than money. Stewardship entails time, talent, treasure, and our selves too.
I’m reading a book called “The Steward” by Douglas John Hall, which was published in 1990. It’s a pretty good book on stewardship. It cuts to the heart of the fact that we in the west have a flawed view and understanding of stewardship. Part of the blame goes to Christendom – where the church propped up the state. But it goes beyond that.
Here’s what Hall wrote on pg. 77 that struck me when I read it:
Obedient stewards of God’s varied grace must act – unlike that clearly judicious servant who feared his actions might end in the loss of his paltry talent (Matt. 25:1ff). They must be ready to risk, to rush in where the angels of the intellect fear to tread. They must be prepared, too, to hear that they are fools. All they can do is to hope that their necessary folly might at last, thought God’s transforming grace, serve the cause of that ultimate wisdom that the wise ones and “debaters of this age” regularly miss (1 Cor. 1:18-19). Perhaps they will turn out to have been “fools for Christ,” after all (1 Cor. 4:10).
Another way of putting this is that we can’t sit by and wait. We can’t bury what we have and hope that the society will change and come knocking on our doors. We are called to be bold – to risk it all – for the sake of the Gospel.
We can either drip dry until we run out of resources and end up dead. Or we can be stewards and use what God has entrusted to us to expand God’s kingdom.
It’s risky. It’s scary. It means we aren’t in control. It may even mean the death of the church or a church.
But question is this – do we really believe what we claim to believe? Or are we just not so sure that God keeps God’s promises?
Stewardship is one of the most essential parts of a church. Not because churches need money to pay the bills. But rather because at the core of it, stewardship is ultimately about our relationship with God. Who is in charge? Us or God.
If we don’t talk about controversial topics and issues in church…then where are we going to talk about them?
On social media? That seems to be working out well, isn’t it?
In line buying groceries? See how far that will get you.
At Thanksgiving? LOL. Seriously? Not if you really want to enjoy Thanksgiving.
I can tell you this much – our children are talking about controversial issues with their friends and at school. No, probably not in a formal educational setting, but more in passing.
How are we equipping them to talk about such things like sex, drugs, addictions, money, etc?
The church should be a place where these conversations can happen, without shame, without scapegoating, without guilt. Rather, with love.
Are you ready for Sunday? It’s a big day of course. Lots of people are looking forward to it. I can’t believe that some people who really don’t care about it all though. They haven’t paid attention to it for years. It makes no sense. Just think of all the good things that come on Sunday. First the food. It will be amazing – some of the best there ever was. I know that where I’ll be we’ll have wine to celebrate and food that just makes me feel alive. And there will be plenty for everyone who comes.
As somebody who’s been thinking about and analyzing everything that’s going to happen on Sunday, I have to say I can’t wait to share my thoughts with the people I’ll be spending time with. I’ve been thinking about this Sunday all week – I just can’t keep my mind off of it. I’ve been reading other people’s analysis as well – there’s some great insights going around the web.
And half the fun is seeing who shows up on Sunday for our celebration and what they wear. I already have my uniform picked out and ready to go. There will be no denying where my allegiance will be.
At the beginning, I know there will be lots of confessing going on – people admitting that they aren’t really die hard fans, but they like what they hear or see. Some will say that they just aren’t ready to commit to either team. That might cause some friendships to end though. People are really serious about this stuff. Others will be back like before, just because it’s their habit to come. Still others will come because of the food – people gotta eat right?
Oh and the money that is spent for Sunday – wow, you can’t even imagine. It’s like people are just handing it over. Some people are really committed to this celebration.
I’m curious though what people will be talking about on Monday – the analysis, the food, who was there, something else?
When it’s all over, there will be smiles and sadness, laughter and tears, hopes fulfilled and hopes dashed. We’ll leave, go back to our lives and look forward to the next time when we can do it all again.
Yeah, I think I’m all ready for church. How about you?
Wait, did you think I was talking about something else?
What is the value of a person? How do you measure their worth?
Society and culture, at least American, find value in money. We exchange work for money. We also seem to define success based on wealth accumulation. We also talk about employees being a cost. Taking care of people costs money too. Educating people costs money. In our culture were really good at paying people to entertain us. And as a society we place a great deal of value on those who lead large for-profit organizations that produces goods or services.
But this is not the only way to measure value and worth.
Families seem to find value in time. Time spent together. Time invested in children. Time at sporting and school events. Time with friends. Time during holidays. Families exchange time for relationship building and trust.
But this isn’t the only way to measure value and worth either.
There are many ways in which we measure value and worth and I wonder – do we tap into these ways in our personal lives? Some other “currency” of value and worth we might consider are attention, silence, forgiveness, health, and capabilities. These are often more difficult to measure because they are more abstract and often subjective. Yet, they measure value and worth of a person in their own ways.
God has other ways of measuring value and worth too. Some overlap with ours and others don’t. Overall though, I’d go out on a limb here and say that God doesn’t get bogged down in the measuring of a person’s worth. I think God just values people and all of creation. In the midst of chaos and violence and destruction, sometimes it can be hard to see God’s value for creation and humanity. Yet, it’s there. It always has been. That’s God’s promise to us. And God always keeps God’s promises.
So, do you give money to a person holding a sign or a cup that says they are homeless and need help?
We’ve all come across people like this. There have been times when I have given money and times when I haven’t. There hasn’t been a rhyme or reason as to why I have sometimes and why I haven’t other times. Sometimes I give because I feel like it. Other times I give because I follow a feeling inside me that tells me to give. And other times I don’t give.
Here’s an article from someone who has decided to always give. I have a lot of respect for his reasoning and for what he does.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. The reality for me is a little different – I don’t come across people who are homeless where I am very often. I do come across people who need help though, so I think it’s similar.
Here’s the ideal solution – first, I stop worrying about time. Yes, I have to get away from my East Coast, middle class concern about time and promptness. Because anyone who needs help is going to take an investment of time. As I preached this past Sunday, healing is messy. I think that’s true for helping people too.
Second, I have to have resources. That doesn’t always mean money. Sometimes just giving money is an easy way out. And often it isn’t the answer. It’s giving a fish when someone needs to learn how to fish and you are the one who can teach fishing.
Here’s the biggest thing when it comes to someone asking for money – it’s not about the money. Move the situation beyond the financial transaction that is seems to be. It’s about a person in need – even if it’s not money that they really need.
Find out the person’s name and offer yours. This is a person after all, not just a sign or a thing. Talk with the person and find out what the real need is. I mean the real need. It may take several questions. There may be lies involved. There may be truth. Here’s the deal – you won’t know. Put yourself in the person’s shoes – they are desperate and asking for money. Would you be completely open and honest if you were desperate, for whatever reason?
Ask yourself some questions – how can I really help this person? Is this a short term problem or long term? Can I connect them with someone who can help them?
My experience has been that someone who really needs help is willing to talk. Someone looking to get some money out of you usually isn’t.
Then, do something. We’re not called to judge the person. We’re called to do what we can. Even if it’s small. And often, I’ll offer a prayer with the person for their well being.
Here’s the biggest concern – homelessness is a big problem. Your job isn’t to solve homelessness – it’s to help one person who is there right in front of you. But you aren’t there to fix the other person either. Sometimes helping someone is just finding out their name – reminding them that they have value and worth because they are human.
And, be open to being helped yourself too. You have your own challenges, you aren’t perfect. Sometimes the people we are aiming to help end up helping us. We aren’t called to be strong. We’re called to be love and be vulnerable. Like I said, it’s messy. Be ready to get messy.
One of the small but truly neat things about traveling to other countries is to look at that country’s money. I think different currencies are one of the coolest things – I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the designs or the pictures. Maybe it’s the colors. Or maybe it’s something about the variety. Something nice about tradings US Dollars or Euros in for Icelandic Krona is that you get a lot of Krona for very little Dollars or Euros. I think we exchanged about €500 in for about 60,000 Krona. Talk about feeling rich. Of course everything costs more, so that feeling doesn’t last too long. Anyway, here’s a shot of some Icelandic Krona.
I’ve been reading a lot lately. Shocking, I know. I come across some interesting articles (interesting to me anyway). Today’s no exception.
This article is about the offering plate. I found the article interesting and thought-provoking. I had no idea that the offering plate has only been used about 100 years.
I think this is a wake-up call for churches in the US to start being open to change. Change is a loaded term, I know. I don’t mean change everything either. I mean this seriously. If a church isn’t open to alternative ways of collecting money, then it won’t survive. The bigger issue though goes beyond the survival of an organization.
Doing things the way they have always been done is a sign that death is imminent, as far as I’m concerned. At least when that is the reason given for doing something. Obviously, passing the plate has not always been done, so even this line of reasoning is invalid.
Here in Finland, the churches I have visited do things a bit differently. First understand that the financial system is a bit different here. There are no checks. When I first arrived here to make a deposit with a check, the bank teller looked at me funny and said, we can’t accept “those”. That was a wide opening experience for me. The US is lagging when it comes to financial practices. Why don’t they accept checks – too easy to forge – it’s a security issue. It’s also an issue of time – checks take longer to clear. Because finances are handled differently here, there are many implications to other areas of life, too numerous to mention right now.
Churches here do a number of things. First, there’s this long history of a church tax. It’s 1% of your income. The money is sent to the church and the church uses it for a variety of things. (This could be a separate blog post or series. For now, just take this at face value.) Second, churches list their bank account information so congregants can make money transfers to the church account. Churches also pass the plate, or rather, the bag. But these donations are typically used for special offers like an offering for Lutheran World Relief or something of that nature.
In the article, the author mentions a real challenge that churches have – the theology of giving. People don’t give to budgets. Nor should they, as far as I’m concerned. They give to causes. Of course causes need to have staff sometimes in order to move things along. The way something is communicated is important. You can either pay for a staff person, or you can pay for a cause which has staff. This isn’t about trying to pull a fast one on people. This is an important difference. It’s a difference between an organization that exists for its own sake and an organization that is mission oriented, believes in something so much that it is willing to risk things, that is thriving, etc. The wording matters because the wording communicates a great deal. The wording is a signal to others.
Here’s a question – if cash and checks went away today, how would your church survive? What changes would have to be made? How would the offering change? In both literal terms and theological? How would you communicate that? How would your financial situation look?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions – they are coming. And in some places they are already here.