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As I’ve been working on Sunday’s sermon about gratitude and generosity, I came across this video.
Here are some of my favorites for the Stewardship Season. Be sure to check the Archives for more on Generosity and Gratitude.
Stewardship is a dreaded word. Once when I tried to recruit a man to serve on the Stewardship Committee, he responded, “That’s as bad as being asked to teach sixth grade boys.” Stewardship is church code for “money.” At least that is what people think. And we all know people talk more openly about sex than they do money.
In our congregation it is the time of year when the Stewardship Committee is hard at work, preparing the emphasis for this fall. We set the theme; we’ve outlined the main information booklet to be mailed. I’ve struggled over how to address the issue in worship – again – for the 33rd time (by my count). Once again I am confronted with the task of trying to convince people that Stewardship really isn’t about money; it’s about discipleship and it’s about love. If our congregation discovered it sits on top of an oil well and had all the money it needs for 100 years – We would still need stewardship because it is about discipleship and it is about loving God.
Many years ago I came across this marvelous book by Jeavons and Basinger. Each year since, at the beginning of stewardship planning, I retrieve it from my shelf and reread many of the passages I highlighted the first time through. The book grounds me in the task of reminding believers why we all give. It grounds me in taking the correct theological approach so that people grow and express their love of God through giving.
I really don’t like the term fundraising for church. To me the task of a fundraiser if different than that of a pastor. And the tools of fundraising may include a raffle or rummage sale, while stewardship is about giving, tithing, and offerings. Jeavons and Basinger, however, help me see the crossover between the two. Thus, the book is equally helpful for congregations engaged in stewardship and for any faith-based organization attempting to fund its mission. If your task is theologically based, this book will help you perform your task better, whether you call it fundraising or stewardship.
If you are leading an effort to engage givers in a Christian mission, this book will provide reminders and encouragement that you will find invaluable.
All quotes from:
Jeavons, Thomas H. and Basinger, Rebekah Burch, Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising As Ministry, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000. Copyright by the authors. Perhaps these quotes will encourage you to read the entire book.
Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Your money will follow your heart.” That is conventional wisdom in fundraising but may well be the best explanation for why volunteers in many organizations are generous donors themselves, but it is not the essence of this teaching of Jesus. He told his disciples, “Your heart will follow your money.” In this teaching, Jesus points out the very powerful connection between the way people use their wealth and their emotional and spiritual commitments. p. 2
Henri Nouwen once said, “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.” p. 27
Note that this practice (tithing) also requires one to trust God enough for one’s own essential needs. It requires one to act on faith. p. 43
If Christian fundraisers show as much concern for their donors’ spiritual growth as their own organizations’ financial needs, these fundraisers will help grow their donors’ hearts, resulting in donors who are truly and more consistently generous over a lifetime. p. 67
Quoting Hannah Whitall Smith: “The greatest lesson a soul has to learn is that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs. This is the lesson that all God’s dealings with us are meant to teach, and this is the crowning discovery of our entire Christian life. God is enough!” p. 71
In contrast, when Christian organizations approach the end of one fiscal year after another clawing and scratching toward their stated goals, a very different message is communicated to constituents about God’s ability to meet the needs of the church. These organizations say they serve a God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” but, plainly stated, many Christian ministries operate in a perpetual state of scarcity and financial panic. The message conveyed to supporters out of this panic is that God is unable to supply even the most basic needs, let alone provide funds for new programs. If this message of panic is a contrived fundraising technique, it is doubly harmful. p.73
“I don’t need a calendar to know it’s May,” the longtime friend of a Christian ministry stated. “Any day now, I’ll get that ‘with two months to go in the fiscal year, we still need $300,000 to balance the budget’ letter. I’ll give again, but I have to tell you, after more than twenty years, the crisis approach is wearing thin.” p. 81f.
Appeals that focus exclusively on crises, whether internal or external to the organization, reinforce donors’ perceptions of scarcity, and work against joyful giving in response to God’s great abundance. p. 83
As one observer puts it, “Our fundraising methods reflect not only the character of our organization, but also its values. They reflect who we are. Whatever methods we use ultimately come from the hearts of the leadership.” p. 109
We take care to check up on what sponsors hear in what we’re doing.” Compassion International actually runs focus groups to find out what people glean from the material the organization puts out—what message the donors are taking away—not just what is making them give. p. 110
Quoting one development officer: “If possible, during donor visits, I try to encourage the individuals with whom I’m meeting to talk about what God’s been doing in their hearts as a result of their giving.” p. 111
Quoting Bishop Manuel Moreno of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson: “It’s more than just money that people are giving. It’s part of their life. They worked hard to earn what we are asking them to give away.” p. 118
Last week I posted some quotes on generosity, as a part of the annual stewardship season. I find it impossible to consider my own, personal stewardship without considering my relationship to “stuff.” An honest, 1st world Christian will have to admit that a major factor in a decision about what we give to God is: how much will I have left for “stuff.” Very few American Christians are not affected by materialism. Clarence Jordan used to refer to the problem as “the deceitfulness of riches.” The material temptations of this consumer life often tempt us to think that they contain the secret of happiness. Here are a few annotated quotes that remind us otherwise.
In The World Within, Quaker writer Rufus Jones says, “There is a remarkable saying in the little Book of Obadiah that, in a happier coming time, “the House of Jacob shall possess their possessions.” It sounds like tautology, but there may be a fresh depth of life in this ancient saying. It isn’t everybody who actually possesses his possessions, and we may perhaps discover that this is a live issue for us today. (p. 38)
It is amazing how the need for “stuff” controls our lives. Nearly everyone I know has a story about something they wanted desperately, purchased, and, in short order regretted it because the item didn’t make them happy beyond the break in period. The item might be as large as a car or as small as an iPod. But, it was as if the item forced us to buy it. The iPod sat on store shelf or the car was parked on a dealer’s lot and called a Siren song to our hearts which we could not resist. We had no control. We did not possess our possessions; rather, they possessed power over us. And why didn’t these items provide long-term satisfaction?
Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing, gives us a clue. “Since an idol is not God, no matter how sincerely or passionately it is treated as God, it is bound to break the heart of its worshipper, sooner or later. Good motives for idolatry cannot remove the objective fact that the idol is an unreality. You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from nondivine things. (p. 21)
A congregation’s annual stewardship emphasis shouldn’t be an annual hit for money. Rather, it should be an annual opportunity to determine if my possessions own me, or if I own my possessions. It should be an annual opportunity to determine where I search for the touch of the divine in my life. If the material goods surrounding my life (the ones I own and the ones I crave) dictate how I use my money, I reserve more for me and give less for God (or anyone else). I buy more things, which in the end, provide no divine joy. I am in a vicious cycle and don’t understand the angst which surrounds my life.
Material things are not bad. Neither is money. But scripture teaches us at a number of points that they are deceitful, seeming to promise divine joy, but instead offering slavery to them, both in obsessive desire to own them and in a payment schedule which keeps us bound to them long after any joy is gone. I once heard it said the only thing worse than the feeling we have paid too much for an item, is the sense we bought the wrong thing.
If I am a steward of my goods, I possess my possessions. I control my desires for them. I make conscious decisions when I will buy them and how I will use them. I decide what I will give away based on my love for God and others, instead of out of the fear I won’t have enough to buy the products that promise happiness. If I am a steward, I also see clearly that it is in my relationship with Christ that I find divine joy, not in any electronic device or clothes, or vehicle. I see the truth of Kreeft’s comment: “You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from nondivine things.” If only I had known that was what I was looking for.
This is the season when many congregations look at stewardship and generosity. The peripheral member thinks pastors use words like these to w hide the fact that they are just asking for money. Perhaps some do. A long time ago I cam to the conviction that giving is one pathway to a happier and healthier life. God encourages us to give because it is good for us. So here are a few quotations that I have collected that speak about how the goodness of generosity makes live better.