On the last “S” in SWEEPS . . .Stewardship

Numerous books and articles have been written on the subject of stewardship. A variety of stewardship programs exist throughout the Church. Rather than repeat what has already been said I shall, in these reflections, set forth some facts and attempt to clear up some misconcep¬tions regarding this final area of SWEEPS. I shall not cajole, play on guilt feelings or offer veiled threats. The facts speak for themselves.

1. The tithe is the Biblical norm for giv¬ing and the standard of the Episcopal Church for stewardship.
2. In South Dakota the average pledge last year was $870.00. Projected as a tithe, the average income of each pledging unit would be $6700.
Based on a tithe of a minimum wage of $10000 times the number of households in the Diocese, our annual diocesan tithe would be $5,233,000. At present it is $958,861.

1. “I give of my time. I don’t need to give my money.’
Our time and money is not our own. Both are gifts from God. As Christian disciples, we are called to give (return to God) of our time, talent and money. Christian giving is part of a disciplined way of life, not something that we do when we feel like it or because it feels good.
We don’t pay our taxes or bills when we feel like it or when it feels good. We do so because it is our duty as responsible citizens. Tithing is our duty as responsible Christians.

2. What I give is personal—it’s be¬tween me and God.”
Giving is a family affair. It is not private or personal, It is giving to support our Christian family in the same way that we support our primary or extended families. As in other family matters, stewardship should be discussed openly, honestly and prayerfully.

3. ‘All the Church talks about and wants from me is money. The Church should be more spiritual and less worldly.’
In our society, money has a sacramen¬tal quality. It is an outward sign of per¬sonal worth. Money competes with God for our allegiance and devotion. While neutral as a medium of exchange, the power that money represents is far from neutral. Money signifies power.
As Christians we recognize that true worth and power come from God as a gracious gift. We can neither earn worth nor power in and of our own efforts. It is a gift that we are called to share in em¬powering the powerless.

4. “I give to other charities, why should I give to the Church?”
The Church is not a charitable institu¬tion like other charitable institutions. It is, first and foremost, the family of God. We give to our children, not out of a sense of charity, but love. The same love motivates Christian giving: the love of God made known to us in the giving of His only Son. If the Church and God’s family is central in our lives, it ought to be cen¬tral in our giving.

5. “I pay my dues to the Church in the form of a pledge.’
Not only is the Church not simply a charitable organization; it is not another club, lodge, association or voluntary organization. We don’t pay dues to the Church. We are full members by our bap¬tism. We give because we have received God’s salvation and the nature of the gift is that it is to be shared.

6. ‘The amount that I give isn’t Impor¬tant. It’s the thought that counts.’
The amount is important as a test of commitment. Have you ever noticed how people who give of their money, time and support of any organization tend to be more involved with that organization? No less true of the Church.
We lavish material gifts on our children, perhaps spoiling them at times. Is our attitude of giving the same towards the family of God? The amount is impor¬tant: ‘each according to his/her ability.”

7. “All we need is the right stewardship program”
The quest for the stewardship program is doomed to failure. Programs cannot take the place of personal and family commitment. Nor will the right stewardship program cure all the ills of the Church. Stewardship is a means, measure and barometer of the health of a Church family. Like all the other func¬tions of SWEEPS, it is a means, not an end.

A Brief Reflection

Two schools of psychology aid our understanding of stewardship. Behavior¬ism, in its many forms, suggests that if we change or modify our behaviors, actions or habits our attitudes and values will change. Related to stewardship, if we change our stewardship habits through tithing or proportional giving, our at¬titude, commitment and sense of involve¬ment toward the church will change.

If our stewardship and attendance in our Church family is marginal, our com¬mitment to the Church will be marginal. If giving and involvement increase, com¬mitment increases. Scripture supports such a view in a variety of ways. The more we give, the more will be given to us.

‘‘Third force’’ or humanistic psychology, in its varied expressions, helps us to understand stewardship from another perspective. Humanistic theorists tell us that if human beings have a goal, vision or meaning for life and liv¬ing, behavior will change. As such, humanistic psychology is the flip side of behaviorism.

Relating this notion to stewardship means that good stewardship follows from a Church which addresses, and in some way meets, personal and communi¬ty needs,

Stated differently, if a Church family is healthy, excited committed and has a vision of the Gospel, good stewardship tends to follow as a natural expression of vitality, health and wholeness.

Again Scriptures reinforces this view of humanity. Jesus preached and taught a vision of the Kingdom. His proclamation and healing resulted in persons repenting and converting to a new and fuller life.
In working with individual churches on stewardship over the past several years, it seems to me that both views are partial¬ly true and can be seen as complementary rather than opposed to one another. In¬creased giving, as a discipline, increases personal and Church spiritual health. Personal and spiritual health results in in¬creased giving.

Our possessions can, and often do, possess us. This is true of individuals and at times of the Church itself. It is true in a particular way in our Diocese. We have become, in some ways, possessed by our property and buildings.

Sentimental attachment often results in idolatry. It is for this reason, in terms of ministry and good stewardship, that I have been asking the question of ministry and mission in relationship to our diocesan possessions, i.e. land, buildings, institutions and programs.

The miracle of TIME, reinforces much of what I have said above. TIME represents a new vision for the Diocese, TIME, has resulted in a new level of commitment and excitement. TIME has brought us closer together and raised our spirits and hopes for ministry and a fuller life in Jesus Christ as faithful stewards,

Your steward in Christ,

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