Stewardship has a bad reputation!
Dear Fr. Zagloba,
I ate lunch with Mrs. Sanderson yesterday and we got to talking about doing a stewardship renewal campaign at St. Catherine’s. She told me, “Whenever anyone starts talking about stewardship, I hide my wallet.” I had to laugh. It’s a stereotype, but let’s face it, most parishes start breaking out a ‘Stewardship’ model when their revenue figures start to dip.
I think a lot of parishes, and perhaps even more stewardship consultants, approach stewardship with the primary goal of increasing a church’s bottom line. They might be doing so with the best of intentions and really trying to help people to live their faith more completely. But fundraising consultants typically have targets to hit and are less invested in the actual life of the parish, so there is the real danger that they will steer any campaign towards a purely fundraising focus.
Tithing is 10%, what about the other 90%?
So what’s the right focus? I’ve told you before that learning stewardship and beginning to practice stewardship was a real turning point in my life. And honestly, beginning to give more of my money to the Church was a small part of the total transformation. About 10%. The real revolution that stewardship started in my life had to do with the other 90%.
Most of our parishioners spend significantly less than 10% of their money and their time at St. Catherine’s. Most of their lives and most of their money is spent outside of the walls of this Church. If you convinced every person to give a full tithe and come to daily mass, it still would be a small fraction of their resources and their time.
So perhaps an authentic call to stewardship should meet people where they are – in the 90%. Where they’re struggling to make or mortgage payment, or pay school tuition, or medical bills. Or they want to build a retirement fund or save to send kids to college. Stewardship helps us to bring the financial aspect of our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Focus on the fact that stewardship gives them more peace in their finances.
Don’t settle for the Pharisee’s portion
Mrs. Sanderson pointed out that Jesus chastised the Pharisees for focusing on the 10% but then neglecting the 90%. They were tithing their spice garden’s mint, dill, and cumin, but they were neglecting the more important things, justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus doesn’t diminish the importance of tithing in this passage, because He says that they should continue to do so. But He expands their responsibility to include the rest of the 90%.
Looking at this passage, our stewardship efforts should focus on what Jesus gives priority – justice, mercy, and faithfulness – with the understanding the tithing should naturally accompany these three virtues.
First – Justice. Give to another what is due to them. There are many proverbs in the Bible that help us to understand justice as it pertains to financial stewardship. Don’t try to cheat people out of money, don’t rack up debts you can’t pay, don’t charge interest, sell good products. These types of proverbs teach us how to be just financial stewards and just businessmen.
Second – Mercy. Give generously to the poor and afflicted. Care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien (immigrant) in your midst. Not because they deserve it, but because we have been the recipients of so much of God’s generosity that it must overflow to others. I am practicing mercy when I give to someone who can never repay me, trusting that God is pleased when I do so.
Third – Faithfulness. The faithful steward takes good care of anything that has been entrusted to him, knowing that he will have to return them to his Master when the time of his stewardship comes to an end. I care for things differently when I know they belong to someone else and I am going to be held accountable. At the time of accounting, there will be reward for the faithful and punishment for the unfaithful. The faithful steward’s reward is not the goods in themselves, but rather something far greater. In Luke’s parable of the gold coins has the servant who returned ten for one given authority over 10 cities by his master as a reward for his faithfulness. The unfaithful steward is stripped of all that he has and sees it given over to the faithful one.
Faithfulness also includes trusting what God says about money and possessions. Blessed are the poor. Look at the lilies of the field and birds of the air. Ask and you shall receive. Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. Faithfulness from this perspective means viewing our finances with the eyes of faith in an all-powerful God who promised to take care of us as a good Father would.
Can you see how a focus on these three pillars of stewardship would transform a person’s life if they were consistently practiced? How they would transform our parish, and maybe even our city?
A problem of implementation
How can we help people integrate justice, mercy, and faithfulness into their everyday lives? This question should be the focus of our stewardship efforts. In the midst of this, it will be ok to talk about tithing… about 10% of the time.
Crown Financial is a great organization for teaching these principles. Another one that I’m less familiar with is Compass Catholic Ministries. I think they use a similar small group format to what I did with Crown Financial, but the materials have been customized for a strictly Catholic Audience. I’ll look into it a little more and see if it is what I think it is.
Spend some time thinking about how to make our approach to stewardship in the parish more all encompassing. I don’t have all the answer on this one. I think we’ll have to try some different things and see how well they work.
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