Stewardship is more than fundraising
“Stewardship” can become a dirty word in your parish if you aren’t careful. Many people will begin to associate the word stewardship with the annual drive that you do to increase the amount that they’re giving to the Church. When ‘Stewardship’ becomes a code-word for fundraising, you’re in danger that they will tune out from your stewardship messaging.
Part of this is our fault as fundraisers. If the only time that we mention stewardship is during the month-long stewardship drive, this misunderstanding is almost inevitable. In order to change the perception of stewardship in our congregations, we have to change the way that we think of stewardship ourselves. I personally have to live a stewardship lifestyle if I want to be able to encourage anyone else to do so.
A way of life
Stewardship is above all a way of life. Stewardship means bringing our financial decisions into harmony with our faith. Let’s face it, the decisions that we make with our money reveal a lot about what we actually value. The Bible talks a lot about the proper use of money, and the principles are often directly at odds with the way that the world would teach us to use our money.
Jesus said that we can’t serve both God and Mammon (money), that we would love one and hate the other. Stewardship means putting our relationship with God first so that Mammon serves rather than rules our life. Money is a useful tool but a terrible master. With God as our Lord, we can use money to do many good and worthwhile things. But when money is our master, God’s plans for our lives are often set aside so we can serve the Lord Dollar.
So stewardship at its heart is about freedom. Through a life of stewardship we can put aside a life of vain striving and chasing after the wind and experience the glorious freedom of the Sons of God. Stewardship means using our money and material goods wisely and well, being content to live more simply and give generously.
The Fundamentals of Stewardship
Jesus points out the fundamentals of stewardship in one of his encounters with the Pharisees. The religious leaders thought highly of themselves because they were tithing their spice gardens’ mint, dill, and cumin. Jesus pointed out that this was good, but they were neglecting the more important things: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
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 pillars.
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.
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.
Faithfulness – The faithful steward takes good care of the goods 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.
Justice, mercy, and Faithfulness. The pillars of stewardship. These three principles should be at the heart of every disciple’s response to the Gospel.
What it’s not
The stewardship way of life is not the prosperity gospel. It does not say that Jesus wants you to have a big house and a fast car. That’s Mammon talking, not the Holy Spirit. God promises to fulfill all our needs, to provide daily bread. He does not promise to give us everything we want. Human beings have a nearly unlimited capacity for desire.
Stewardship also doesn’t foster hatred of material goods or disdain for the rich. Stewardship is not some kind of gloomy puritanism that rejects everything that is fun and comfortable. Good stewardship means that we have an appropriate relationship with our possessions and that we don’t consider the rich to be better than the poor. History is filled with examples of holy generosity, saints who gave tremendous amounts to support spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Stewardship means having a balanced and reasonable view of money and material possessions, illuminated by faith that recognizes that everything is a gift from a generous and loving God who intends us to use these things for His Glory and the benefit of ourselves and others.
Where to start?
If your parish is new to the concept of stewardship, you need to find a way to make it real to them. One of the best ways to do that is through testimonies and teachings. The people who are consistently the largest givers to your offertory are likely to be familiar with the stewardship way of life, because tithing is a big part of it. Ask around until you find several who have experienced stewardship as a path to freedom. Ask them to get up and share their testimony in front of the parish. Scripture testifies to the power of testimony to plant the seeds of faith that help us to respond more generously to the inspirations of the Gospel.
Organizations like Compass Catholic Ministries and Crown Financial Ministries provide stewardship training materials that focus on bringing one’s personal finances under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and into harmony with Biblical teaching on the proper use of material goods. Courses like these, taken intentionally and prayerfully, can give a parish a new foundation of stewardship on which they can build. The programs focus on transforming an individual or family’s relationship with money and material goods. Increased giving to the church naturally (or supernaturally) flows from living a stewardship way of life, but it should not be the focus of a stewardship program.
Fundraising got your head spinning? Don’t know quite where to start? Check out Key Concepts and learn the basic ideas that will help you build and maintain a strong and growing donor base.