Stewardship is More Than a Fundraising Slogan
Dear Fr. Zagloba,
To be honest, no, I don't think most people in the parish have caught hold of vision for the "Stewardship as a Way of Life". Most people I've asked about it say that it sounds like another scheme to raise more money. I have trouble answering because raising more money for the church is part of it. It doesn't help that churches and dioceses often start pushing stewardship when they have pressing financial needs.
Why am I so passionate about stewardship and giving to the Church? I'm not getting paid. It takes a lot of time and energy that I could be using to learn how to juggle or make toys for my kids. It's stressful and nobody else gets excited when I'm talking about it. Some people get downright hostile!
Stewardship - a Path to Freedom
The way you use your money matters. This is obvious. Your spending habits tell you a lot about what you think is important, what you enjoy, what you value. If you spend a great deal of money on rebuilding classic cars, you are making a statement that you believe classic cars are a worthy investment.
What is less obvious is a proverb that has stuck with me for a long time, "What you own, owns you." Those classic cars require expensive maintenance. You might have to build a garage to protect them from the elements. You have to purchase special insurance. Time you spend working in the garage is time that you don't spend doing other things.
Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. We must choose either God or mammon. When our use of money is disordered, when God's priorities don't come first for us in our financial decisions, mammon becomes our master. We become money's slave. How many times have you heard, "I would quit such and such terrible job, but I've got bills to pay."? Or, "I can't go be a missionary, I've got a mortgage." Since money is their master, they are not really free to do what God calls them to do.
Stewardship, on the other hand, puts God at the center of financial decisions. Faith becomes the lens through which we view our financial decisions, not fear. Someone who is living stewardship is no longer a slave to Mammon, but instead becomes a servant of God. Think for a moment which one YOU want to rule your life. Who do you think is a better master? God Almighty or the (not quite) almighty dollar?
I'm not suggesting that everyone is called to live radical Gospel poverty. I have a wife and children. My duty is to support and provide for them. But fulfilling my financial duty doesn't mean that mammon is my master. Far from it! Instead, I have chosen to let God be my master, especially in the realm of finances.
Breaking the chains
I’m talking about freedom in a very concrete sense. This is not just an intellectual exercise for me. I've walked this road. About ten years ago, my finances were a total wreck. I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt. I defaulted on my student loans. I had collections agencies chasing after me for bills that were past due, but no money to pay them. My credit score tanked. Mammon was my master and it took me behind the woodshed and gave me a beating.
Shortly after my conversion, a friend of mine introduced me to Crown Financial Ministries. This Protestant ministry teaches people to live stewardship according to Biblical principles. It points out that the Bible talks a lot about the proper use of money, and that conforming ourselves to a biblical understanding of stewardship can have transformative effects on our lives.
For 10 weeks, I got together with a group of friends to watch the teachings, discuss the homework assignments, and eat a meal. I built some great friendships, but I also came away with a totally different perspective on how I should manage my money. I realized that I needed to pay off the debts I had foolishly racked up. I needed to change my spending habits so that I didn't buy things that I couldn't afford. I also needed to be generous with the money that God had so generously given me.
The freedom I found though the stewardship way of life is priceless. I have no consumer debt. My student loan balance is a third of what it was 5 years ago. I buy old cars cash so I don't have car payments. I give away nearly 20% of my net income. My wife is able to stay home with our children. And I have an investment portfolio. I live more modestly than I used to, and I'm content.
It's not a magic bullet or a get rich quick scheme, either. Financial stewardship means learning how to manage your finances prudently and make good decisions about what you're doing with your money. It means learning how to budget, and how to prayerfully assess the difference between your needs and wants. It requires the often painful practice of financial discipline and self-denial over the long haul. When you begin to live a stewardship way of life, the way you use and relate to money will change permanently.
During this transition, God has proven to be the most generous master. As I practice financial discipline, He makes room for me to spend money on things that my family and I enjoy. More importantly, I have peace about our finances because I know that God is right in the middle of it. My wife and I don't argue about money because we're on the same page. She has embraced a stewardship way of life as well, and it provides a sense of safety and security for both of us.
A Parish Set Free
So why am I willing to invest my time and energy into teaching financial stewardship? Because I know that it changes lives. Folks in our parish can experience the same kind of liberation that has changed my life. They just need help seeing that God's promises are true. They need someone who has tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord. Someone who will encourage them to call on Jesus and ask Him to bind the strong man Mammon and cast him out of their house.
I think that is something worth doing.
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