October 22, 2017
What is the difference between "stewardship" and annual fundraising?
Because churches do not yet exist in the Kingdom of God's abundant economy, we too need resources, often financial ones, to carry out our responsibilities. In the past there have been many ways of providing resources for that work. In the very earliest church, that which was recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, especially Chapter 2, vs. 44ff, the followers of Jesus sold all they had, on a voluntary basis, donated it to the church, and allowed the leaders to distribute the proceeds as people had need.
Later, in Roman and Anglo-Saxon England, the rulers and prominent citizens donated land, buildings, and money to establish ongoing trusts or endowments to provide for the ministries of the church.
During much of the 18th and 19th Century, at least for what we now know as the Episcopal Church, as well as for other denominations, there were subscriptions, better known as pew rentals. I was once the member of a Church that had subscriptions until 1979.
As you can tell, we haven't always done it this way. Stewardship and Tithing came to be the basis of voluntary giving in the Twentieth Century. I covered some parts of tithing last week in this column. Stewardship, however, is more a spiritual and mental approach to how we support God's mission on earth than a specific detail like tithing or pledging. Tithing and/or pledging are consequences to stewardship.
The ancient role of the Steward, sometimes a slave but always a servant of the Monarch, was to care for the Monarch's household on behalf of the Monarch. And, that means the whole household: wife, children, extended families, royal retinue, treasury, wine cellar (this seems like a real bonus area), food stuffs, armory, etc. For the steward, it would be dishonorable for these "treasures of the Monarch" to be abused, destroyed, embezzled, or the like.
Some of the more important "stewards" (people who hold that role but not officially designated as such) in the Bible are Joseph, whose story is told in Genesis, Chapters 38 through 50, and Daniel whose story as an exile in Babylon as part of the King's household is told in the Book bearing his name.
Jesus uses this term in any number of stories in the Gospels: Luke 8:3, 12:42; 16:1-21; 19:12-27; Matthew 20:8, 21:33-46; 24:45, and 25:14-30. Underlying all these stories is the role of the servant who has been assign this prominent position in the ruler's household, with commensurate privileges. The question is always, "what did the steward do with that privilege?"
Church "stewardship" approaches our relationship with God from the sense of all the good things God has given us. Then, how do we use those gifts in the service of God, with individual churches being the focal point of that commitment.
Annual giving fills the same practical role, but it does require us to see our relationship to God and the gifts he has bestowed on us.
The Rev. David Lucey