Ask any pastor about which Sunday is the least attended day in a year, and they will more than likely refer to some sort of stewardship Sunday. Now obviously there are other low participation days depending on context, but Stewardship Sundays tend to rank as the least attended Sundays of the year. I’ve always wondered why?
Now on some level I am quite sure it is an automatic reaction against one more individual vying for persons’ money and support while they are simply uninterested. But the more time I spend in the church, the more I wonder if the reason is deeper than that. If the only day we ever mention the word “stewardship” is on the day we want to make a budget, why should they listen? Why should we as pastors all of the sudden expect our parishioners to literally buy into the ideas of financial stewardship when this is the only stewardship we espouse from the pulpit? If we serve churches whose buildings remain dormant for the majority of the week, what message does that send about “stewardship”?
For reasons unknown, we have allowed the all-encompassing idea of “steward” to become hijacked and related solely to finances and pledge drives. What happened to being stewards of God’s graces? When the New Testament writers wanted to acknowledge the great privilege we have as Christians and ministers – lay and clergy alike, they (through the inspiration of the Spirit) chose the word “οἰκονόμος.” You’ll notice two separate words that have come together here: ”house” and “to manage.” This is literally a household manager or estate manager, someone who was entrusted with everything involved within the house: money, property, people, needs, resources…whatever was within that house.
One of our ancient Church Fathers, Ignatius of Polycarp, spoke to his community about the all-encompassing nature of stewardship when he wrote, “labor together, fight, run, suffer, sleep, watch with one another as God’s stewards, companions and servants.” Paul, in some of his letters, compared it metaphorically to the role of a guardian and a minor. Thus the dual role of a steward/guardian is not to only overseer the financial institutions of their lord, but to also make responsible decisions for any of the minor’s in the household. What if every Sunday was stewardship Sunday, and sometimes that related to our finances?
Needless to say, it seems that our understanding of stewardship is at a dangerously shallow level. We are called to be stewards of our finances, our properties, our resources (what does that tell us about our relationship with Creation and the Earth?…), our people and our bodies, not to mention the spiritual gifts from above. This is why I’m excited about this site and our ministry with each other here. This is a space to learn from and with each other. It’s also a place to challenge and hold each other accountable. I cannot help but wonder…If our people have a poor understanding of financial stewardship, then how much of that can be traced to our inability to be good stewards of our bodies? This is God’s tabernacle. We are his Temple. The Old Testament is nothing if not thorough in its instructions concerning the upkeep of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
What if Stewardship Campaigns were about more than money?