Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stewardship Thoughts: Fund Raising or Faith Raising?

It’s that time of year again! It’s Fall and the church has to talk about “Stewardship.” (“Not again! Why are they always talking about money? We are in a recession. I don’t have much to give!”)

I am indebted to The Rev. Dr. Harry Wendt, an Australian pastor, for much of my fuller understanding of Stewardship. He emphasizes that the stewardship issue is NOT about raising funds for the year to come, but is rather about raising faith for “every minute of every day of every week of every month of the year. It is to empower God’s people to see that God owns all things, and that we can own nothing. We cannot give – we can only manage.”

In fact, stewardship is NOT a church program, but the management of our everyday lives with Christ at the center. In the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus teaches that the very ground we walk on belongs to God. It is the land that produces God’s provision for us, and even our lives are on loan to us from God. In fact, God can demand the return of that loan at any second, and he is not regulated by the FDIC!

While we prayerfully consider the amount we give to the work of God through our congregation, we should also prayerfully consider the amount we keep for ourselves. How much do we need to feel “blessed?” According to Jesus, being blessed has nothing to do with what we possess.

The story of John Wesley is a wonderful one for all of us to ponder, and his wisdom continually challenges me.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was a Church of England clergyman, evangelist, and cofounder of Methodism. After graduating from Oxford University, he became a priest in 1728. In 1729, Wesley was part of a religious study group in Oxford organized by his brother Charles (1707-1788). The members of this study group were called “Methodists” for their emphasis on “methodical study and devotion.

During his 50 years as an itinerant minister, Wesley rode 250,000 miles on the roads of England, Scotland, and Ireland to preach 42,000 sermons. He worked tirelessly to reform the nation and the nature of its religion. His efforts included legal and prison reform, the abolition of slavery, civil rights, and popular education. His “desire to furnish poor people with cheaper, shorter and plainer books” caused Wesley to write over 233 books and education treatises.

While attending Oxford University in the early 1700s, Wesley shared his spiritual discipline with those at the local prison. When Wesley learned that people were imprisoned simply because they could not pay their debts, he was inspired to cap his living expenses and use the rest to purchase the release of debtors.

As his income increased over the years, Wesley continued to live frugally so he could use most of his money in ministry to others. When a tax collector asked Wesley why he had few material possessions, he replied that buying silver spoons, which he considered a luxury, was out of the question when the poor still had no bread, which is a necessity. Wesley gave away so much that at his death his monetary worth amounted to only a few coins.

How does our use (or abuse) of money reflect our faith?

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