Preaching on Stewardship
by Rev. Stacy Emerson
Preaching on Stewardship is for many pastors a minefield at worst and a challenge at best. There is so much baggage attached to money and especially money in churches. Here are a few things I have heard: “The pastor needs to focus on spiritual things not material things.” “How can I preach on money when I am terrible at my own finances?” “I can’t preach on tithing when I can’t do it myself.” “When I talk about money, I know people in the pews will get angry. We can talk about anything else, just not that.” “Is money the only thing we are going to talk about?”
And yet, money and possessions are of considerable concern in the Bible. Walter Brueggemann in his book Money and Possessions (in the Interpretation Series), puts forth 6 theses concerning these things:
- Money and possessions are gifts from God. And therefore, they call forth our gratitude.
- Money and possessions are received as reward for obedience. A little trickier concept (a slippery slope toward the “prosperity gospel”), but Brueggemann argues that the “Creator is not indifferent to conduct.” What we do matters.
- Money and possessions belong to God and are held in trust by human persons in community. The whole earth is the Lord’s and our job is to be good stewards of these gifts not just individually but collectively.
- Money and possessions are sources of social injustice. Throughout the biblical witness, God’s people are called to care for each other and for the stranger. When we view possessions as solely “mine” without regard for the “neighborhood,” they are “deployed in destructive ways at the expense of the common good,” Brueggemann argues.
- Money and possessions are to be shared in a neighborly way. There is a powerful sense of solidarity with others in the Bible. As Jesus said, “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)
- Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to talk about stewardship and by extension, money, in our churches. As Americans, we have ideas about money, success, possessions, and individualism in our DNA. It is difficult indeed to be confronted by a biblical witness that may challenge our perceptions on all of these things.
For all these reasons and more, we need to preach confidently, creatively, and consistently about stewardship. I know the task is hard. But ultimately, the focus is on the abundance of a Generous God seeking to nurture generous disciples to carry out God’s work in love and with joy and for justice. Brueggemann concludes his introduction: “The gift-giving God intends an abundant life for all creatures (John 10:10). That abundant life…includes all the neighbors, human and nonhuman.”
May God be with you as you preach and teach and minister in God’s name!
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Facilitator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.