In his chapter on “Stewardship of Money and Finances” in the book “Beyond the Offering Plate,” David P. King writes: “We have a tyranny of measurement when it comes to financial stewardship. Within churches, we measure attendance, programs, annual budgets, and giving trends. When we focus on these measures alone, our narratives are often misguided…measured in this way, financial stewardship remains a means to an end. [However], for stewardship made whole, giving is a way of life. Framing giving as discipleship shifts the paradigm from the needs of our institutions to the passions and practices of individuals. We have refocused from transactional to transformational giving.” (“Beyond the Offering Plate,” p. 43-44)
While many of us focus our stewardship conversations in the way King describes, the transactional nature of such a perspective is severely limiting. It feeds into a scarcity mindset and fuels our anxiety for never having enough. When we engage giving and generosity as the heart of discipleship, however, we have an opportunity to expand our thinking and our hearts. Stewardship then becomes more about our efforts to link into God’s holy work with and through us in the world. It becomes transformational. This kind of reflection helps us turn our focus away from the sustaining of an institution and toward the partnership of mission and ministry God has placed in our keeping—as individuals and as congregations.
The stewardship of our money and finances is about the purpose and use of these things in relationship to God, community, society, and economy. It is important then, to be mindful of how we talk about stewardship. If we focus only on the transactional nature of our giving, we lose its meaning and purpose in our narrative. Instead, in our stewardship conversations, we would do well to seek out the stories, the meanings, and the power found in the calling of God we work to fulfill together. There we will find light and hope, love and justice, mercy and blessing. These are the things that transform us and others in God’s grace. In God’s economy, these are the riches beyond telling.
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 Coordinator 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.