The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.
In my work as a “Stewardship Consultant,” I have encountered “many faces of stewardship,” and what people think stewardship means.
For some, stewardship is crisis management. It comes out as the plea to save a crumbling building, to “keep the lights on” in a tight budget, to rescue a flailing ministry. Some people are most generous when there is a crisis, preferring to swoop in and save the day. However, few of us are able to sustain the emotional roller coaster of crisis management in the long-term, and constantly having to panic in order to raise funds is unhealthy and unsustainable.
For some, stewardship is duty. The message is that we are supposed to give as an obligation of faith. There is no question about it, we should give, and for some that means a 10% or more tithe. This can be a helpful starting place, but if the duty becomes legalistic or imposed without compassion, the motive is off the mark for the grace God would have us know.
For some, stewardship is all about business transactions. “The church is a business” is the slogan and the positive intent is to be sure the church is managing its funds wisely. An important and practical goal. However, the church is not a business, we have nothing to “sell,” and if we think we do, we are in trouble. Everything is God’s and we are but caretakers of this life and all that is in it, and so it is essential that we hold our role in perspective and our stewardship needs to honor God and all that God’s vision of love and hope entail.
For some, stewardship is a bargaining chip. Sometimes we are so broken, hurt, and confused, our giving becomes a way we think we can wield influence and power. We withhold our giving when we disagree with decisions, and we increase our giving to show our support. These ways of attempting to exert our influence are very much a part of our consumerist culture, so much so that we barely question the use of such tactics. However, the generosity that God calls us to is never about manipulation. Generosity is a way of being in the world that reflects God’s ways of love and justice and mercy.
And so as we take a look at the many faces of stewardship we encounter in our churches, we know that we need to learn how to re-frame these understandings into stewardship that is truly a response to God in thanksgiving. God’s faithfulness is enduring and all-encompassing, and our stewardship is both an act of gratitude to God as well as an intention to be in the world as God has been to us. God blesses, and we should bless. God gives, and we should give. God cares, and we should care. Stewardship at its best is the conduit that lets God’s love flow through us. It is then that God’s love is made real in what we say and do.
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.