Stewardship in Difficult Economic Times

September 18, 2009

Stewardship, The Pilot

By Jose DeJesus

A common question asked in difficult economic times is, “How can we ask our parishioners to give more?” On the surface, the answer seems obvious. If someone is struggling to put food on the table or keep their home, they cannot contribute more money. However, the complete gospel on stewardship is not simply treasure, but also time and talent. They can give of themselves. Saint Paul goes even further when he writes about the “gifts of the spirit.”

On one occasion, he wrote that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Paul noted other spiritual gifts with one of them being the gift of generous giving. Clearly, giving is more than a mere process of placing money in the offertory at church; it is about helping others, and in so doing, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit through your gift of generosity. Just as some are hurting in difficult economic times and in need of help, others are not and are looking for ways to help others in need. To deny the opportunity for generosity in difficult times out of fear of asking is a terrible loss both to the giver and to the recipient.

During the first half-century of the Church, Saint Paul and others conducted a church-wide campaign to gather gifts to assist the widows of Jerusalem. Paul writes a powerfully moving and informative story about the Christians in Macedonia. It would appear that, because of the deep poverty of that area, there may have been a plan not to include the Christians in Macedonia in that collection of funds. He begins the story by saying that he wants the Corinthian church to “know about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia.”

Paul then tells the story of how, in the midst of affliction, their abundant joy and extreme poverty overflowed into a wealth of generosity, giving beyond their means, voluntarily, begging earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry of the saints. (These are the actual words and phrases Paul uses in this text!) But there is one important thing Paul notes: “First they gave themselves to the Lord!”  “Giving voluntarily, begging for the privilege of sharing.” And all was done in an “abundant joy” and “wealth of generosity,” though they were living in extreme poverty. Generosity is a gift of the Spirit. One has to admit, it is a strange configuration of words and of ideas: “their abundant joy and extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” So, too, is the idea of the Macedonians “begging for the privilege” of sharing (giving).

Many, even some who are rather generous, think of giving as an obligation or duty. Few call it a privilege and fewer still call it a “joy.” Rarer yet are those known to “beg” for the privilege.  There is joy in generous giving, and I do not believe that is an accident. Stewardship is not about raising money, meeting budgets, or even building new churches. It is about finding ourselves. It is about personal conversion. It is the first thing we do after we say we believe.

Parishes that do not reach out to their parishioners and ask for assistance of all of God’s gifts of time, talent, and treasure to help others may find themselves irrelevant to those parishioners in the best of times. As our Lord tells us in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.” The worst of times requires the best from all of us. You may be surprised to discover how willing people are to help give of themselves, their time, and talents, more so now than ever in the past; a true willingness to answer God’s call to help the “least of my brethren.”

We must understand that faith is a great deal more than believing some facts about God. It is a belief so strong in the faithfulness of God that we are moved to trust God. Faith in God must always be understood as trusting God. Therefore, growing stewardship is never a matter of “doing the best we can.” The very words sound like an apology, hinting that we would want to do more, but cannot.

No good steward is ashamed of a solid gift, sacrificially given, regardless of its size. The matter is our trust in God. “Well, Pastor, it’s the best I can do right now. You never know what will happen tomorrow, you know!” The hint is we have to hold back for some unexpected tragedy. Why not say it the other way: “Well here it is. It will take God’s help, but let’s go for it!” One is a halting, clutching fist. The other is a faith-filled venture. Is this scriptural, you ask? Well, here it is. It is not a matter of “doing the best we can.” It is a matter of trusting, even testing God. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test,” says the Lord of hosts, “See if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10)

Again, God says: “Test me! I dare you!” Sooner or later, we are called to come to terms with the challenge of stewardship as a part of our coming to terms with God. We are called, as well, to help others to do so. Stewardship is a matter of personal conversion. We shall become more fully ourselves when we become more like our Father who created us. Difficult economic times affirm in our hearts our faith and our willingness to share. Do not deny, to those who are able, the opportunity to give of themselves and their treasure to those in need.

José DeJesús is Executive Vice President at Kirby-Smith Associates/Millennium Consulting.  He can be contacted at 1-800-762-3996 or at kirbysmith@aol.com.

This article originally appeared in a special “Parish Stewardship & Fundraising” section of The Pilot on September 18, 2009

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