|Help Us With “Stewardship”|
Parishes often ask for help with “stewardship”. No surprise. Budgets are tight. Economy is in scary. Numerical decline has hit many parishes. Parishes are squeezed.Taking action to build stewardship (which in the parlance of most parishes means ‘increasing income from more and larger donations, offerings and pledges’) is a difficult task. Stewardship programs are hard work. In many cases they do not produce incremental income immediately. And, in some cases, these efforts produce undesirable side effects. People misinterpret the motivation for the request or effort.
Incomplete View of Stewardship
Often the root cause of the problem can be that too many of us have an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of Christian stewardship — wrongly equating “stewardship” only with money. Often the way stewardship discussions are handled in parishes contributes to this misconception.
The purpose of the information on this page, and the related pages accessible from the right hand column, is to explain, at least in part, what stewardship means to an Orthodox Christian and to summarize some good parish practices that can help establish such a mindset in the parish.
The first, and never ending, step in strengthening stewardship in the parish is to help the community understand that stewardship is basically making a fundamental commitment to work with God in our whole lives.
At the risk of overly simplifying an important and very rich subject the following are a few of the key points.
A steward is one who carefully and responsibly manages entrusted resources or delegated authority on behalf of the interests of another — the Master.
A steward in the ancient world was a master slave who acted in the master’s name and managed the master’s affairs. But he wasn’t the master. Christian stewardship, then, is working with God to responsibly manage all of our God-given resources.
If you were chief steward on a ship, you would be in charge of supervising the maintenance and operation of the galley and living and eating quarters of the officers and crew. You would also keep a record of all meals served on board.
If you belonged to the Forest Stewardship Council, then you would be in charge of developing forest management standards to maintain our forests throughout the world.
The term stewardship basically means the careful, responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care… for greatest output/return… for a purpose. It refers to delegated authority to be practiced on behalf of the interests of another. It is about the way we live in relationship to God and the world. Stewardship is a complete lifestyle, a life of total accountability and responsibility acknowledging God as Creator and Owner of all.
Each and every person made in the image of God is placed on this earth as a tenant, or in the words of St. Paul, a “sojourner.” If we are tenants, it is incumbent upon us to return what is not ours to the rightful Owner in a condition at least as good as we received it, if not better.
Time Talent and Treasure
We recognize that giving belongs to God’s very being. When we give freely and generously, we act as God acts. We are sharing in the work of God. Often the breadth of this giving back is thought of in terms of time, talent and treasure. These are good elements to focus on but true Christian stewardship is even broader — a commitment of our entire life.
As Christians we acknowledge God as Creator and Owner of all and that none of our words, actions, powers or properties are our own, to do with as we please. We receive them from God. We possess them – but they are not really ours. The resources we enjoy – and from which we give – are ours only by derivation. All blessings flow from God.
Since God is creator and owner, when we give to the church and others, we are only gratefully, joyfully giving back to God what already belongs to Him. We’re not the owners — we’re the borrowers.
We Are Accountable for Our Parish
We will be called to account for the use of the gifts, resources and talents given to us by God. Unlike the “one talent steward” who, having been given a talent by the Lord buried it in the ground and did nothing with it, we need to willingly make a return to God for His investment in each of us.
One of the most important gifts entrusted to our care is our parish itself –not only parish facilities and resources –but care of clergy and also care of the parish mission and purpose. The purpose of a parish is to proclaim Christ through worship and praise, through word and deed. Our parish has been entrusted to us—not to keep—but to care for, to minister from, to strengthen, and to preserve for future generations. We are responsible!
It should be the joyful responsibility of all parishioners to become invested in the work of the parish. Responsibly supporting the parish means that we each give a meaningful portion of the resources- time, talent and treasure- given to us by God back to God through the parish to support the costs associated with doing God’s work through the parish.
Concern for Future
When each of us is gone, our future generations will be what remain of us and our parish. Let us leave for them a parish prepared to do Christ’s work in the world and one which in every aspect can be found to be in better condition than we received it. This would seem to be an important and pleasant task.
A Free Will Action
Stewardship is a free will action that demonstrates trust in God and a love for His Holy House and all His creation. Tithes need to be joyful, unconstrained, proportional and authentic — an offering willingly, gratefully made from the heart from the first share of God’s blessings. Authentic stewardship is neither grudgingly offered or compulsory but rather confident and trusting.