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COMMENTARY: Stewardship - It’s all about relationships Ken Sloane, Jul 27, 2012
By Ken Sloane Special Contributor
I worshipped in a church that had signs posted everywhere—doors coming in, doors leaving, entering the fellowship hall, even in the men’s and women’s rooms. The signs said: “It’s all about relationships.”
It wasn’t the church’s mission statement, but it was a core value, and you couldn’t be in that church facility for more than a minute without realizing it. It was a reference to their relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, with other persons in the church family, with their neighbors and community, and with the global community. This church lived it out; they were all about relationships.
Stewardship is all about relationships. It’s not about what the Finance Committee does in August or September in preparation for the pledge campaign in November, or the little box in the Sunday bulletin that tells us how much less last Sunday’s offering was than what we needed to make the budget.
Don’t be mistaken: Raising money for the operation of the church is important, and the money your people give or don’t give will either empower or cripple ministry that your church must be about and the world desperately needs. Creating revenue for the church is important, but it is not the foundational purpose of stewardship. It’s about building relationships.
In many ways the Bible is about relationships as well. A dominant theme in the Hebrew Scriptures is the understanding of the covenant that God established with our Hebrew ancestors: “You will be my people and I will be your God.”
More than an agreement or a contract, the covenant defines a relationship. We can’t understand or teach stewardship until we understand the blessings and obligations that undergird this covenantal relationship. Read through the Ten Commandments and you’ll realize how they help define how to keep our most important relationships healthy. We often hear it said that in the Gospels Jesus speaks more about money and possessions than any other topic, but really he talks more about how those things interact with the relationships we value.
So how does our teaching about stewardship connect and call people into relationships? Stewardship is about our relationship with God, who in love has sought to enter into covenant with us; our relationship with Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and our relationship to the church, Christ’s body in the world, and the mission to which it has been called.
The big shift
Carol Johnston, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, has done extensive research on generosity in a variety of congregational settings and interviewed church members across a wide range of income levels. She observed that, regardless of the economic strata, when asked about money there was a consistent anxiety expressed about whether the interviewee “had enough” to really feel secure.
They were unable to see that money really couldn’t guarantee security in this life.
Dr. Johnston’s reflections on this were powerful: She writes at length about the connection between this security that people seek and the faith perspective that points them to examine the relationships that can provide that security. She lists family and community and we could expand that to include relationship systems that develop within congregations—some healthy and some not healthy. Ultimately, the key relationship that can satisfy that need for security is our relationship with God.
Dr. Johnston makes a powerful observation about one of the key obstacles to unleashing the generosity in our people. “In order for people to change the way they think about and use money, the focus needs to shift from money as the measure of wealth and security to the only true security there is: placing your life in God’s hands.”
So when it is time to begin the stewardship conversation in your church, let’s not start with what the church needs to pay the bills. Talk about relationships, and in which relationships people put their trust, and in which relationships people find their security. See if that doesn’t lead us into a place of more generous living.
The Rev. Sloane is director of stewardship for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.