by Karl Doege
As a general rule, in church settings, a “Stewardship Program” is primarily concerned with the giving of money. Of course, there is honorable mention of giving of one’s time and talent and recognition that our congregation is simply unable to do what needs to be done with regard to church without the donations of time and talent from all of us. Just about everything that the church does involves the willingness of the members of the congregation to give both time and talent. Too, we make every attempt to emphasize that stewardship involves what we do with what we have in all walks of life. Stewardship really involves everything we do with anything that we have – all the time. Nevertheless, when we mention “Stewardship Program,” we are usually placing an emphasis on “financial stewardship” – giving of one’s money.
Accordingly, we go about getting our stewardship program message across by devising plans for “raising money.” We emphasize the fact that we have a budget for the coming year – a budget that needs to be met. The budget, of course, is an accounting of how the church staff plans to spend the money received in donation. So a stewardship program that raises money to meet its budget is actually a way of acknowledging what one will receive in return for giving: The staff will get paid; All the various programs will have money to keep functioning; a certain amount must be allowed for building maintenance, etc.
So raising money to meet a budget might really be viewed as a format for an exchange of services. In most circles this is called Fund Raising. And, to tell the truth, like it or not, this is what most stewardship programs are about. Fund raising is not necessarily a bad approach. It is even generally a needful approach. In any case, I’m not sure there its entirely possible to get away from such an approach given the reality that the church needs money in order to “do church” as well as to carry out its mission.
Another approach to Stewardship would be to emphasize the fact that we are all called upon to be generous with our monetary resources. We note that there are so many people who do not have food, shelter, clothing, family, anyone to help them. Of course, we note that we have a building and programs and staff, but their overall purpose is to minister to the poor and needy and those who are on the fringes and without resources. The emphasis in this latter approach is placed not on meeting a budget but on giving because Generosity is a way of Christian Stewardship – a way of life.
I’m not sure that the two philosophies of giving can really be divorced from each other. “Fund Raising,” while seemingly a very cold way of viewing stewardship, is what we need to do if the work of the church is to be carried on. The real question might be, “Are we raising funds for ourselves, to meet our own needs as a congregation, or are we raising funds so that we can minister to those who are in need.”
If a person gives for the latter reason, i.e., to share generously with those who are in need, then the person is giving from a spirit of generosity. If a person gives for the former reason, then giving is pretty much self-serving – and hard to get away from. (The reality is that serving ourselves has, over time, proven to be what we’re best at. And we resist a change of mindset – even for the sake of generosity, especially if it affects our pocketbooks.)