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What does Stewardship mean? The exercise of Stewardship for an
Orthodox Christian is the process of placing all of Creation in
perspective. It is the process of establishing the correct set
of priorities in a life that is Christ-centered, Spirit-filled,
moving toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Once we dedicate ourselves
to this, all earthly necessities will be provided. God does not
us to take such a journey without providing us what we need for
the journey. Stewardship is not a financial issue – it is
a Spiritual one. It is ultimately related to our commitment to
Christ; and, as long as we continue to think of stewardship in
terms of money (dollars and cents) then we have completely missed
and Orthodox understanding of what Christian stewardship is.
Too many of us approach the Church using a business mentality (“The Church is a business and has to be run like one…”). Every business has a product. What is our product, as the Church? Salvation. Saving souls for Christ. Stewardship is that which provides greater commitment from Christ’s people (i.e., the Church) which allows us to save souls for Him. We are not here to talk about money, or fund-raising, but rather to increase our commitment to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!
Explaining Stewardship in ‘lay’ terms Let’s try to put aside our prejudices about the word ‘stewardship’ and focus on the image of breathing, We all have to breathe to live. We breathe in, we breathe out. And if we did not breathe in oxygen, we would die of oxygen-deprivation. Likewise, if we did not exhale the carbon dioxide from our lungs, we would asphyxiate and die.
In the image of our Faith, and the Church, the Body of Christ, we also can see the image of Breathing (In Genesis we see the breath or spirit of God moving over the waters. After the Resurrection Christ breathing upon his disciples and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.”) How then does the Church ‘breathe in’ and ‘breathe out’?
Breathing out is the work of the holy people of God (the Church) moving out into the world, and this is known as Outreach. Breathing in is the holy people of God (the Church) returning to God that which is already His, and this is known as Stewardship.
If we do not practice the breathing out (Outreach) and breathing in (Stewardship) as Church, then We will die. The Church, our parish, will die. Remember: the Orthodox Church will still exist around the world, and in places that ‘breathe in and out’, but ours will not. Our Church is quickly becoming extinct in this country because we are not doing the Outreach and the Stewardship necessary to keep it alive…in most cases.
Why is “Breathing Out”—Outreach—important? Let’s ask ourselves a question: are we growing? Is our parish growing? Are we bringing in new people and retaining those we have had? This is a very painful issue because we all know that we are not doing this….yet, if we read our Lord’s words in Matthew (28: 16-20), we quickly realize that this is the only reason to be The Church—to do Outreach: …Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age…” This is the Great Commission of Christ, to bring all nations to Him. Are we doing this in our parish? Our ‘Parish Mission’ should be to save the people in our community, not to worry and fret about the material things. Outreach is a sound theological and biblical issue: we need to reach out not only to our own, but as well as to those who are lost. (We all can relate examples of friends who are disconnected from the Church).
As Fr. James Gavrilos, a contemporary Orthodox Stewardship Director, states, “Most parishes in America utilize what I refer to as ‘Little Bo Peep evangelism, they’ll come back some day.’ And clergy use the ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ strategy (baptize them, marry them and bury them).”
Historically, the Church in this country has taught the children (Sunday School) and ‘played’ with the Adults (social events). Rather, we need to teach the adults, and play with the children. Why? Because these are the realities we better face up to: All of us, not just the clergy, but the laity as well, are equally responsible for the Outreach and evangelism of our Church, of taking the message of salvation which Christ gave to His Church and bringing it to the world in which we live!
The Essence of ‘Breathing in’—Stewardship: We are talking about returning to God that which is already His. Do we believe that everything belongs to God, and we are simply caretakers of that which He gives to us?
Let’s analyze the above by answering a few questions. How many of us believe in God? How many of us believe that, by the Grace of God, all things of life are given to us as gifts and talents? Now, if we believe in the first two, how many of us believe that what we own or possess is ours? Most of us know that there is a world of difference in what we say we believe in, and what we actually do. And this is why we need to understand what Stewardship really talks about.
Did you know that the Bible speaks of ‘faith’ issues approximately 500 times; but expounds on the area of money and possessions over 2000 times? This shows how important what we do with our possessions and our money is in God’s eyes. So please do not tell me that stewardship is a financial issue. It is not. It is a spiritual one, and what we do with our money and our possessions reveals where our Faith truly is. “Show me a man’s checkbook, and I’ll show you what is important to him” Fr. Gavrilos stated in a recent talk. Do you agree or disagree?
Remember the story of the Widow’s mite in the Gospel of Mark (12: 41-44)? Compared to the wealthy, she gave all she had. While the rich gave out of abundance, she gave everything she had to live on.
Stewardship is about priorities and commitments, not amounts. Ask yourself this question: Can I commit, as part of my ongoing commitment to serving our Lord Jesus Christ, a greater portion of what God has already given me, (time, talents and treasures) and give it back to Him? If there is work in the parish to be done, will I donate my time and talents to help out? And what of my treasures (financial resources), do I give from what is left over, or first off to Him?
Our priorities are completely out of whack, we already have too much. Last year, in this country, over 9 billion dollars were spent on renting storage spaces, so people could put things they own but have no place for in their homes. Many of us seek to identify ourselves by our possessions and things, not as people of God, as Orthodox Christians. What if God blessed us the way we bless Him? What if He gave to us the way we give to Him?
Basic Concepts of Christian Stewardship What we are giving God is His already – our time, our talents, and our treasures. Consider:
Time: 168 hours per week. How much time do we spend in His House the Church? In His Presence in “small Church”, our house on prayer? Do we respect and honor Him with His Time, and give it back to Him?
Treasures: Our financial resources and possessions are given to us by Him. Do we show our thankfulness by giving back to Him first from our hearts?
Talents: How am I making use of the talents He has blessed me with? Do I use them for my own purposes, or for His? Do I let them go to waste? Does our Church pay outsiders to do the work that we ourselves can do?
Christian stewardship is proportional-giving, whether it be a ‘tithe’ (10%) or a percentage thereof. It is not minimal-giving! (“How much do I have to give?” is not Christian…) Here, Fr. Gavrilos says that Orthodox parishes must lose the ‘dues mentality’: we can not pay dues to the Church, the Body of Christ, because then we believe we have a ‘right’ to something: “It is my right to vote! It is my right to be married! It is my right to be a Kum!” When we pay dues, we misunderstand the Church as a collection of rights for us, much like when we pay dues to a Country Club, or a Civic group, we have certain privileges that go along. (Look at the mentality that such attitudes breed….member/non-member fees; etc.) The “fund-raiser” mentality is a losing proposition: If we cannot support our own efforts as Orthodox Christian stewards, what does that say about our commitments to Christ? How can we rely on ‘outsiders,’ non-adherents of Orthodoxy, to support the ministry of our Church? That is not spiritually healthy. We cannot rely on earned income to pay our bills (i.e., a “good International Village” will help us to accomplish plans), nor on appeals for special projects. Just look at our Capital Improvements Drive, or our Renovation Fund to see the truth of this!
True Orthodox Christian Stewardship is pledging a regular amount of our time, our talents, and our treasures to ensure that the work of Christ, and, by His extension, the Church, gets done. Regular pledges, monthly, for example, help offset those times of year when things slow down, and giving may be more difficult, like at Christmas, or tax time.
Let’s look at four examples of non-stewardship giving with which we are all too familiar:
Crises-giving: The Church is in need. Give! (the infamous appeals letters…) What if God only gave His Grace out to us in emergencies?
Left-over giving: After we have done what we needed to do (pay bills, insurances, etc.), then we give to God! In a recent study done, a Charitable organization found that over half of all Americans spend more money on their TV, cable, or Internet bill than they gave to their respective Churches in a year. Again, what if God did this to us?
Once-a-year-giving: The writing of one check, and Voila! I am a member, I am in. Imagine if God only blessed us once a year with His Grace. Stewardship is a regular, consistent giving to God, a reflection of what He means to us.
Reluctant-giving: You know, it becomes painful when you see another collection coming up in Church, or, when we have to write the check, etc. I sometimes see the looks on our faces (“Oh no, not another one. Gee, I’m not rolling in dough you know!”) Think about this: Did Christ go to the Cross reluctantly? No! He gave of Himself abundantly, He practiced abundant giving. Can we do anything less?
Final Thoughts What we need to do, both as the Body of Christ (the Church), and as individual stewards is to pray about our relationship to God, asking Him to bless us with the courage to trust in Him to take care of our needs, both as individuals and as His Body, the Church.