Monday, October 4, 2010

Of Younger Generations and Stewardship

There is a Hasidic tale of a disciple who asked, "Why does the Torah tell us to 'Place these words upon our hearts'? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?
The rabbi answers, "Because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in them. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in."

This reminds me of our younger generations who want to be IN ministry or involved in some mission BEFORE joining the church and even before learning ABOUT Christianity. Their work for others is what causes their hearts to break open and allow the words to fall it. They are actually "doing" stewardship without realizing it, giving of the gifts and talents that God gave them, to care for the whole world. The sooner we realize this need of the younger generations, the sooner we'll help them learn the love/grace of God that has held us through the years.

I still say that stewardship is the head and heart of Christianity, and mission is the hands and feet. We need both, paired together, to make our bodies complete. Guess that's appropriate for this season when many of us are involved in stewardship. Sometimes we don't understand the history of stewardship. Here's my summary of stewardship as I wrote it in my book Let the Children Give: Time, Talents, Love and Money.

In the very early church, the Christians gave to each other without worry for themselves. They saw their role as caring for every person whom God placed in their paths, and even going out of their way to be stewards of God's people. (Acts 2:44-45; 11:27-30)

The true meaning of stewardship got off the track way back in the fourth century when Constantine declared the entire Roman world as Christian. This set the church up as an arm of the government, and the operating budgets of the churches were raised through taxes. The only need these churches had to raise money was to spread the gospel to other countries. Their routine "budget" was taken care of by the taxes of the citizens. This continued throughout Europe, where the government and church were united.

When Europeans came to North America they established a government that separated church and state. At first there were few problems about budgets. Most ministers were unmarried circuit riders, and as long as they had a horse and a couple of changes of clothing they managed fine. When they went to a community the members of the congregation saw to their housing and meals. The congregations usually met in schoolhouses or homes, and so there was no need to raise money for building upkeep.

But then things began to change. As communities became more established, they wanted pastors who were in residence, and they began to build houses of worship. Suddenly they realized that the taxes no longer covered such items, and so there was a need to "raise a budget". This endeavor then became labeled "stewardship", and the broad scope of the word was lost. Our task today is to bring back the understanding of stewardship that was prevalent in the early church, the understanding that all that we have belongs to God, and as stewards we must recognize the mission of God as dominant in our lives (Acts 4:32-35).

Stewardship must involve all that we have. I've posted some resources on stewardship below.

What are your thoughts?