Stewardship

By Richard Reidy

For many of us, the need of raising money in the Church is viewed much as the Victorians viewed sex. It is necessary but not nice. Clergy and lay people alike see the fund-raising task in the parish church as an unwelcome interruption in the ongoing spiritual life of the parish.

For some of us the issue of parish finances is often treated a little like a commercial message in the middle of a good television program. It is separated from the program itself in sound and content, with no connection with what went before and what will come after. Discussion is kept as short as possible so we can, as quickly as possible, get on with the real spiritual thing we are here to do.

Or, the topic is wrapped in such a series of religious cliches and spiritual-sounding pieties as to go almost unnoticed. The feeling persists that many of our people are still theologically and spiritually hung-up when the issue of finances comes around.

If the topic makes us uncomfortable, and it usually does because of our conditioning, it is because we are not aware of the recorded approach of Jesus to the subject of man’s relationship to his money. Many people are surprised to discover that Jesus understood the deep and compelling potential for good or evil that exists in the relationship of a person to his money. Many people believe Jesus talked only about peace and forgiveness and prayer and sacrifice and the kingdom of God. This is not true. As recorded in the New Testament, Jesus talked a great deal about the relationship of a person and his material possessions. One sixth of all the words of Jesus are concerned with this one subject. One third of all Jesus’ parables are devoted to it. Money, and what it represents to us, has been a major preoccupation of every generation, and I submit that the church should not treat discussions about money as if money were a bad ‘four-letter’ word. On the contrary, relationships with regard to money should have the same high priority in every Church’s program of education that Jesus places on it. All year round, for all age groups, starting with the priest at the Amvon, we should be made mindful of the relationship of a person to his material possessions.

Fund Raising vs Christian Stewardship

At the outset, I want to establish different definitions for fund raising and for Christian stewardship. Fund raising means getting people to give more money. Christian stewardship on the other hand helps people to be more giving. Christian stewardship could be defined as the effective commitment or investment of human and material resources in participation with Christ in his love for others.

There are two primary points to be made. The first point is that stewardship always has to do with a Christian’s task of giving away gifts that have already been given to him by God. This presupposes, of course, acceptance of the belief that all things are conferred on us by God. The second point is that stewardship always has to do with a Christian getting free of what binds him. In our culture, nothing binds us more than money - the symbol of material things. The first point has to do with turning to a new life; the latter with turning away from an old life. In other words, stewardship is intertwined with conversion. One has to be turned away from what binds him, and turned towards what frees him. This is the test of genuine conversion.

We must become deeply convinced that the relationship of a person and his money is fundamentally a spiritual matter, as fraught with implications for an individual’s spiritual life as is his life of prayer or any other “religious” activity. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also.” Somehow, in some way, what a person does with his money, how he thinks about it, where he spends it, what he will do to earn it, and the things to which he will give it are some of the real clues to who he is inside, to what is essentially important to him, to what is really in his heart. It is significant to note the order of things in the words of Jesus. He does not say,” Where your heart is there shall your treasure be also.” Try an experiment. Go out and buy a few shares of stock. Make it enough so the financial interest is important to you. Then notice what part of the newspaper you turn to first when you pick it up. I’d be willing to bet it will be to the financial page to check on your investment. Interest and enthusiasm follow money. “Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also.”

To put it another way, the places where we make our most serious financial investments are the places where our real self, our inner self, is going to be most interested, most teachable, most responsive, and most open. To deal with a person in terms of what he does with his money is to deal with most people where they really live. A properly conceived stewardship effort in the Church can thus be an avenue to genuine spiritual growth. Good stewardship has that potential. That, I believe, is something of what Jesus meant when he said, “Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also.” It is, therefore, extremely important that we begin to recover a soundly Orthodox theological base for our stewardship efforts.

Theology of Money

We are all aware that the basic questions of life will, ultimately, be satisfied only by theological answers. This includes questions about money and our use of it.

A sound theology of money has the potential to tap the spiritual roots of Christians at a point where they are the most teachable, because it is here where they are the most concerned. A well-conceived., theologically sound stewardship program can be the most exciting spiritual adventure you can undertake in parish life.

And, yet, how badly some of us sometimes handle the task of promoting the issue of financial support for our parishes. There are as many different approaches as there are parishes. There are three common approaches that are guaranteed in failure and misunderstanding.

The Numbers Approach

One is the Numbers Approach. A parish sits down and calculates what it will need next year to carry out the Church’s work in that parish. For example, let’s suppose in a given parish a 10 percent increase will be needed next year. The message is communicated that if everyone would just raise their contribution for next year by 10 percent, we will make it fine. There are several things wrong with this approach.

First, it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The Numbers Approach will always put the emphasis on the dollars the Church needs rather than on the giving. When you start with a budget, the center of attention remains on the numbers, on the balance sheet. You can talk all you like about giving as responsible Christians, but few will hear what you say because the natural tendency will be to sharpen their mental pencils to go over the Church’s budget.

Second, the Numbers Approach is unfair. The basis of the message is that everyone is giving evenly, that family A and family B are already giving conscientiously in relation to their means. But the facts belie the assumption. While some families do give conscientiously, many more give far less than they could, or should. To ask for a percentage increase puts an unfair burden on those who are doing their best to be faithful in their giving, and it allows the token giver to remain exactly where he is. Even if he responds to the percentage increase, he will remain what he has been, a token giver.

Third, this approach represents a minimum rather than a maximum request. Perhaps it is the fear of asking too much and facing failure that tempts us. But with the Numbers Approach, what we ask as an increase is pretty well educated by what we are fairly certain is attainable. Consequently, it doesn’t challenge anyone spiritually. We ask our people to give to the Church, or to a given parish, and the effect is to base our appeal on the people’s responsibility for the survival of the parish, on parish loyalties, on interest in parish activities, or even on loyalty to a particular parish priest. To base our appeal on these things is to preclude any serious consideration of giving as a matter of a person’s spiritual life, as a serious matter between a Christian and God.

Church people operate on at least three levels of loyalty. We live on the level of denominational loyalty, that is loyalty to the Orthodox Church. In addition to that, we live on the level of parish loyalty. We have an interest in seeing our parish survive, prosper, and grow. Beyond these loyalties, we also live on the level of a loyalty - a commitment - to God in Jesus Christ. At our best, all three loyalties complement and reinforce each other. However, all too often, the first two loyalties are used as a substitute for the third. We can so easily be caught up in a kind of “Churchianity.” Indeed, to be faithful to a parish is a far easier commitment than to be faithful to Christ. And when we deal with our stewardship task on the level of parish commitments, we run the real risk of allowing these to be a substitute for any challenge to grow in relationship and commitment to God. While we may say that our stewardship is a matter of the spirit, when the push really comes, it’s the other loyalties on which we are really banking. That’s the real message church members will hear.

The “Shame-On-You” Approach

The “Shame-On-You” approach is the second of the three ineffective avenues to church funding. The message comes across something like this: as a nation we spend

$3 billion on cosmetics
$3 billion on tobacco
$10 billion on entertainment
$12 billion on alcohol
$1.5 billion on churches and charities

The climax of all this is the question, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Obviously, the great appeal of such an approach is that it is all too true. The priorities of most Americans are not what they should be, but there are some liabilities in this approach.

First, it appeals to guilt. If we feed people’s sense of guilt, what spiritual growth can there be? We may shake a few billfolds a little harder, but we also run the real risk of driving people away.

Secondly, criticism for failure seldom stimulates people to do their best. Giving, be it to the Church or to any worthy cause, is not an intellectual process but an emotional process. Most giving is done because a person has been motivated by his feelings. To accuse people of not giving what they ought to give, puts them on the defensive rather than motivating them to give more. Child psychology has long ago recognized that behavior in a child is modified by approval and acceptance, far more readily than by criticism. In the stewardship task we need to learn that same lesson.

The “Cry Poor” Approach

The third tactic we’ll call the “Cry Poor” approach. The message comes out like this: “Friends, we are living in difficult times. Our parish is in grave danger.” And then is listed all the desperate needs of the parish which might include leaks in the roof, cracks in the parking lot surface, the need for secretarial help, janitorial help, a whole new Sunday School curriculum, etc. It all adds up to a message that says, “Poor old St. —-. Won’t you all please dig a little deeper to help her out in this time of crisis?” The theory, of course, is that very few people can resist such a plea from their own parish, but this approach seems to have some severe liabilities.

It appeals to failure instead of effective success. If there is a single principle in modern advertising that runs through almost every ad, it is the principle that success begets success; failure begets failure. People want to be associated with successful things. To cry poor in the world of business is the kiss of death. In the Church it may work once, but in the long run, this approach will lose you money, members, and enthusiasm.

The “Cry Poor” approach tries to motivate giving out of pity instead of thanksgiving. The parish church, despite all the problems of parish life, will nonetheless never become effective and alive out of a sense of pity. Indeed, pity for the church is an unworthy motive to sustain any effective stewardship, or anything else for that matter.

Is There An Alternative?

Experience shows that there is a way that is more theologically sound and much more spiritually challenging than the approaches I just described. At this point we must go back into Scripture for our background. The book of Genesis begins with the words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The theme of God’s ownership is a recurring theme in both the Old and the New Testaments. The writer of Deuteronomy, after listing many of the accomplishments of man’s hand - his house, the building of his herds and flocks, and his accumulation of money - then warns:

Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand has given me this wealth.”

You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.

God is the source and man is the recipient of God’s gifts. In 1 Chronicles 29:14-16 King David prays,

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from thee, and of thy own have we given thee. . .Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building thee a house for thy holy name comes from thy hand and is all thy own.

The same theme is caught by the prophet Malachi. Malachi chastises the people for withholding their offerings to God. He asks, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. . . . Bring the full tithe into the storehouse.”

The assumption is that God is the owner of all things. Turning to the New Testament we hear the same basic principle sounded again. In the Parable of the Talents Jesus is saying that whatever we possess, we possess because it has been given by God’s hand. And from the gift, some return to God is expected. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard describes the proposition that God is a giver of gifts and that God’s gifts exceed anything we can do to earn them. The words of the parable, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me,” put in the mouth of God, is a proclamation of God’s ownership of His creation. Indeed, the earth is the Lord’s, and we are the recipients of great gifts.

It seems to me that any coherent theology of money, the earning, spending, and giving of it, must begin with this.

This principle is expanded for a Christian in one magnificent way. The greatest gift of God to us has been the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and, through him, the opportunity to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, when we have thought about the gifts of the earth, life and the human qualities of body, brain, talents, and the like, and identified these as gifts of God, we have only scratched the surface.

The Motive For Giving

Now, what has all this to do with our giving? It is my belief that all this sets the motive for giving, a motive that is at once biblically sound and fundamentally appealing. We give because that is one way we have of directly expressing our thanksgiving to God for these gifts. The purest of motives for giving is to give because we have been given to. Giving can be our thankful response to God, who has given to us.

It is critical to note what that kind of motive does to (or for) the giver. To ask him to give out of thanksgiving is to ask him to relate creatively with his God and not to a parish budget. This makes giving a matter of spiritual life rather than a matter of parish survival. It asks a person to be a Christian with his money and not just a fund raiser or a budget supporter.

It seems, at least to me, that a foundation built on these principles is not only desirable but essential to any stewardship effort. Indeed, built on such a foundation, our considerations of stewardship can then open up the genuine possibilities of spiritual growth, both in the life of the individual Christian and in the life of the parish as a whole.

But how does all that relate to our need to support a parish program and budget? There are two clear implications in what we are saying.

1. If Christian stewardship is anchored in the relationship of a person and his money, then Christian stewardship will relate to a person’s income, how he earns it, how he spends it, and how he decides to return a portion of it to God. It does not relate to the Church’s program or budget needs.

2. It follows then, that the stewardship campaign needs to be conducted prior to the formation of the parish budget. The stewardship question ought never to be “How much do we need?” The basic question needs to be, “What do I have out of which I can conscientiously return to God?” Our need is to give to God and not to a budget. When we pledge to the Church, we are giving to God, and not just to the Church. Therefore, our appeal needs to be directed toward a person’s income, not toward the parish’s need. Parish budgets need to be considered only after the stewardship campaign is completed.

What Kind of Program?

We come now to the question many of you have no doubt been asking: What kind of program can we establish in our parishes? What are the nuts and bolts of a parish stewardship program?

A successful stewardship program requires a great deal of in-depth study, and organizational effort. It has to be thought through carefully, planned in detail, and tailored to the particular character of each parish. Numerous books on the subject are available for study and adaption. I have prepared and included at the end of this paper a Stewardship Bibliography, which gives a fairly representative selection of materials on the subject.

The bottom line of any decent program, however, will be anywhere from a 15% to a 35% increase in financial support for your parish. Can you really afford not to develop a stewardship program for your church?

Although the limited length of this paper does not permit going over every detail in a model stewardship program, I would like to mention a few of the major elements in any program. First, we should count on our preliminary work beginning some four months before the actual stewardship campaign. You’ll be using this time with the members of your stewardship committee. You will need to select a chairman who is capable of handling the task. It goes without saying, that the chairman, as well as the other committee members, must represent the most enlightened leaders in your parish. If an individual feels that stewardship won’t work among your people, if he thinks that the only way to raise funds is by using the three “B’s” - Bingo, Bazaars, and Bake Sales, then by all means keep him off the stewardship committee. The battle cry of such persons is “Onward to Yesterday.” They really are not qualified for the demanding task of stewardship.

Your committee members must be among the most generous of your parishioners. Don’t misunderstand me, the man or woman who gives the highest dollar amount is not necessarily the most generous giver. A physician or a businessman with an income approaching six figures is not particularly generous if he gives a thousand dollars a year. The amount may well represent only one percent of his income. That man is not a committed steward. The amount he gives may be large, but proportionately, it is quite negligible. Therefore, the pastor must see that the committee members are themselves truly generous.

Proportionate Giving

At this point, we must talk about a crucial, crucial concept. It is the principle of proportionate giving.

Proportionate giving involves two points:

1. That our level of giving needs to rise out of our level of income.

2. That giving out of thanks for God’s blessings will involve sharing a portion of that income with others. This is proportionate giving.

A great deal is said today about tithing as the highest form of proportionate giving.

The 10 percent tithe has often been held up as the standard for Christian stewards. And there are a great many advantages to endorsing such a standard.

1. It is a biblical standard.

2. It is related to income and not to a church’s budget.

3. It has a “universality” about it, in that the concept is as old as the early Old Testament.

4. It could produce an astronomical amount of money in gifts.

However, in spite of these advantages, I am frankly not at all that attracted to it. First, it is a legalistic system. Second, it is an Old Testament concept that is not picked up in the New Testament.

The fact is that no specific percentage adequately expresses our stewardship before God. The fundamental relationship of God and man is not that of a master to a steward. The New Testament relates God and man, not as a master and steward, but as father and son. The qualities of the son are thankfulness, love, joy, and intimate relationship. It is in the qualities of our sonship that the concept of proportionate giving has its foundation. It can be stated this way: as sons of God we have the “why” of our giving as proportionate givers. We express that sonship in a practical manner. The system can be described very easily. Take your annual gross income and simply multiply it by the percentage that you want to share with God in your material giving. Then simply divide that amount by the weeks in one year. The amount you come up with seldom comes out to even dollar amounts (see chart) But that has the real value of moving away from the prison that puts gifts in round numbers without basing the giving on any systematic measure. A weekly gift of an odd amount $9.23, for example will continually focus attention on the percentage and will be a constant affirmation of the person as a proportionate giver every time the check is written. The major advantages of proportionate giving are:

1. It puts the emphasis where it belongs on giving out of income.

2. It keeps a person honest about his giving; honest about the real value of his gift in relation to what he has. The measure is not by pure dollar amounts, against what others with more can give, or against what others with less are able to give. The measure remains where it needs to be, yourself against yourself, what you give against what you have.

3. It allows every person to stand on equal ground as givers. The giver with modest income who gives 3 percent of that income is able to be affirmed in his giving along with the big giver who gives 3 percent of a much larger income. Their dollar amounts will vary considerably, but each is sharing equally with God through the Church out of what he has.

Planning and Executing the Program

I have attempted to describe some of the foundation blocks on which we build. We come now to the very practical problems of planning and executing the actual stewardship campaign in a parish.

The elements we need to put together include the following:

1. A clear understanding of our theology about money.

2. A detailed calendar of all events necessary for the introduction and implementation of a stewardship program in the parish.

3. A plan for the home visitation of each parishioner.

a. A specific method by which those who visit the homes are selected.

b. A specific way of training home visitors.

c. A specific way of assigning calls to each home visitor.

4. A system detailing:

a. The content and timing of preliminary mailings explaining the stewardship program to the parish.

b. The content and timing of sermons by the priest and talks by lay people about the program.

c. A system and time for home visits of the parish members.

d. Deadlines to be met by those making the visits.

e. Clean-up dates for all remaining home visits.

f. Plans for reporting results to the parish membership.


Some of us may be put off by the apparent complexity of a full-blown stewardship campaign. And, indeed, the effort will require study, planning, prayer, and time. But God and His Church - our Church deserve our best possible efforts. Can we offer Him less?

The preceding text is taken from a keynote address delivered by Richard Reidy, Treasurer of the Orthodox Church in America, at the July 9—11, 1981 Assembly of the Pacific Southwest Deanery in San Luis Obispo, California.

The speaker wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to the many stewardship workers serving within various Christian communions across America; in particular a debt of gratitude is owed to John H. MacNaughton and W. D. Crockett of the Episcopal Church for many of the stewardship concepts outlined in the address.

A Guide To Proportionate Giving ( in 1981)
If your Annual Gross Income is: Your Proportionate Weekly Gift Would Be:
3% 4% 5% 10% 12%

$8,000 $10,000 $15,000 $20,000 $25,000 $30,000 $50,000 $4.62 $5.77 $8.65 $11.54 $14.42 $17.31 $26.92 $6.15 $7.69 $11.54 $15.38 $19.23 $23.08 $38.45 $7.70 $9.62 $14.42 $19.23 $24.04 $28.85 $48.08 $15.40 $19.23 $28.85 $38.46 $48.08 $57.69 $96.15 $18.45 $23.08 $34.62 $46.15 $57.69 $69.23 $115.38

UPDATED! A guide to Proportionate giving (in 2003)
If your Annual Gross Income is: Your Proportionate Weekly Gift Would Be:
3% 4% 5% 10% 12%

$20,000 $25,000 $30,000 $35,000 $40,000 $45,000 $50,000 $55,000 $60,000$11.54 $14.42 $17.31 $20.19 $23.08 $25.96 $26.92 $31.73 $34.62$15.38 $19.23 $23.08 $26.92 $30.77 $34.62 $38.46 $42.31 $46.15$19.23 $24.04 $28.85 $33.65 $38.46 $43.27 $48.08 $52.88 $57.6938.46 $48.08 $57.69 $67.31 $76.92 v86.54 $96.15 v105.77 $115.3846.15 $57.69 $69.23 $80.77 $92.31 v103.85 $115.35 $126.92 $138.46

Sources

Burnett, Joseph D. Capital Funds Planning Kit for Churches. Valley Forge, Pa., Judson Press, 1980. Price $3.95

Carr, Oscar C., Jr Editor. Jesus Dollars and Sense: An Effective Stewardship Guide for Clergy and Lay Leaders. New York, N.Y., The Seabury Press, 1976. Price $3.95

Clinard, Turner N. Responding to God: The Life of Stewardship. Philadelphia, Pa., The Westminster Press, 1980.

Crockett, W. David. Three Sides of the Coin. Springfield, Mass., Capital Printing, (1562 Main Street, 01103), 1980. Price $4.95

Cunningham, Richard B. Creative Stewardship. Nashville, Tenn., Abingdon, 1979. Price $4.95

Dudley, Carl S. Making the Small Church Effective. Nashville, Tenn., Abingdon, 1978. Price $4.95

Fairfield, James G. T. All That We Are We Give. Scottdale, Pa., Herald Press, 1977.

Fisher, Wallace E. All the Good Gifts. Minneapolis, Minn., Augsburg Publishing House, 1979. Price $2.95

Hengel, Martin. Property and Riches in the Early Church. Philadelphia, Pa., Fortress Press, 1974. Price $4.50

Hess, Bartlett L. and Margaret Johnston. How to Have a Giving Church. Nashville, Tenn., Abingdon Press, 1974. Price $3.50

Knudsen, Raymond B. New Models for Financing the Local Church. New York, N.Y., Association Press, 1974. Price $6.95

MacNaughton, John H. Stewardship: Myth and Methods. New York, N.Y., Seabury Press, 1975. Price $3.95

McGinty, John. How to Raise the Level of Giving in Your Church. St. Louis, Mo The Bethany Press, 1979. Price $5.50

Rusbuldt, Richard E. Gladden, Richard K. Green, Norman M., Jr. Key Steps in Local Church Planning. Valley Forge, Pa., Judson Press. Price $5.95

Shedd, Charlie W. How to Develop a Tithing Church. Nashville, Tenn., Abingdon Press, 1961 Price $1.25