Stewardship, Giving, and the Third Rail
A third rail is the high voltage power line that runs along a subway train. It is the one you are warned NOT to touch. It powers the train. But don’t touch it. It makes everything go, but if you touch it, it might kill you. Zap! Shock!
For some congregations, the topics of stewardship and giving are the third rail of church work. Even though money and giving empowers and enables so much good to happen, many church leaders are warned by long-time members to stay away. Other leaders don’t feel comfortable talking about it. It makes them nervous. They might be shocked!
Reason to Fear?
Why? Ministers and church leaders usually have good reasons why they will not touch a subject. But those reasons weaken in the logic of daylight thinking. Here is a sampling of concerns. (Along with some daylight responses.)
- “I don’t want to be associated with other ministers who seem too eager to talk about money, and way too eager collect it!” (But if that is the case, why would we attempt evangelism or any other kind of ministry! There are always bad examples; so good examples should lead the church.)
- “I don’t want our newer members to think that all I talk about is money!” (That is letting the least committed people set the agenda for the rest of the church.)
- “Will some of our most generous members come to discover that they are giving way above the parish norm and dial their down?” (People who give generously have learned to enjoy the blessings of a generous life which include a lack of judgment on what others give. They will do fine.)
- “Will others who are giving less begin to feel a sense of guilt about their giving?” (Most people need to sense a bit of guilt for the way we all tend to squander the gifts God gives us.)
Once, in an honest confession of his hesitation in this area, one colleague told me that he could not lead people to do what he had not embraced himself. His personal finances were in such a mess; he would feel like a hypocrite if he called people to give generously. He could not do it himself! Giving, like charity, needed to start at home. (I told him that most people could relate to the state of his finances. Start giving and lead from there!)
A Bible-Safe Topic
But the Bible takes a very healthy and positive approach to the subject of giving. It does not treat the subject as taboo. Instead, it seems to over-emphasize it. In the Bible, giving is a way to honor God (Malachi 3:10). It is an expression of a redeemed life. (Matthew 5:24). It is a sign of trust and confidence in God; an investment in the future. (Luke 6:38) Giving helps others in ways that they could not help themselves. (Acts 11:29) And giving is something that every household in every church is expected to do.(1 Corinthians 16:1-2) Here are only a few examples of how giving is both seen and, in some cases, celebrated in the Scripture.
In the Bible, giving is a way to honor God (Malachi 3:10). It is an expression of a redeemed life. (Matthew 5:24). It is a sign of trust and confidence in God; an investment in the future. (Luke 6:38) Giving helps others in ways that they could not help themselves. (Acts 11:29) And giving is something that every household in every church is expected to do.(1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
Here are only a few examples of how giving is both seen and, in some cases, celebrated in the Scripture.
- King David’s famous prayer before God about giving is a motivational encouragement commending his giving and the generosity of the people.“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicle 29:12-15)
- God’s wisdom highlights generosity in ways that should inspire us. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25) Who doesn’t want to prosper; who doesn’t want refreshment?
- A little-observed fact in the life of Jesus is that he seemed to take an interest in what some people gave and how they gave it. Remember the story of the Widow’s Mite? (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus makes it his business to notice not just what people gave but their attitude in giving it.
- The Apostle Paul touches the third rail of church life boldly in his encouragement of the Corinthians. He actually compares the pokey-slow pledge payment he’s collecting for the believers in Judea with the overwhelming generosity of the Macedonian churches. (2 Corinthians 8-9)
- Paul also coaches young Timothy to actually touch the third rail on purpose! He tells his young protege to stand up to the wealthy patrons in Ephesus and warn them about putting their trust in riches. (1 Timothy 6)
Talk About It
Stewardship should not be a forbidden zone for preaching and teaching. It should be front and center in the life of a healthy church. There needn’t be any danger zone about the topic of stewardship; no third rail. Any church can establish this topic as a friendly, non-threatening way of addressing both the needs of the church and the needs of the people to give. And when it does, that church will build a comprehensive culture of generosity that will change lives and advance the church’s mission for years to come.
In fact, this is probably the number one method of establishing a church-wide culture of generosity and increasing the giving strength of a congregation: TALK ABOUT IT.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting up a series of blog posts together to help colleagues and churches raise the funds they need to accomplish their work of faith. Stay tuned.
It is good to have dreams and visions of what God has called a church to do, but without the sufficient resources, plans will end in frustration. Put bluntly: without funding, most ‘vision-talk’ is just ‘vapor-talk’.
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