Stewardship is about a Christian’s personal, volitional response to God's call to discipleship as part of the Body of Christ. As such, stewardship is primarily a value (an individual, but also a corporate one), a practice (behavior) only secondly, and a concept or belief, thirdly. Given that framework, most congregations seem to tend to “teach” it backward and incompletely. Too often we attempt to teach Christian stewardship by using the teaching-by-telling approach and leaving it at that, never touching on the affective and the volitional and failing to facilitate the practice. Then, we naively expect that change will happen in the life of our members related to stewardship.
Stewardship is a Spiritual Issue
Stewardship is a spiritual issue, and it must be addressed like every other spiritual issue in the life of the believer. The issue is not to TELL people that they need to give 10% of their money to the church, rather, it is to help people arrive at a conviction of value by engaging them in the dialogue of theological reflection by asking, "Share with me, how are you responding to God in your stewardship of life?"
Our failure to help our members learn—--really learn-—-stewardship has had tragic results. Our unfortunate approach to teaching stewardship in the lives of our members means that we’ve done a great disservice to them over the years by being ineffective about helping them address the stewardship dimension of discipleship (except when it's time to ask for money for the church budget we tend to not even talk about it. And all evidence is that we’ve failed even there, since most members give only 2.3% of their income to the church).3 I suspect that we, the church leaders—pastors, teachers, deacons—have been irresponsible in helping our members in this, probably because we ourselves have not dealt with our own issues related to money.
In most of our churches, a significant number of our members are under the oppressive burden of debt, so much so that they are unable to respond in responsible stewardship to God. I suspect they resent us for it, because we've been of no help whatsoever to them in dealing with financial stewardship while making them feel guilty about not giving more money to the church. We've not been prophetic about challenging the values of the world our members have embraced and the myths of materialism the world teaches. So when we once or twice a year make our pitch for money, they can’t hear it, at least, they don't hear it theologically. And then there are the church members who have bought into the values of the world's materialism: how many people in your congregation spend more on feeding and caring for their pets than they do giving to the hunger offerings at church? How many spend more monthly on their cable TV and Internet service bill than they do to missions? How many church members spend more money on their annual vacation than they do giving money to help the homeless?
It's About Values
The issue of stewardship is complex because it less about the money and more about values. I think that we ought to address the issue of stewardship in the same way we address issues about faith development and discipleship: by taking into account developmental life stages and cycles. Different epochs in life require different messages about one’s response about stewardship of life. As a specific example: mid-life calls for a stewardship of generativity (learning to face the limitation of means and beginning to invest in the next generation. In effect, learning how to give your life away.). But that is not the case for adolescents and young adults whose life stage work appropriately includes acquiring and building. And how unfair, and nonsensical to its audience, are messages about stewardship of money to young children—who have no money and no cognitive concept of percentages or of proportional giving? And end-of-life stages, and stages of senescence, call for different ethical and theological decisions about stewardship. Only through dialogical engagement can people deal with these issues authentically in their lives. I suspect we make our messages of stewardship ineffective when we assume that it is the same for everyone at the same time, and we attempt to teach everyone the same way.
In terms of educational programming, not everything is for everybody at the same time. I think we confuse and make people feel uselessly guilty when we send the message that, regardless of their life stage, their family life cycle stage, and their particular life situation, they are supposed to function and respond like "everyone else." But rarely are they given the opportunity for learning through dialogue that leads to application, and therefore, I suspect most choose to make no legitimate response at all to God’s call in this area of their lives. Stewardship is as much a value and a choice as it is a concept and a practice. Unless we address all four domains of learning--knowledge, affect, behavior, and volition---our members will never “learn” stewardship.
Adapted from: How to Be the Best Christian Study Group Leader, by Israel Galindo (Judson Press)
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Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Ministry (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan. Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center's blog for theological school deans.