Recently I was doing some research for a presentation for Stewardship Day. The preparation required me to explore churches of many denominations and how they approached stewardship of generous sharing with their members. Needless to say, in order to truly understand their process, I had to understand how they viewed membership and the culture of their communities.
I was especially interested in how our brothers and sisters in some of the larger, non-denominational, evangelical churches created good soil for participation and giving. I have to admit that I had some wonderful and open conversations with staff members. Here are a couple things that struck me.
First, most of us love and believe in our parishes. We think that we are welcoming and anyone who would choose to join us would find a happy and healthy environment. The reality is, if we have been in our parish for a long time, we are used to the way we relate to one another in both positive and negative ways. What we may think is normal, may be unacceptable to those looking in and trying to decide if they want to join us.
As I looked at materials I received from one of the largest growing churches in the country I noticed a section they use for new members. It was entitled, “I will protect the unity of my church.” Following the statement it said: “by acting in love toward other members and by refusing to gossip.”
When I asked the pastor to go more in-depth on this statement, she said that they do not tolerate any kind of gossiping or people who stir up negativity within their community, especially their volunteers. People are made aware of this when they choose to become members. They have removed people for not cooperating. The church uses the Scripture passage from Romans (14:19) that says: “Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.”
I’m not sure that I have ever seen in writing what should be the norm for any of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus. It reminded me that true hospitality is very sacred and protects the integrity of all God’s people. It has also been made clear to me that young people will not accept an institution that professes the love of Jesus and acts in another way.
As the Body of Christ, we need to help each other say “no more” to gossip so that others who are yet to join us can feel safe and experience the love of Jesus in our presence.
Another discovery from my research was the understanding they have with their members about giving from their treasure. We know that their members are generous because we can see their state of the art facilities going up all around us.
Every church that I researched said that they do not have a problem discussing giving because they follow the biblical principle of the 10 percent tithe to their church and then sacrificial giving or offering to other charitable organizations. They would suggest that it is God’s command, so why would they be afraid to promote it? Many say that Jesus calls us to an even greater generosity. One church puts forth a 30-day tithing challenge to members and guarantees that they will return the money if their lives have not been transformed.
Pastors and preachers boldly promote the importance of the work that their tithing funds. Pastor Bill Hybles of Willow Creek Church in Illinois says: “We believe that the church is the only God-anointed agency in society that stewards the transforming message of the love of Christ.” He also says: “Until our dying breath, we want the bride of Christ to become a force in which the very gates of hell cannot prevail.”
Our church believed this long before these other churches came to be. We just don’t say it out loud. I wonder what might happen if we had those messages playing in our minds and hearts prior to writing out our offering check each week?
I’m very proud of our church and its long and rich history. In fact, the new denominations stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, saints and theologians. Yet, I am very grateful to be able to have others hold a mirror up to us so that we might stay on our path to holiness. Perhaps that was what Martin Luther was doing 500 years ago.
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.