We set up this blog for many reasons. One of them is to show the ways that we partner with others. We want to explore the ways that we are already partnering with one another, and explore ways that we can partner more. A partnership that has existed for almost 10 years now is one between local congregations and individuals, LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Project 24 and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. Because of the close working relationship we all enjoy and because other partners have come on board like 1001 Orphans the ELCK asked the Missouri Synod to come and audit the books and report back to everyone. Charlie Rhodes from LCMS went to Nairobi and worked on that project recently. You can read about the results of the audit at www.wmlt.blog.
As a “church bureaucrat” who finds himself ill at ease with life strictly governed by policy, budgets, bylaws, and generally accepted accounting principles (all a necessity in this fallen world), drinking deep of the New Testament on this issue was a breath of fresh air. But it was also delightful to find that Paul’s dealing with the collection was “big business,” for the earliest church, and 2 Corinthians shows that Paul was operating in this matter with the clear language and principles of the legal and business world of his day. There is a practical, “left hand kingdom” side to working together as a fellowship of faith, as church.
Knowing something of the great collection is vital for anyone who actually desires to get something real done in the church on behalf of Christ. From fund development to personnel, to government regulations and internal power struggles, St. Paul dealt with it all. And by God’s grace, he found a way to assist the needy in all of it. That’s comforting and encouraging. Where the mercy of Christ in the Gospel provides the heartbeat, there is a way to get it done. “Let’s Go” (Mark 1:38).
For those who can’t or don’t want to read the whole thing the ending summary for me is essential – here are a few of the points, my comments in brackets.
1. Grace (divine favor) produces grace (gracious living).
2. Church fellowship includes concern for physical needs.
3. Paul and his ordained apostolic band were concerned with both physical and spiritual need, and worked extensively to both ends. [We tend to think of Paul strictly as a missionary who preached the Gospel which of course he was, but a close study of all of his epistles reveals that he spent much of his time “raising funds”.]
4. Diakonia [service] may well be a powerful tool for enhancing and maintaining church unity. It produces prayer and thanksgiving to God for the giver.
5. Giving is a demonstration of confession of the Gospel. [How many of us think of our giving as “between me and the Lord”. Have you ever thought that your attitiude about giving money is a confession of what you believe about the gift of salvation?]
6. The church is to demonstrate the utmost care in all matters financial.
7. The church does well to follow Paul’s careful methods of accountability, administration, and transparency, with direct local representation.
8. Appointment to offices of responsibility ought to be shared by local communities affected.
9. Meeting human need is the most basic reason for Christian stewardship. [This is the one that truly blows my mind. The most “theological heavy language that Paul uses in his letters hs to do with fund raising for poor people. Paul calls the act of giving money to the poor, grace, fellowship, ministry, service, thanksgiving, harvest of righteousness, etc. As Harrison writes, “The fundamental context and reason for the chief apostolic teaching on the sharing of one’s possessions, and those of the church as a corporate entity (particularly money), is the alleviation of pressing need among fellow Christians.” I find it insulting and frustrating that we continue to use this treasure house of passages to describe our raising of money to shingle roofs and fix the parking lot in our “stewardship drives”. Do we really believe that when we give money to fix the restroom in the fellowship hall that we can apply this passage of scripture to that act? “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” It’s not funny, but I bet it has been done”.]
10. Giving is in no way to be done out of compulsion or with a bad conscience.
11. Giving is best done after careful deliberation and consideration of blessings.
12. God is pleased with each gift (small or large) relative to the faith, intent, and means of the giver.
13. Spiritual care and counsel for the giver was worthy of the deepest apostolic concern. It also ought to concern our clergy. Giving is a deeply theological and pastoral concern. [How many Pastors consider fund raising for works of mercy as a deep theolgoical concern?]
14. As did Paul, it is very appropriate to reference the promises of Holy Scripture with respect to generosity in encouraging giving.
15. Giving to the needy carries the New Testament promise of abundant blessing (not withstanding the theology of the cross, of course).
16. Based on the model of St. Paul, the church would do well to have competent, theologically capable men/women administering funding issues.
17. Mission congregations must not be spared the privilege of learning to give to need outside their immediate community, no matter how modest the gift. [My contention is and always has been that once a mission start gets a building, the building becomes “the mission” and that is sad.]
Here is my idea. Our “stewardship” education has simply been wrong. Stewardship means “caring for the house”, loosely translated. So stewardship has to do with what we have to do to take care of the “house”. We take care of the house, keep the lights on, the restrooms working, the heat and cooling system going, the Pastor and staff getting paid. so that we can be equipped and empowered by God’s grace and mercy to do the real work we have been saved to do, and that is to live a life of “caritas”. Charity and love for the neighbor is why we exist. Stewardship is the cost of “doing business” so that we can be what Christ called us to be. Until we get this straight churches and Districts and Synods and partners will continue to suffer.
To read President Harrison’s paper go to www.itistime.org.
I hope that we can develop a serious theological discussion about this on this site.