October has become the traditional month at Pacific Beach UMC when we embark on our annual Stewardship campaign. It is a time where we recommit – or perhaps commit for the first time – ourselves to supporting the ministries of PB UMC and of the broader connected Church. We hear sermons intended to inspire thoughtful commitment and generosity, sometimes we hear from members of the congregation, we receive letters from the pastor, and we fill out a card indicating our commitment of support.
As a pastor, I find the time somewhat uncomfortable, and I confess this to all of you with some hesitation. Many of the stewardship books and blogs I’ve read share wise words about the confidence with which stewardship must be preached. Many of my colleagues share wisdom about how stewardship can only be authentically inspired when the one teaching and preaching has fully reached the goals being set for others.
But here’s the thing, I don’t feel confident, and I haven’t yet reached those goals. I’m still working on both of those things. I’m still working not to think about time and money from a perspective of scarcity. I’m still trying to find the tools that are right for me to more effectively and appropriately meet the goals to which I feel called. It’s not easy, and I think it’s important to be authentic about this, because I doubt that I’m the only one.
An important reminder for me is that stewardship is not only about our financial commitment to the church. This does not mean that our financial support is less important, or not necessary for the ministries of the church. Indeed, our financial support is critical for our ongoing ministries. And to be fair, the reminder that stewardship isn’t only about money is a reminder that stewardship is bigger than money.
So how can that be comforting? If stewardship is not only about money (gifts) but is also about giving our prayers, and our presence, and our service, and our witness, it means that stewardship asks more of us than to fill out a commitment card each year. How is that even remotely comforting?
I think it is comforting because God wants all of us. God doesn’t simply ask for our money. To be honest with you (and to quote Bono from U2), “the God I believe in isn’t short of cash.” I believe God asks each of us to give our entire selves to God. As United Methodists in covenant together, we make a commitment to support the ministries of the Church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. I think God calls us into this commitment, and I don’t think that’s all God wants from us. God wants our brokenness and our temptation. God wants our mistakes and our struggles. God wants our regrets and our failures.
God wants all that we have to give, and the idea that God will accept us completely is so much more comforting than the idea of God only wanting our money.
In a practical sense, this stewardship season brings about some important – and perhaps difficult – realizations. Because of a number of factors, giving and other income have been down at the church. Partly a cause, worship attendance has been down, with several members moving and some experiencing medical or family circumstances preventing attendance. Even with all of this, we see some necessary increases in expenditures on the horizon and are still considering a building and refurbishment project.
We could see these circumstances as reason to be filled with fear, but I would suggest that perhaps we may be comforted by the reminder that God wants all of us. We have the opportunity this stewardship month to consider an increasing expression of stewardship as we begin our stewardship series: Plus One. What might happen if each one of us connected with PB UMC were to pray for our church a little more than we already do? What might happen if each one of us showed up to one more worship service, event, or learning opportunity? What might happen if we were able to increase our financial giving by 1% or consider estate giving? What might happen if we committed to one more service opportunity? What might happen if we invited one more person or family to get involved in all that PB UMC has to offer?
In all of the conversations I have with the people of PB UMC, the good people of this congregation and community have had a profoundly positive effect on us all. Stewardship is our response to how we have been transformed by our God, our community, and our faith. It is my hope that we may prayerfully and faithfully explore stewardship over the course of this month, and that we may do so with a sense of faith, hope, and love.