Of course, I am not asking you to abandon your well thought out stewardship and generosity programming that you have been planning for months. And of course, I know that if you have been around Lake Institute for very long at all, you have heard us preach the power of year-round generosity programming. You should not focus your attention on stewardship just in the fall, even if this season is an important part of a holistic stewardship plan.
At first blush, stewardship might lead us to picture the exact opposite of risk-taking. Isn’t stewardship about good management, preservation, and limited risk? In the financial planning world, that is what first comes to mind. In your first meeting with a financial planner, you are likely to take an assessment to gauge your risk tolerance, and only then will your planner work with you to develop a diverse portfolio with a mix of stocks and bonds precisely chosen to balance risk with return on investment. And as we move toward retirement, we minimize risk to play it even safer in order to preserve the nest egg we have worked so hard to build.
Are we similarly risk-adverse within congregational stewardship or nonprofit fundraising plans?Whether it is an increasing anxiety that we will not secure enough scarce resources to meet our needs or a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude, we rarely revisit the way we challenge our communities around generosity with the imagination and creativity that we often find in other aspects of our work.
In the Christian scriptures, preservation and limited risk seem to be the exact opposite of what Jesus offers as his take on stewardship. Take for instance the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. It was the servant who buried his talents (preserving the principle, mitigating all risk, but sacrificing any return) that was chastised by the master. It was the servants who risked their talents and increased them that were praised and rewarded. Yet, it was less the servants’ economic prowess that the master praised, it was their trustworthiness (v 21, 23 “you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things”). It seems that stewardship is directly tied to courage and trust.
Stewardship, therefore, is not merely a religious word associated with fundraising, pledging, and annual budgets. Stewardship, however, is a theological word that leads us to cling to God’s promise for the future, to announce that vision to the world, and to live into this vision by working for that change right now. When living courageously, we can wait expectantly upon the Lord, risking the safety and comfort of the status quo for the chance to live into the role that God calls us to play in the ongoing creation, redemption, and transformation of this world.
Such a theology of stewardship is more expansive because it cannot be simply encapsulated in reminding our members to send in their pledge cards or make their annual gift. At the same time, it takes courage because it is often hard to manage. Of course, there is a difference between living courageously and living foolishly. In another of Jesus’ parables, he describes the wise man who built his house upon a rock in contrast to the fool who built his house on shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27). Wisdom comes from building a solid foundation, but there is a difference between standing firm and laying down anchor and refusing to move.
How do we in our organizations lay a solid foundation around our stewardship practices while also being willing to challenge ourselves and those entrusted to our care to expand our imaginations? That’s the challenging work to which I believe we are called. So this fall and into next year, I challenge you to try something new: ask members to increase their giving, take a portion of your budget to give away to another ministry, let donors young and old tell their story. But by all means, let’s expand our stewardship imaginations and take a risk because it’s stewardship season!