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Introduction 

Personally I continue in the challenge of what it means to be a disciple in the correct use of my time, effort and possessions. As part of the financial leadership in a number of local churches, I have also had to think through an approach to church finance, stewardship and fund raising. [1]Much has been written about Christian stewardship especially in the context of struggling church finances. However, there is often an important gap in the material on the theology and on the motivation for stewardship as a way of life.  

People experience many calls on their resources and giving to church or charity is too often regarded as something to do after other obligations are met. Some will see giving to help the poor as a priority but cannot relate this to giving to or through the church. The best literature on giving recognises that folk will only give sacrificially through the church if they see that as their response to Jesus‘ call to love God and Neighbour.  In my experience, stewardship programmes will only have limited success unless three criteria are fulfilled:

a)       people think through what it means to be a disciple in the correct use of time, effort and possessions

b)       the local church has a shared vision, owned by its members,  about what its mission is and what it costs to fulfil that mission

c)       practical measures are put in place to facilitate people providing the required resources. 

A limited financial success can be achieved by making clear needs or by appealing to religious obligation. However, these approaches do not get to the heart of the issue which is one of priorities and lifestyle in response to the gospel. 

From 2004-2007 I was responsible for Stewardship at St Andrew’s Anglican Chaplaincy in Moscow and there was an expectation that I would push for a Stewardship campaign. However, it seemed to me and to other colleagues on the Chaplaincy Council that initial focus should be given to outreach to the expatriate community and to developing a shared vision for St Andrew’s future activities.  

We did identify that there was a gap in our understanding of stewardship which needed to be filled if an appeal to the congregation to fund the vision was not to fall on stony ground. I was asked to give three sermons to help people to think through their correct use of time, effort and possessions in the context of what it means to be a disciple.  The sermons were also used to sum up the vision worked out by the Chaplaincy Council over the previous months.  The text of those sermons provides the basis for the core of this booklet. 

Over this whole period St Andrew’s experienced a growth in numbers, commitment and Christian maturity and, almost incidentally, experienced a 30% increase in freewill giving. I attribute this to the whole approach rather than specifically to the sermons which were delivered late in the day but which encapsulated the thinking behind the approach. I have now left Moscow and the St Andrew’s story continues and has to be renewed in every expatriate rotation but the lesson for me was the power of shared vision and a growth in Christian maturity. 

I hope that the thoughts below will help people think through their individual decisions from fundamentals and help local churches determine their approach to church finance and stewardship in the context of their vision for their church. I truly believe that the key is to move from the reality or perception of a church as an institution asking for money to the church as a community challenging themselves as to what it means to be disciples.


Towards a Theology of Stewardship. 

The Bible contains accounts of God’s dealings with creation – with humanity in particular and, in the Old Testament, particularly God’s relationship with the Jews. It tells of God making provision for the restoration of fallen humanity, beginning with Abraham and leading up to and including the ministry and person of Jesus. It then goes on to give the history of the early church and both give guidance for Christian living and to develop the theology arising from the Gospel events. 

From the beginning, interwoven with the story of salvation, the Bible outlines how humanity was given responsibility for the created order and how they are to manage it. In order to understand this responsibility and how we are to relate to God and the created order we have to look at both the Old and New Testaments to consider of what the Bible has to say about creation, gifts, responsibility, accountability, tithing, jubilee, the grace of giving, discipleship, ownership, relationship to the things of God, generosity etc., from which we can derive a theology of Stewardship. 

From the Old Testament, we can learn about God’s provision for the needs of all mankind and our responsibility as stewards of the created order. We can learn about Jewish tithing as part of Jewish society complementing additional joyful free will giving and of the importance of a Vision to underpin both these aspects. From the New Testament we can examine what we can learn from Jesus’ teaching particularly as two thirds of Jesus’ parables were about wealth and money. In addition we can learn from the life of the early Church through the Epistles and consider the challenge to Church people of the principles and practice of Christian stewardship. 

Against this background we can consider ‘What is Stewardship?’ which is to consider our personal and community response to our understanding of  God’s intention for our  relationship to our gifts, money and possessions to help us have a balanced relationship with these things. Stewardship a way of life in response to God and a fundamental aspect of Christian discipleship which does include using and managing our God-given resources appropriately and responsibly but is not just about money (balancing the books, keeping the show on the road and paying for the building and the parish share) nor is it the Church’s euphemism for fund raising. It is about using and managing our God-given resources appropriately and responsibly; it does include the crucial matter of the stewardship of our time and financial resources and our co-operation with God in the funding of the Church’s mission to represent the love of Jesus in the world which God in his grace has called us to share. 

We hold everything as Stewards: everything comes from God from the things he has given us for the benefit of all mankind and hence we need to use all our time, abilities and possessions for the glory of God. The concept of Stewardship does not just challenge our giving but challenges our lifestyle; it is primarily a way of life in response to God and a fundamental aspect of discipleship which confirms Jesus. We should set our heart on the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ not on earthly wealth; and we should give generously with love both individually and as a community. 

Such a concept cuts through the debates whether we should decide on what we give after before or after we have considered other commitments, whether we make all our free will giving through the church, whether we should give out of gross or net income or whether a tithe of 10%, 5% or less applies. It does this by challenging us to make all decisions re all our resources as Stewards of God.   

The intention of this booklet is to invite you to work through these issues and ideas yourself  through your own reading of the Bible, through prayer and through discussion and debate. You may wish to tackle some questions now but revisit them after going through the rest of this booklet.
 


Re-reading the Old Testament in light of the New 

In this context we read the Old Testament to gain insight into God’s dealings with creation – with humanity in particular and particularly God’s relationship with the Jews. Interwoven with the story of salvation, we can read a history of how humanity was given responsibility for the created order and how we are to manage it.  

[2]Genesis begins with the relationship of God, His creation and mankind; it is not an original thought but the first and second commands in Scripture are, in fact, stewardship commands: ‘Go forth and multiply’ and ‘Look after the garden’ – because both are about how humankind is to steward the resources given it by God. In Genesis Man is given dominion and names every living Creature this is the significance of naming and such concepts are re-enforced else where in the Old Testament e.g. [3]Psalm 8 where  Mortals are given dominion over the works of God’s hands (which is restored through Christ Jesus). In both cases, read in context of the whole OT, such dominion over God’s creation, which remains God’s, implies responsibility to God for it 

In this context we can begin to understand the spirit behind the provisions of Jewish Law; the Old Testament Law provides for the community both in areas now covered by the state and areas which are not so covered. [4]Jewish tithing was part of the overall system of Jewish law that governed the whole of society (we have to carefully look at the cultural context of ancient Israel) 

In the post resurrection age we know we are told by Paul, expanding on Jesus teaching, that we should [5]live by the Spirit but that the law is fulfilled rather than abolished. Paul insists we are no longer bound  by the law and it is wrong to selective to apply part of it – [6]if we wish to be circumcised we should obey the whole law. My understanding then is that we should study the law not to derive rules such as ‘you must tithe 10%’ which seems to be against the spirit of freewill giving taught by Jesus and Paul but to understand the underlying intention. 

The Law of tithing may have looked like this: a 10% tithe went to the Levites to maintain public service; some 10% of the above went to the priests to maintain the temple (i.e.1% of total); an additional 10% tithe every 3 years went to widows, orphans; people set aside a tithe of 10% pa to pay for their pilgrimage to Jerusalem every 3 years. In addition there were many free-will offerings, the system of Jubilee etc. 

Various commentators have tried to work through the logic  to see what proportion of income was  required  and, although a 10% tithe is often talked about, the Old Testament burden can be calculated to be as much as 38%, or if you look solely at the upkeep of the temple, as little as 1% plus free will offerings. However, in summary, we can see that God looked to members of the community to pay for the upkeep of the temple, the maintenance of the priests, the maintenance of community services and the relief of the needy: by grace it would be surprising if we were called to do less. 

I would re-emphasise that even in the Old Testament we read of joyful  free will giving in addition to the requirements of the law. The law provided for the basic minimum to maintain the fabric of the community. Two examples of such free will gifts were Abraham giving a 10% free will tithe to [7]Melchizedek and [8]David giving joyfully to the building of the temple. It is the latter story which resonates for me; the example and joy of David giving beyond any obligation for the re-building of the temple. David explains this in a beautiful passage: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” which in the Church of England is traditionally used every week as we take up the collection.

Before leaving the Old Testament, I should like to consider the importance of ‘Vision’. The Old Testament tithe was enabled by the fact that the Jewish nation shared a vision of nation and society governed by God’s law. Tithing was not something in isolation, not a call to give money to a remote institution, but part of the fabric which sustained the theocratic society. In addition extraordinary acts and giving were supported by ‘Vision’: David & [9]Solomon's had a clear vision for the building of the temple and later God gave [10]Cyrus,  King of Persia, and the  family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved - a vision  of rebuilding of the Temple. We can learn that for communal activity we need a clear vision about what we are going to do communally and that vision needs to be costed and rooted in reality. That vision needs to be shared, owned and then to drive behaviour; as the poetic translation of Proverbs 29 v18 says ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish!’ 
 


Towards a vision for a local church 

In subsequent chapters I intend to consider personal and church responses both to the teaching in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. However, from our review of the Old Testament we can begin to understand the relationship between God, his creation and our role as stewards. We may already infer that, in our day, God looks to members of a church community to maintain the upkeep of the church and worship, the care and development of its members, development of our relations with our neighbours and the relief of the needy.  

For churches there are choices to be made as to where the main focus should be and what we should do individually or communally. Where we aspire to communal programmes, we have to determine both what are the specific activities and what is needed to support them. 

Those who have meditated most on God’s teaching on stewardship may not decide to respond solely through the church and will want to have been involved in the decision making progress and know and own the activities upon which time, effort and money is spent. Others may feel that they will give only a certain amount ‘to’ the church that they attend but may be open to give more to something specific either ‘to’ the church for e.g. improving facilities, music or children’s work or ‘through’ the church for the relief of need. In all cases it will help if the church has a clear vision of what it wants to do communally to inform individual choices and be prepared to listen to the response of individuals in forming and revising such a vision. In order to make communal and individual choices such a vision must be broken down into costed specific areas.  

We are dependent on God giving us a vision for our church and prayer is important preparation. God will speak to one and to many. However, we need to consolidate this vision through bringing an extended leadership team, or even the whole church, together to create the programmes, prioritise activities and plan for implementation We should not be afraid to allow God to speak to us through methods of facilitation tried and tested in the secular world for implementation and, drawing on my experience would suggest the following:

Have an away day for the Parochial Church Council or the whole ChurchHave a small team plan the dayEnsure that the environment is comfortable for the numbers and that there are adequate meeting rooms, catering, facilities and presentation media e.g. flip charts etcMake sure objectives are clear e.g. to devise a 3 to 5 year investment program; to get a better idea of key facilities in the church building / on site; to get to know each To understand the church’s mission better; to generate a vision If the numbers are large split into syndicates of, say, no more than 12 people per syndicate. Each syndicate might be expected to produce a prioritized list of church communal activities by a) allowing everyone to share their own vision, b) uncritically putting forward all activities on a board with ‘post-its’, c) grouping the activities d) talking to priorities and, finally e) voting on the top 10 prioritiesIf this is done in syndicates, each syndicate’s top 10 then can be put together and where priorities are not common these can be re-determined to a top 10 (we found in St Andrew’s that we also had no make a list of activities which were not top 10 but were mandatory facilitators).Time then can be given to working out an action plan for each or the top 10 activities with manpower, facilities and costings to be estimated and to be confirmed as part of the plan.If not a whole church meeting, share the plan with the congregation and invite feedback. 

Such an activity in St Andrew’s Moscow produced the following - yours may look similar but will undoubtedly have important differences:


•Seven Priorities – worked out in some greater detail and each with a Committee to carry the work forward

–Worship

–Children and Young People’s  ministry

–Works of charity

–Ecumenical Affairs

–Building Christian maturity

–Pastoral care

–Social community

•Three Enablers

–Operations (responsibility of Finance & Standing Committee)

–Finance (responsibility of Finance & Standing Committee)

–Public Relations (responsibility of Social Committee)

•Other Important Areas

–Newcomers/Welcoming (responsibility of Mission or Evangelism Committee)

–Deanery Development  

The detail has to be specific e.g. in the above example the document produced for the Children and Young Peoples’ Ministry team proposed a dedicated room for teenagers with soft furnishings, staging and sound/light equipment. This can be costed and individuals and an informed choice could be made on whether this is good use of resources. 

The above is meant to be illustrative of what might be chosen to be done together and the communal choices made will leave gaps in the potential individual response to a call to stewardship. The church can help the individual fill those gaps both through teaching on all aspects of stewardship and by facilitating individual response in other ways e.g. through charities, missionary societies or even individual action. The core of a church’s mission may be to provide the means to receive God’s grace through the mass on Sunday to prepare us to go out and witness to Christ through our work and lives on Monday but I believe that there is a minimum level of communal action in the upkeep of the church and worship, the care and development of its members, development of our relations with our neighbours and the relief of the needy and hence the need for a vision and plan. But there are choices to be made:

A church might choose to concentrate its communal activity in worship through first class liturgy and music and offer mass on a regular basis. There might be no demand for children’s ministry in a business district but some ministry to office workers. Relief of the poor might be left to an associated guild and overseas missionary work to strong support for CMS. This church might actively encourage folk to give at least half of their giving to charity or mission societies and to limit their giving to the church to cover the cost of the clergy, buildings and music. 

   Alternatively

 A church might regard worship as a basic to its mission but also fund an active children’s ministry, run direct poor relief for folk living on the streets in the local neighbourhood. It might run a soup kitchen and provide showers for the homeless. It may have several folk either from or sponsored by the congregation engaged in missionary work and/or development work abroad. This church might feel its direct work is only limited by money and may encourage a much bigger proportion of people’s giving be made ‘through’ the church.

The issue ‘is what is appropriate for the church to be doing communally as stewards in the place it finds itself?’ and ‘is the vision practical and clear enough for folk to affirm the vision, or seek amendment and make personal choices in response the challenge of the Gospel?’


 


The challenge in the Gospels 

Jesus comes to us in grace. He speaks to us in our consciences; he comes to us in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed. He arrives in the person of the beggar, the needy, the suffering, and the oppressed. Finally the Lord, Alpha and Omega, will come to judge the living and the dead in the Second Coming. We must be ready to receive and welcome Him when He comes, however He comes. However, Jesus already came to us at a specific point in history at Bethlehem about 2000 years ago, gave himself, set us an example and preached about what it means to be ready for the Kingdom of God. In this guidance much of Jesus’ teaching and many of his parables relate to money and wealth – based on everyday life/business. He attempted to change people’s attitudes to their wealth in a ‘counter-cultural’ message. Unsurprisingly the Gospels contain a wealth of material about our relationship and response to God, his creation or our possessions. 

Jesus makes it clear that to seek the Kingdom of Heaven first is THE Priority. In the [11]Beatitudes we are told that ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’. The second [12]Greatest Commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which is said to be more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus illustrates these priorities through a series of parables and sayings talking about earthly and heavenly [13]Treasure: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’; ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy’; ‘No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money’; ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven’. This is reinforced by commands not to [14]worry about worldly possessions: ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?’; ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’; ‘Look at the birds of the air/ the lilies of the field/ the grass of the field/the ravens’; ‘'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'. 

If wealth should not be our priority we still need to consider how we use our wealth. An option is to live a life of poverty or simplicity as did many of those we recognise as Saints. Jesus told the [15]rich young ruler: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’. If not all are  called to give everything away at the outset, Jesus teaching still calls on people to use wealth for acts of charity i.e. to use wealth to feed and clothe the poor, practice hospitality, care for the sick and visit prisoners:  the parable of he [16]Sheep and the Goats is well known; these are the tests. Elsewhere hospitality is commended; in the [17]Sending Out of the Twelve: “He who receives you receives me”. Even more explicit on [18]hospitality:  “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”. So Jesus says that we should use wealth for the benefit of others reflecting the thought from the Old Testament that everything comes from what God has given us for the benefit of all mankind. This giving is to be done in secret & sacrificially: ‘’Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men” as illustrated by the parable of the [19]Pharisee and the Tax Collector and the parable of the [20]Widow's Mite. 

But Jesus’ teaching is not just related to what we give away but to all the resources we hold from God as stewards. All of our resources, whether given away or retained, are to be used to further the Kingdom of God. This point is very much expanded in three longer parables. The [21]Parable of the Tenants illustrates how humanity was given responsibility for the created order and how they were (and are) to manage God's provision for the needs of all mankind; in this parable the tenants fail to deliver the fruit to the landlord’s servants, beat them, and kill his son: they are removed. The parable of the [22]Unfair Steward warns against wrong use of resources and acquisitiveness: the manager was put in charge of the servants to care for them but begins to beat them and use up the resources, he is removed. Lastly in the [23]Parable of the Talents three servants are given charge of their master’s property ‘according to his ability’. Two use the resources on their Master’s behalf; the third wastes the opportunity for growth and is thrown out. Those with more ability are trusted with more and more is expected. What is expected is that the resources are used in line with the master’s requirements; in our case Jesus has elsewhere made it clear that this requirement is to use our resources for the Kingdom of God.

 


A personal response 

Christian Stewardship may be defined as part of the response which we the Saints, collectively and individually, are called to make to God for all that He has given us and done for us, above all in Jesus Christ. It is a way of life in response to God and a fundamental aspect of Christian discipleship which does include using and managing our God-given resources appropriately and responsibly. In Jesus teaching we are told to seek first (as our priority) the Kingdom of Heaven, not to worry, to use our wealth sacrificially quietly for Acts of Charity and to use our (God’s) resources for the Kingdom of God –  to make the 100% response and not just in relation to what we give away.

[24]In this response:

–we worship God with praise and thankfulness;

–we treat the earth and its resources as God's provision for the needs of all mankind;

–we regard our lives, our powers, our possessions, as gifts from God to be enjoyed and used in his service;

–we seek to consecrate our personal wealth to God

–we seek to share in Christ's mission to the world.
 

We need to give time to God, giving him the opportunity to speak to us and meditate on the ideas in this booklet and biblical passages behind it. Give time to God in public and private prayer, acknowledging his claims on us and giving him the opportunity to speak to us. Take time out, perhaps in Advent or Lent, to engage in sombre and focused spiritual preparation by doing penance and making a time to read, contemplate, join or form a study group.

Consider the vision God is giving you for your church and any communal vision agreed. Share in it – it will mean sacrificially giving of time and money.  If there is no common vision, consider what can be done to consolidate one. God looks to us to maintain the upkeep of the church and worship, the care and development of its members, development of our relations with our neighbours and the relief of the needy and all else we can do communally to further the Kingdom of God. 

What else should you do, what other organisations should you support? Where else can you apply your time, talents and resources in response to the Gospel challenge? We need to make an honest assessment of our gifts & abilities which God has given us and then put them to work! Volunteer your time to make it happen. Take time to reconsider your financial giving to church, charity, mission society or individuals to enable the Kingdom of Heaven? 

We are the body of Christ, our individual response will determine whether we represent Christ to the world and whether our own vision leads to us getting out there and living the Christian message individually and corporately. The challenge is even more than giving time, talents and money; it is a challenge to a way of life in response to God managing all our God-given resources appropriately and responsibly.
 


Teaching in the Epistles and Life in the early church 

The teaching in the Epistles has to be set against the Old Testament world view we explored early on in this booklet and supplements Jesus' powerful teaching on making the Kingdom of heaven the priority. Practical love is one of the great themes of the writers of the Epistles: [25]’And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’. To the [26]Romans, Paul says to “Love, for the Day is Near’; in [27]Galatians he talks about Freedom in Christ, Life by the Spirit & Doing Good to All; in [28]Thessalonians Living to Please God  & a warning against Idleness. The writer to the [29]Hebrews ends in an exhortation to love one another and to practice hospitality and pastoral care and the epistles of [30]John talk about God’s love and ours. The expectation and emphases is that this should be love in practice. Other themes include a warning about Love of Money to [31]Timothy, some teaching on faith and deeds and a warning to rich oppressors in [32]James. However, all these come back to the theme of how we are to relate to God, creation and each other; rules are not given but an unlimited exhortation is made to make love practical – the 100% response again. 

[33]Romans 12 explores the ideas of Living Sacrifices & Love echoing the [34]post communion prayer: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought - but make an honest assessment of your gifts & abilities. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us – use them e.g. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Share with God's people who are in need. Practise hospitality. 

We have seen that interwoven with the story of salvation, the bible tells how humanity was given responsibility for the created order and how they are to manage it; our lives, our powers, our possessions, as gifts from God to be enjoyed and used in his service - but how important is this second theme? From [35]Galatians we learn that “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” but [36]St James says “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”. Faith alone? or Faith and Good Works? This issue has been controversial since Luther’s commentary on Galatians if not from the time of St Augustine of Hippo.. However, ‘Justification by faith alone’ does not negate the importance works, that is of living out the faith. Consider the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation historical Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (Annex) signed in Augsburg on October 31, 1999: 

 Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works

Grace as fellowship of the justified with God in faith, hope and love is always received from the salvific and creative work of God. But it is nevertheless the responsibility of the justified not to waste this grace but to live in it. The exhortation to do good works is the exhortation to practice the faith.

We look to Life in the early church to see evidence of love in action in the fellowship of the Believers.  In the earliest church in Jerusalem: [37]All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. [38]For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
(Postscript [39]Ananias and Sapphira: the offence seems to be the lie as they were under no compulsion). Practical love was valued as personal characteristics as in the [40]choosing of the seven men who were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom as deacons; the seven were chosen because the Greek widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

It was not just that individuals cared for one another; Churches gave help to other churches and gave to support the wider ministry. The [41]Church in Antioch decided, each according to his ability, to provide help for the brothers living in Judea in time of threat of famine. The [42]Corinthians were advised to do what Paul told the Galatian churches to do: on the first day of every week, each one should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, as a gift to Jerusalem.  Later the [43]Corinthians’ generosity was encouraged by the Macedonian churches whose overflowing joy welled up in rich generosity; they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability in spite of the most extreme poverty. Paul advises [44]each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. In [45]Philippians Paul thanks the Philippians for their Gifts: They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.



Stewardship in the life of the church and practical matters

Stewardship is about practical love; our lives, our powers, our possessions, are gifts from God to be enjoyed and used in his service for others. The exhortation to do good works is the exhortation to practice the faith i.e. live  a way of life in response to God which includes using and managing our God-given resources appropriately and responsibly as God's provision for the needs of all mankind. The earliest church gives examples of love in action – but with no compulsion. We have different gifts, from spiritual to administrative, according to the grace given us – use them in the church community (we work to live, remembering that the priority is the Kingdom of God, not live to work). Each of us should set aside a sum of money in keeping with our income giving as much as they are able not reluctantly or under compulsion. Other gifts and contributions should be equally valued. Grace and overflowing joy might inspire us even beyond our ability.  

As a church we need to provide teaching and opportunities to discuss the theology as well as the plan. Preaching and discussion groups can help to provide the backdrop against which the church can go forward. The church can then decide what it needs to be doing communally as stewards. We then need to make that vision practical and clear enough for folk to affirm the vision, or seek amendment and make personal choices in response the challenge of the Gospel?’ The activities of the church need to be clear and costed in a budget with a forward plan preferably going forward 3-5 years. Such clarity should extend activities which are executed through the Diocese or equivalent bodies. Such information needs to be made readily and consistently available and good channels of communication set up to publish all the information but also to facilitate discussion and implementation – communication has to be a two way thing. Each activity should have clear governance; individuals, working parties or sub-committees who are accountable for delivering the plan need to be put in place and known. Members of the church should know how they can contribute and the means by which offers of time, talents, money or other resources can be made and accepted should be very clear. Forms should exist to set up giving, deal with tax relief, offer help and all returned forms need to be acknowledged and followed up. The easiest way of making such forms available may well be to publish them electronically on the internet. Letters of thanks are usually appreciated at a later date. In summary not only should a communal plan exist but it should be easy and a joy to participate.  

Of the things that we can offer, money is often the most difficult. In spite of all that is said about not being under the law or being legalistic, some of us may still need guidance re money. Some use a 10% tithe as a guide. The Bishops of the Church of England, recognising that the local church may not be the only way of giving, commend 5% to be given to and through the Church. However, it must be emphasised that whilst remembering that many saints more than fulfil the old requirements of the law, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give”. 

The leadership of the church needs to consider how the church can support individuals in their decisions. Individually we need to give time to God, giving him the opportunity to speak to us. We should consider the vision God is giving us for us and sacrificially give of time and money to ensure what we agree to do is done.  We need to make an honest assessment of our gifts & abilities God has given us and then put them to work in the communal plan of our church and wherever else we can  apply our time, talents and resources in response to the Gospel challenge? Volunteer your time to make it happen. Take time to reconsider your financial giving to church, charity, mission society or individuals to enable the Kingdom of Heaven?  

I should like to end with two quotes, the first is from Ignatius Loyola 1491-1556 concerning the Greatest Commandment:

“Contemplation seeks to attain the love of God; Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than words; Love consists in the mutual sharing of goods” 

The second from Brennan Manning who said: 

 "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”

I truly believe that if we practise what we profess and move halfway to living a life of stewardship responding to the challenges of the gospel; no church should have a financial crisis but have more than enough to run itself, maintain its local programme and reach out to make a difference in mission and in the relief of the poor and needy. This would still leave individuals enough potential resource to do more in other, independent, ways to further the Kingdom of God. Finally, we would need to consider how our use of the remaining, probably the majority, of our resources fulfils our role as stewards.

 

 
Footnotes:
 
[1]In the Church of England, there is a lot of literature and help available from most Dioceses but the fullest documentation seems to be that on the website of the Diocese of Chichester   http://www.diochi.org.uk/
[2] Genesis 2
[3] Psalm 8 esp. v6-8
[4] Leviticus 27 especially v30, Numbers 18 especially v 20-25, Deuteronomy 14 v22-29, and Deuteronomy 16 v16-17
[5] Romans 8 v 1-17
[6] Galatians 5 v 1-6
[7] Genesis 14 v18-20
[8] 1 Chronicles 29  v 2-17
[9] 1 Kings 6
[10] 2 Chronicles 36 v22-23
[11] Matthew 5 The Beatitudes
[12] Mark 12 v28-34  The Greatest Commandment
[13] Matthew 6 v19-34 Treasures in Heaven
[14] Luke 12 v13-25 The Parable of the Rich Fool
[15] Matthew 19 v16-31 The Rich Young Man
[16] Matthew 25 v31-46 The Sheep and the Goats
[17] Matthew 10 Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
[18] Luke 14 Jesus at a Pharisee's House
[19] Luke 18 v9-14 The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
[20] Mark 12 v41-44 The Widow's Offering
[21] Matthew 21 v33-45 The Parable of the Tenants
[22] Luke 12 v35-48 Watchfulness
[23] Matthew 25 v14-30 The Parable of the Talents
[24] Adapted from: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/funding/stewardship.html
[25] 1 Corinthians 13 v1-13
[26] Romans 13  v8-10
[27] Galatians 5 v13-26 and 6 v1-10
[28] 1 Thessalonians 4 v1-12 and 2 Thessalonians 3 v6-13
[29]  Hebrews 13 v1-3
[30] 1 John 3 v10-24,  4  v7-21 and 2 John 1  v3-6
[31] 1 Timothy 6 v3-10
[32] James 2 v14-26 and 5 v1-6
[33] Romans 12
[34] Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.
[35] Galatians 2 v16
[36] James 2 v26
[37] Acts 2 v42-47: The Fellowship of the Believers
[38] Acts 4 v32-37 The Believers Share Their Possessions
[39] Acts 5 v1-11 Ananias and Sapphira
[40] Acts 6  v1-7 The Choosing of the Seven
[41] Acts 11 v27-30 The Church in Antioch 
[42] 1 Corinthians 16 v1-4 The Collection for God's People
[43] 2 Corinthians 8 v1-15 Generosity Encouraged
[44] 2 Corinthians 9 v1-15
[45] Philippians 4 v 10-19 Thanks for Their Gifts