Thoughts on the futility of teaching stewardship

We talked about trust in a stewardship workshop yesterday.  To Become a community of stewards requires a high level of trust between members of a congregation and their leaders.  Today we took up Matthew 6:24-34, Christ’s encouragement to trust in God who knows all our needs.  Merton, and other monastics, speak of learning the discipline of trust through obedience to a superior, even when that superior makes inferior demands.  
Most of us are not monastics.  Obedience is something to be rendered only provisionally.  Trust has to be earned, not given.  Our leaders are especially suspect since we don’t really know what they are doing with our tithes in those late night meetings of theirs.  That goes for God too.  We are not unlike the Israelites called to return to Jerusalem after years of exile in Babylon.  It doesn’t matter what God says through Isaiah about bringing them home to a land of milk and honey.  They don’t trust him, and they are not going to trust him until they drink the milk and taste the honey.  We are not going trust God, except through hypocritical assertions, until we see some evidence that God can be trusted.  Whether God can ever find us to be trustworthy seems irrelevant.  
We, like they, are equally inclined to distrust our leaders.  It’s odd how even a small congregation can separate the us who sit in the pews from the them who are on council, vestry or session.  
If trust is an essential element of stewardship, it’s no wonder it’s such a hard sell.  
Maybe we should just give up on stewardship altogether.  It’s a losing battle.  Maybe should concentrate on helping congregations learn how to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”  It is in that striving that we will learn to trust God, and trust, at least provisionally, one another.  Then maybe stewardship will take care of itself. 

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the futility of teaching stewardship”

  1. If the striving is heartfelt then you have already entrusted yourself. Is the issue, then, \”heartfelt\”? That we haven't yet obeyed our own hearts?

  2. Tom,What made you use the word heartfelt. Coincidently, Matthew's text uses it also. Of course you knew that. \”…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.\”I suspect that the answer to the question about whether we \”haven't yet obeyed our own hearts\” is that we have obeyed our hearts. Perhaps not the interior heart of Avila's castle, but at least our conscious hearts that are devoted to what we perceive to be our own self interests.It is the eternal original sin, which can be easily side stepped by adopting a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden thus blaming Adam and Eve while avoiding or own responsibility for having committed it. We are just their unwilling and \”innocent\” heirs. Sinful to be sure, but it's not our fault.

  3. Right, Steve, the question is: whose heart? My sense is that Jesus shows what \”wholehearted\” can mean. Then am I only wholehearted when God moves me? Or rather: when I let myself be so moved, and so entrust myself?Doesn't original sin replicate itself in the moment of letting or refusing to let God move me?This is where I get stuck: Doesn't the letting have to be left to me regardless of God's grace? Don't the conditions of original sin have to be repeated over and over again? Where what Jesus did was show us that letting yourself be moved was itself possible? Indeed, didn't he make the reality of its possibility as manifest as it possibly could be? And then leave it to us?

  4. Tom,Maybe the original sin explains the original question. Can we, on our own initiative, cooperate with God to both receive and extend God's grace? I've always wondered how some theologians, and denominations, can answer No with such total conviction. Is it fear of being labeled Pelagian, or worse, Catholic? Henri Nouwen says it's the product of spiritual discipline. \”Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master, and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.\”The divine mechanics, if any, that make that possible seem to me unknowable. From my point of view, all the effort is mine. The problem with Nouwen's answer is that most people are spiritual couch potatoes. So maybe not everyone is called to be a disciple. But all disciples are called to continue in Christ's ministry. If one is going to follow him in the continuation of his ministry of love, healing and reconciliation, one has to get off the couch and into a serious commitment to spiritual exercise.

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