Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Jordan Davis
When I was a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, “stewardship” might as well have been a four-letter word. My understanding, at the time, was that stewardship meant a request for money (of which I had very little!) and stewardship month was the most painful month of the church.
When I was asked to write about stewardship and the seminary student, I groaned but also prayed that maybe my experience was a unique one. I have learned a great deal about stewardship since those early years, but also I have been working on a capital campaign at Union Presbyterian Seminary for three years. I knew that our students have heard a lot about money and I hoped that we hadn’t clouded their minds in the recent months.
And so, I took to social media and asked “What do you think of when you hear ‘stewardship’?” Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, I began to read the responses and y’all… the future of the Church is in good hands!
Rather than worrying about money, seminary students are worrying about — wait for it — caring! An overwhelming number of responses came in highlighting that stewardship is about caring for God’s creation through the use of our time, talents, influence, and (of course) money. Special concern was shown for stewardship of the earth, in the way that those resources are both cared for and used.
One word that was used in these responses was “intentionality.” I think that this is what sets seminary students apart from so many: their intentionality. Our seminarians are being taught to think critically and act intentionally. Papers and actions are dissected as every word and movement is looked at through the lens of an “other” in hopes that they can learn more and therefore model better. Seminarians are learning that ministry is not just about preaching on Sunday morning and visiting hospital rooms during the week. Ministry in the 21st century is about breaking down barriers as we both look at and refine the way we live with one another in God’s creation. This intentionality, this thoughtful care, is quickly becoming the new face of stewardship.
I spend a great deal of time with congregations of all shapes and sizes, and I have heard my (not so fair) share of stewardship sermons and campaigns. I am always so disappointed at the focus placed on money, especially in areas where I know that money may not be the best or most accessible resource for that particular congregation. I have grown weary and frustrated with the idea that no ministry can happen without someone sitting poised and ready to write a check! If we will give these students a chance, if we will welcome them into our congregations and give them the space they need, they just might change the way that we minister in the 21st century.
Yes, Jesus spoke of money, but he mostly spoke of care and love for one another. I fear that many of us have lost focus of this crucial message in our attempts to “save the church.” Every year when the “ask” is made for a financial pledge (which IS vital, but maybe not the most important), more members grow tired and our congregations grow weaker. If we give these students space as they begin their ministry and heed their advice in our own ministries that have already changed multiple times, maybe our congregations will find new energy and endurance in their care for one another and God’s creation!
I also asked current seminary students how they are involved in stewardship. One of my favorite answers was simply, “Through immersion.” I think of the students I regularly see in my work, and I think of the time they spend carrying compost buckets, serving in multiple capacities within congregations, cleaning kennels at the animal shelters, and hosting prayer vigils. They help to fundraise and they remind those of us who are so focused on money the importance of coming together to play.
Stewardship is about caring, and I think it is time that we allow these students to be our teachers.
Jordan B. Davis received her Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2014 and has a passion for building relationships within the Church and the world. Jordan devoted her time at Union to finding ways to strengthen the community through fellowship and worship. Taking a call as a Church Relations Officer for the seminary was a natural next step after graduation. She enjoys working in a setting allows her to continue learning both from congregations and students, recognizing that the church is already very different from when she started on this journey! Learn more about her ministry at www.congregationalcorner.wordpress.com.