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 Sarah Dianne Jones
Stewardship is a topic I feel I’ve always been familiar with. As a child, I looked forward to the children’s sermons featuring the Stew Bear books that the denomination put out to explain stewardship to children, and I remember saving all of the change I found in various places to put in the special banks we had to bring to church. As I grew older, my perception of stewardship changed as I began to understand tithing, capital campaigns, planned giving, and the ins and outs of church world.
The thing that never changed was that stewardship was always about money. We talked about giving money, what the money should go toward, or how much money you should give. It was a lot of talk about money for an older elementary aged kid to fully grasp—I didn’t have much money. What could the church do with my money? I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how much difference I could make.
As a youth going to youth conferences, stewardship began to show up differently. Stewardship was being defined as the gifts you offer to your church and the community. For once, it wasn’t all about money! What gifts did I have to offer to the church? How could I best be of service? That reframing of how I thought about stewardship helped me to be able to more strongly connect with what we were talking about during stewardship season.
There came a point, however, that I slipped back into thinking about stewardship in terms of money. Maybe it was when I started working in churches that were desperately feeling the pressure to increase giving or face budget cuts, or felt that they were constantly asking for money to fix a roof, or hire a new position, or update the website. I can’t pinpoint it, but in the last few years, money has been the name of the game.
At least that was true until I began my year with the Young Adult Volunteer program. As a part of the YAV program, the YAV is required to fundraise a minimum of $3,000. This helps to fund the local site where you will be serving, and offers the added benefit of illustrating for the YAV the wideness of their own community. Donors were offered the options of making a one time gift or pledging monthly, and the YAV was informed of each donor so that they were aware of the people who cared enough to give a monetary gift toward their year of service. YAVs would not be able to serve in the program without these generous gifts.
YAVs are expected to commit to “simple living,” or living with intentionality around how they spend the very limited stipend they are given. This season of life in which I’m engaging in simple living has brought me back to my past understanding of stewardship. As a YAV, I’m not able to give as much as I might like to the congregations or organizations that I feel so connected to and supported by. Stewardship has meant living into my role as a YAV in the most authentic way possible, giving whatever gifts I can in order to do good for the wider community in which I am living. This has meant offering myself as a resource whenever possible, showing up for the pieces of mission work that aren’t the fun parts, and trying out things that seem incredibly difficult, not because I’m so great, but because my church and my community deserve the best that I can offer in gratitude for the incredible generosity and support I have been shown.
Sarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.