Pr. Jaynan Clark

May 29, 2014

photo of Pr. JaynanSometimes with age comes wisdom; sometimes just grumpiness. I always try to “check myself” that I’m not being old and crotchety especially in my preaching and teaching. It isn’t easy to fend off that sort of encroaching attitude and outlook when this groaning world is apparently now strutting its travail. The farther we stray from the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life the more direct the calling to the contemporary preachers is to preach the Word, that alone, and address the context which just happens to be real, individual people. It isn’t easy but then the cross isn’t a decoration, a logo, a symbol of leisure, a recreational insignia or a badge of honor. This is most certainly true.

So after decades of preaching and teaching I kind of got hit between the eyes a couple of weeks ago with what I believe to be a repeated error on my part or at least a many times missed opportunity. Always trying to address the context faithfully I believe I totally missed a historical problem that plagues most if not every church. Let me explain.

The need to preach and teach stewardship goes beyond a “special sermon” or an annual harvest festival. How we live our lives on a daily basis is a question of and witness to our stewardship. I’ve always believed that. I recently watched a movie with my kids that my daughter recommended called, “In Time.” The currency for the world is time, only time. You earn, buy, sell, trade, give away, and steal time. It is an extremely thought provoking movie. What do you really have besides time? Everything you own or that owns you is all relative to the time you have. This is not a new thought or idea—Jesus, of course, preached and taught this. Storing up your “real treasures” doesn’t really mean much if and when the clock runs out. I often hear stewardship programs talk about time, talent and treasures. The treasure is your money, usually. It always is put at the end of the line but it is really the reason for the “ask” in the first place. It seems a bit disingenuous if not even dishonest. It also misses the truth of the value of time.

Through the years I’ve heard in every place I’ve served, even Africa, comments like, “Pastor, you know that about 20% of us are carrying the other 80% of this church.” “Pastor, you know every time we have a special need or special offering the people get all excited and give to it but they don’t get too excited about giving to the general budget and the church has bills like every home does.” “Pastor, I know that these needs in the community are important but if we just announce those without council approval then people will just give to that cause rather than their regular offering. It needs to be above and beyond their weekly giving.” “Pastor, you know that there are two or three (of ‘us’?) in this church who could carry the entire church budget but that wouldn’t be good stewardship, everyone needs to be involved in that.” These comments, all of which have validity and are widespread across the church of Jesus Christ regardless of the “brand”, have been working conventional wisdom for a very long time. But how “wise’’ are these tired comments and reflections? It seems they are uttered over and over without end with a hint of just becoming rhetorical because there is no expected answer or solution. That is how I’ve come to hear it until a couple of weeks ago.

Three things converged on my ears at the same time: The widow’s mite, the two coins, which were her crazy generosity relative to her financial status Jesus’ promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is present among them. And the mantra that two or three in this church could carry this entire general budget; noting that more times than not this comment is stated by the one who includes the words “of us.” I note that sometimes this is said with an air of wealthy arrogance; sometimes said with a hint of confession that the means and ability are there but unlike the widow, the actual act of radical generosity is missing. These comments, that I believe the majority of pastors and church members hear, have gone unchallenged to my knowledge. While I am rarely lacking in a verbal ‘comeback’ or at a loss for words, I’ve just not had ears to hear what I believe is really being said; therefore, I have not responded according to the Word.

Good stewardship? It is as individual as the nose on your face. Each and every one of us has been given in differing proportions and so I’ve lived with, preached, taught, passed on the reality of a 10% tithe being a great equalizer; however, there remains the widow (Luke 21:1-4) and all the other parables our Lord told that are not limited to percentage/proportional giving. Remember, Jesus never said what everyone believed would be reasonable, rational and respectable. His parables were rarely “acceptable” to the majority of hearers and did not conform to conventional wisdom. If Jesus was approached with the 2 or 3 of us comment regarding ability to cover the budget, I now believe He would respond, “Then you should.” “If you can then you may.” As any good English grammar teacher repeatedly reminds their students, “Can is ability; may is permission.” “If you can (ability) then you may (permission.)” It sounds so much like the One who divinely and eternally set priorities based on the fact that everything proceeds from the Father. Everything was first given to us, entrusted to us, so that we can and may be blessed to be a blessing to others. When you two or three are gathered in your stewardship in His name—He is present as promised. So do it!

Throughout my decades as a pastor I’ve failed to challenge those wealthy men and women who have come to me as they also approached Jesus. I confess my failure and my missed opportunity to “free” those burdened with wealth to go and do what their Lord commands of them. Much given…much expected. If the mass majority of believers don’t get excited about paying down the mortgage, the utilities, the maintenance, the payroll—including and especially the pastor (which is often the biggest ‘burden’ on a small church budget) then you do it and free the others to give to their hearts desire to meet those needs of the community, local and global, that are constantly at our door and in our face. Think about what the church can and will do when the budget is doubled because the general needs are retired by those with the means to do so. In so doing, those with less can give more to the unfunded, unbudgeted, unmet needs, mission, ministry –people--that excite their generosity.

Perhaps by thinking it isn’t “good stewardship” to act in this way it is assumed that the “others” who are not the 2 or 3 able to carry the budget, will not respond generously when the entire church budget situation radically changes. Really? I don’t expect that would happen at all; however, knowing we are dealing with sinners (because that is all that is available here on earth) then just having a ‘go at it’ would be a fantastic leap of faith that would answer the unknown. In so doing, we might just rewrite the future history of congregational annual meetings and budgets everywhere. It is just crazy enough to be just as Jesus intended in His own good time.