Written by Donaldson Hill
When I was a little boy, one of the two offerings every Sunday at my church was a very public one. Members of the congregation rose from their seats and processed to two tables at the front of the sanctuary. There they left the envelopes containing their gifts.
I remember dreading that moment in the service. For me it seemed an act of unnecessary exhibitionism. Now that I'm older, I recognize that very public act of giving as a declaration before our community of faith that we accept the responsibilities of discipleship and the joy of participating through giving in the Christian life.
Those of us who work to invite gifts for the church often hear the refrain, "It's so good of you to do fund raising so that our ministry can go on." People say this with gratitude, but also with sad and somewhat condescending expressions.
Typically we muster up the most sincere "thank you" we can and move on in the conversation. What we really want to say is that what we do IS ministry. But we know the pervasive ambivalent attitude we in the church have about dealing with money. This has led us—even some of us engaged in the work—to consider fund raising to be at best a necessary evil, a distasteful process to be endured so the real work of the church can proceed.
The challenge to such a view is anchored in a theology of stewardship that recognizes that what we possess is not owned by us, but is on loan from the Creator. It says that we are called to use all that has been placed at our disposal, including our financial resources, to meet the gospel imperatives.
This notion of ultimate poverty makes most of us very uncomfortable. We'd much rather subscribe to an "excess" model of stewardship and giving. In that model, we are called to contribute what is "extra" of God's great blessings and can "choose" to be generous. We get to maintain the fiction that we are in control. Giving becomes a choice, not a call.
When we do recognize that we are called to action and effectiveness in this world and that we are blessed in order to meet that call, giving and the act of inviting gifts become a very different matter. Giving becomes not just an act of our own generosity, but a recognition and reflection of God's generosity. It's also an acceptance of our call to be stewards of the Gospel. Stewardship becomes not just a euphemism for fund raising, but its context and essence. Fund raising becomes an invitation to discipleship, an opportunity for ministry.
Donaldson Hill is Minister and Team Leader of the Financial Development Ministry Team, Office of General Ministries, and a member of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland. As I See It is a column to help UCC members become acquainted with church leaders and their views.