“You can work the pants off money, but if you’re not deeply into Christ and the Spirit, all the talk, theology, biblical study, [and] suffering of the world won’t make any difference. It’s a spiritual problem. As long as we talk about making stewardship more effective, it won’t work.” (Don McClanen quoted in Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church, 1996).
When it comes time to look back at the past fiscal year and consider future budget needs (as many ministries do in the summer months), it’s tempting to focus on the financial bottom line. Leading us to conversations like this: we need better stewardship–by which we really mean–we need people to give more money. More giving. Better fundraising. You know how it goes…
But here’s the thing, the Church and your local ministry/parish are not like any other charitable organization. Our givers make donations, but reducing them to “donors” is missing the big picture–and that bigger picture is discipleship.
Giving (in classic tithing or a different spiritual form) is an act of prayer, praise, sacrifice, and worship. Conversion must come first. The act of spiritual giving then becomes part of formation as a disciple. It’s a step along the path–much like taking the leap of faith to add more contemplative prayer time each day, or attend a weekly small group.
The good news is that more and more organizations and dioceses are starting to put forth the essential connection that discipleship comes before stewardship/giving. Check out this evidence from the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota. However, the real challenge is at the parish level. Though measuring foundational conversion, response to initial proclamation, and discipleship is a nuanced (and certainly not exact!) process, it would seem that most people registered with parishes have not had that life-changing response. So, we have to have the patience to wait on stewardship so that the conversion that changes the direction of one’s life, definitively, happens first (Deus Caritas Est §1). But what about the bills due this month? This year?!? Tough situation. In many cases it may be necessary to shrink materially, in order to prioritize conversion–knowing and trusting that God will provide through changed hearts and increases in giving disciples in years to come. This isn’t ordinary parish budgeting. It feels risky. But, deep down inside–most of us would admit it’s the right approach. Raise up disciples first, then stewards. The other key component of this approach, is that we actually have to have a strategy for forming disciples as givers within parish life. So, if a parish isn’t sure that most people are growing in any way as disciples to begin with–then it’s hard to envision how to add spiritual giving as a component of that growth process.
In a nutshell, a parish/ministry worried about finances should focus less on money and more on: 1) Cultivating life-changing foundational conversion to discipleship, 2) Growing disciples in all areas, and 3) Making sure one of the areas for disciples to grow in is spiritual giving. Then, and only then 🙂 is it time to sit down and worry about stewardship (or fundraising) strategies.
Huge cultural change. Huge opportunity for the Spirit to work. Start praying about it during these summer months.