Sunday, December 20, 2015

The minimum standard of giving

For several years now, the Episcopal Church has declared the tithe to be “the minimum standard of giving.”  That doesn’t mean that parishioners are following the standard by any stretch of the imagination.  But, we should “strive” to tithe—work toward giving a percent of income rather than a set dollar amount. The starting point for our commitment to tithe could be one-percent or five-percent, with a commitment to work toward a ten-percent tithe.

But giving a tithe to the local church is not the end of it.  A tithe implies a legalistic relationship between us and God—a tithe is about our relationship with God instead of a loving response to God’ grace.  This leaves a huge understanding gap in our knowledge of the tithe.

Faithful stewardship includes generous and abundant giving to those people and institutions that give witness to God’s compassion, God’s justice, and God’s transformative power.

There are other options available to us—such as giving to the Red Cross, Public Radio, or any of a number of perfectly good organizations.  But I would ask any who are faithfully trying to discern the recipient of their donations to consider the effect the church has by ministering to us in time of personal transition and through the distribution of the Holy Sacraments.

If in honoring a tithe standard we assume that 10 percent—or whatever the amount of the tithe percentage is—belongs to God and the remaining 90 percent is our money, we completely miss the reality of New Testament teaching that it all comes from God and God may require more than 10 percent from us.

As much as St. Andrew’s needs pledges and funds, the goal of this church is not to meet the b-word (budget), but the transformation of souls into disciples of Jesus Christ.  Clear and consistent teaching about stewardship and the tithe; about giving and pledging, helps to get us there.


Father Mark +

Pledging has little to do with stewardship. Rather, it has to do commitment and with budget planning. To pledge to a particular organization is to make a commitment to support that organization. When people are able to estimate their giving ahead of time and pledge a particular amount, then leadership of the church is able to determine a budget for the year and establish certain commitments and expectations. Even people who are averse to pledging can be convinced of its merits when it comes to making commitments to staff and program. The church needs to be transparent and clear about its needs.
It gets complicated, too, when we realize that more and more people are living in times of fiscal uncertainty. And they are living with large debts. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to make pledges to the church under these circumstances. I wonder if it is good stewardship for church ask people to defer paying off their loans and therefore pay more interest in order to give to the church. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to tithe borrowed money. I wonder if it is wise for churches to tempt people to take on more credit card debt by giving them the option of paying a pledge online by credit card.
The local church compromises itself when it teaches or asks its people to give ten percent to the local church, and calls it stewardship. The local church does not model faithful stewardship when is asks its people to give and trust that God will provide, while clergy receiving those gifts are living with the promise of health insurance and remarkable pensions. The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

If we are followers of Christ, what are we willing to give-up to live differently?

When I was head of stewardship as a young lay person in the church, my assistant was a retired, avid golfer. He used to say, “the church isn’t like a country club—we don’t charge members’ dues, and fees.” We are a mission outpost—a lifeboat for the lost and adrift.  We do not raise money to run the church; we nurture healthy people who will be fully engaged as disciples of Jesus.

We are not the best “givers” in all of Christendom, but we are not the worst either.

Episcopalians give at about the same rate as the rest of the world—including non-Christians. The average Episcopalian gives between 1.75 % and 2.25% of their annual income to their church. (If your annual income was $40,000 that would equal a pledge of between $700 and $900.) If we were just looking at generosity you could not tell a Christian from a non-Christian.  Being Christian does not impact giving.

Jesus didn’t talk about the Church’s need to receive, but he did talk about our need to give. In that regard we are different from most people.  We know that disciples support God’s work in the world through the work of the Church. We should ask ourselves, if we are followers of Christ, what are we willing to give-up to live differently?  Many of us do not give generously because we live on the edge of financial failure; “tightness,” over-our-heads.

Money is not the root of all evil—it is the love of money, the hoarding of money, the living beyond our means—that is the root of all evil. If you feel the tension, stress, and pressure of a life spent trying to make it until the next payday, you need to spend some time talking with your friend Jesus to hear what he has in store for you as a true disciple of Christ who supports God’s work in the world.


Father Mark +

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Making of Stewards

We are lucky people; lucky in that we have been allowed to live in this wonderful time in history and in this beautiful place in the world—northern Florida.  We are lucky because by any possible measurement we have control over much in terms of resources, both personal and corporate. We have money, jobs, health, and assets. But for God to accomplish his mission of reconciliation, we need to be ready and trained in sharing our assets with God for his purposes.

Our sharing involves discerning how much of our income we will return to the source from whence it came—God.  We have talked of the tithe as the “gold standard” and ten percent being the minimum amount we should be giving as disciples of Jesus.  But, we have left room for growth—from a portion of a tithe to a full portion over time. We also have to grow into being faithful in using our assets to further God’s kingdom.

None of us want to waste our time, talent, or treasure by giving to organizations which do not match our values, or expending our time in areas not producing fruit in God’s orchards. But we also do not want to bury our treasure in order not to lose any portion of it to rust, rot, or thieves.  We, the Church, have been entrusted with the things of our faith; hymns, traditions, and liturgies which assist us in spreading the Good News of God’s endless love and grace.  Every event, sacrament, and liturgy are pointed toward development of stewards, and sharing the Good News for all to hear.

God’s kingdom is truly among us and with us and trying to burst forth for all people to share. That death has been defeated and is no longer a source of fear for any of us is truly Good News that all would appreciate hearing as truth for all. To know and believe that Christ was victorious over death is news that all humankind could receive and rejoice over.
So let’s all share that News.  Let’s minister to the lost and rejected. Let’s reach out to those unfamiliar with Christ’s Gospel—the Good News. Let’s live like disciples of Christ, and live lives of example—examples of Jesus.  Like God’s love for us, or the love of a parent for a second child—where there is more than enough to go around.

We are stewards of God’s assets entrusted into our care. We are stewards of the faith—not owners of it.

Father Mark +