Our choice of words can inspire new understanding of giving

“Inspire, Ask, Thank!” is an Anglican Church of Canada initiative that focuses on invitation, hospitality and generosity as a new understanding and approach to stewardship in the Church. Ven. Graham Bland attended the national gathering in Mississauga in September on behalf of the Diocese of Huron. This is the second of a three-part report on what he learned there.

At a national Anglican stewardship gathering in September, Jeff Pym of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada reflected on the language we use. He no longer uses the word “stewardship” in the same way as before.

For a gift to occur, there has to be ownership. A steward manages money that is not his. He can be competent, diligent, and faithful (or not), but he cannot be generous with money that is not his.

We tend to say either (a) everything we have belongs to God or (b) everything we have is a gift from God. We must choose. Does God retain ownership? Or is God generous?

Stewardship is about conserving; generosity is about liberality. Therefore, stewardship and generosity have opposite meanings.

You cannot be a good steward and be generous. This is like using the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. It is self-defeating to talk about stewardship when we want generosity.

Stewardship hasn’t been working for us. It typically results in leaders getting up in front of congregations and asking people to “dig deeper”. No one wants to be asked to do this.

Theologically, stewardship is from the care of the first-­century CE household. It is about the management of the household. But in a first-­century household, in addition to the master and the steward, there would have been an heir. The heir would have referred to the master not as master but as father. The heir stood to inherit.

Is our relationship to God that of a child to a loving parent or of a servant to a demanding master?

There is support in Scripture for a new understanding of stewardship based on the relationship between the son or daughter and the parent, that is, we are heirs of God.

If we use this alternative paradigm, we appeal more to people’s generosity (as children or heirs) than to their sense of duty (as servants). We must appeal not to duty but to generosity. Duty is not a big motivator.

Also, if people are free, rather than servants, we cannot command or demand their generosity, only nurture it, like a gardener. This respects people’s freedom and choice.

How do we nurture generous giving in ourselves and in our Church?

M – E – L – T

M – Mission: The No. 1 reason people give is they believe in the mission (the “case for support”, in fundraising language). They want to know: Why should I support this cause? We must articulate the mission in an inspiring way.

E -Example: Simply lead by example. Does our choice of leaders include their generosity as a criterion for our choosing them as leaders?

L -Liturgy: Worship is full of opportunities to enact the story of God’s generous giving to us and of our response.

T -Thanks: Thank people for what they do. And nurture personal gratitude. Cultivating practices of gratitude transforms us.

Ven. Graham Bland is rector of St. George’s, Owen Sound.