This past weekend I attended a Stewardship training conference for the Lutheran churches in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. I am the worship leader and stewardship chair for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral, FL, and I went with my pastor and another member of the church to this 1 day conference, hoping to learn something. Sadly, all I really learned was how far out of step many in the church are.
The day began with prayer – always a good thing – then Pastor Rita, the pastor that serves as the Bishop’s right hand, er, person, did a demonstration of how stewardship works. If you’ve been around business a while, you’ve probably seen this particular object lesson before – I believe Stephen Covey was the first to use it many years ago.
Pastor Rita pulled out a glass food storage jar and asked folks what kind of minor bills they had to pay – electric, cable, entertainment, food, etc… Then she filled a good portion of the jar with unpopped popcorn. Turning to larger expenses, she placed pieces of fruit in the jar to indicate our mortgage, car payments, insurances, and finally, with a large grapefruit, our offerings to God. Of course, the grapefruit stuck out considerably and the point was made – put first things first. Which was good, and I agree – I always remind people that your tithe is specifically mentioned as coming from your First Fruits. In fact, back when I was struggling with money, but still wanted to make Christ a priority, I forced myself into a physical discipline to reflect the spiritual discipline. At the time, I was using a modified version of the envelope system and I forced myself, when I cashed my paycheck, to immediately take out the 10% I wanted to give back to God, so that I was reinforcing, in my mind if no where else, the First Fruits concept.
But I noticed something odd when Pastor Rita reversed the process. She first added the grapefruit (tithes), then the mortgage fruit, the car payments fruit (a lime), then the insurances, then poured the popcorn over, leaving, about 1-1/2 inches of empty space at the top. “And that,” she declared, “is the best example I’ve ever seen of how steawardship works.” Well, this immediately bothered me and I got distracted trying to figure out why. Then it hit me – here we were, at a church function, surrounded by a few dozen pastors, and NO ONE had mentioned Kingdom Finances.
You see, Pastor Rita’s example was fine – in fact it was a great explanation for the Pareto Principle, espoused by John Maxwell. However, other than the admonition to put our commitment to God first, it really didn’t illustrate at all the Kingdom Economic principles. After much thought, I determined what I think is the best way she could have continued the existing example, but bring God into it more:
Place the jar inside a 2″ deep baking pan. Then take a pitcher of water and pour it over the entire container, filling up the remaining space within the jar and spilling out over into the pan. You see, when you place God first in your finances, He responds to that – because He wants to, because He loves us – by filing us up to overflowing – providing not only for our needs, but blessing us with an abundance so that we may bless others. Later in the seminar, during a question and answer session, I brought that up. I asked, “I know we’re struggling in many churches just to get people to tithe (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is ahead of the ballgame – 2.5% of their members tithe as opposed to the national average in all churches, 1.9%), but why are we not even discussing offerings – those gifts that go above the tithe?”
His response was sadly typical. While he agreed with me that the tithe should be a floor, not a ceiling, he kind of danced around the fact that there was more of a fear mentality in the Lutheran church than one of looking to bless others – despite Martin Luther‘s personal stance on this issue.
Just to finish off, at the conclusion of the seminar, wherein they handed out materials to all of the attendees that they told us to use in our churches, I noticed that absolutely nothing had been said about teaching the children stewardship. Maybe it’s just because we are in Florida, often joked about as “God’s waiting room,” but I thought it odd that we were not encouraged to teach our children stewardship, tithing and giving. When I inquired, I was told that I could request materials via e-mail from the speaker and he would be happy to send them to me, yet no mention was made of this to the larger group. Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if they hadn’t interrupted our discussion just a few minutes before to explain how to handle snowbirds & part-time residents. Apparently, they are more important to this church than raising up their children (as few as they are) in the proper Christian beliefs and faith.
On a somewhat related, but different note, an interesting thing has been happening in my area of Southwest Florida recently. A few short weeks ago, one of our officers at the Fort Myers Police Department was shot in the line of duty. While I had only met Andy once, I have known his wife and her family for the better part of 25 years. As part of the community coming together, a number of officers from all of our local police agencies volunteered to stand outside of various shopping centers and Wal-Marts, collecting donations for the family, who has three very young children. The donations collected (and still being collected in some instances) amounted to well over $100,000.
Recently, some folks have expressed some confusion over why this family was singled out and received such a huge outpouring of community support. Now, as a friend of the family and former law enforcement officer, I have my own strongly held personal opinions about why the Widman family should be blessed in this way (not to mention Andy took the job to raise money so he and Susanna could go overseas as missionaries), but the detractors raise an interesting point – one they seem willing to back up. And in that I support them. They rightly ask, “Where is all of the money for other widows, where is the community support,” and they are making a lot of noise about starting a fund for those other widows, to which I respond, ABSOLUTELY. And while you’re at it, let’s take care of the orphans as well. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible…
Dueteronomy 10:17-18 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”
In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to leave behind a portion of your crops, for the fatherless and the widowed. Twice in that book alone, the writer mentions that you should, “bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
You may recall my article last year, “Why Social Security, Welfare & Medicare Don’t Work – And Never Will,” where I talked about how the church and its people have abdicated their responsibility to care for the least of these to various government programs. While the almost universal response I got from the people who read the article can be summed up in, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but it’ll never work,” its nice to see that some others – even those without a faith foundation to fall back on – are embracing the same principles. Now why can’t we get the church involved?
Maybe that’s just too much Jesus for them. Maybe we should review the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:
“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.” – Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)
Now get out there and change the world.