These talking points have been offered by the Southwest Texas Conference Commission on Stewardship as suggestions of how to talk about Christian giving during current global economic conditions in the worship or congregational context:
- Deuteronomy 24: 19 – 22
- Psalm 24: 1
- Matthew 6: 19 – 34
- John 17:20 – 21
- 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 12
Themes for Stewardship:
- Faith, not fear
- Abundance, not scarcity
- Giving, not receiving
- Caring, not crisis
- Long term, not short term
- Spirituality, not materiality
- Grace, not greed
“If a congregation is driven by fear rather than faith,
then it falls to us to keep the focus where it belongs—
the ministry of Jesus Christ…Generosity is not seasonal, temporary or only for smooth and easy times.
Rather, generosity is our way of being in the world as followers of Christ,
because it’s the way God works in the world.”
— Bishop Robert Schnase, Missouri Area, UMC, www.fivepractices.org, Oct. 13, 2008
- Hope is always a primary focus for persons of faith in times of crisis. Our pulpits and pews are filled during these fall Sundays with messages to ‘maintain hope’ during these weeks that have seen the greatest volatility in the US equity markets in recent decades.
- When fear pervades the economy and our culture, words can actually exacerbate anxiety whether intended or not. Thoughts of volatility can turn into words of recession in the secular press. As persons of faith, the very existence of volatility in the cycles of the market, even to the extreme, underscores the deep and abiding confidence and even hope that are the very basis of a Christian’s plans for the future.
- Words of hope should guide us through these days, rather than ones that connote some end-time force of doom. In our congregations, the message of hope comes through sound financial policies and processes, and the leadership of individual members responsible for the church’s finances. In fact, these church committees– finance, trustees, endowment, for example—with their sound and carefully reasoned policies and practices are a message of hope in the midst of economic strain.
- Fear is a very human response during stressful times. We are fully human and we acknowledge that weakness. But scriptures repeatedly tell persons of faith to “Fear not!” It was God’s message to Noah, Moses, and Esther. It was Jesus’ admonition to his followers at the Sea of Galilee. It is God’s message for these economic times as well. Do not be naïve, but do not let fear overtake you. The cyclical nature of the world economy will have valleys as well as peaks. None are permanent, even when extreme.
- Recent statistical studies show that while the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, two leading market indices, have cycled in tandem through wars, terrorist attacks, political crises, and economic upheavals, the rate of philanthropic giving (i.e., all charitable giving) by Americans has risen in every year since 1980 except for one year (1987). That is, out of 28 years since 1980, giving increased in 27 of those years. Clearly, cycles in the economy do not direct charitable giving. In many instances, they are not even relevant to giving measurements.
- During times of economic crisis, it is most important that our churches live out our Judeo-Christian heritage of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We strive to look around our communities to be solution seekers for ways that our congregations can care for one another as Christ cares for us—to be agents of care. We ask ourselves have current economic conditions brought about emergency needs for assistance? Food? Utilities? Clothing? Focus on ways that our congregations can work together– as a community of Christ– to alleviate need among us.
- As New Testament people, we view the ministry of Christ to be for the long term. As recorded in John 17:20, Jesus made clear his purpose that he was not just praying and acting for those who physically followed him, but for all who would follow throughout the days and centuries ahead. How could we do any less when entrusted with the caretaking of God’s great bounty? It is not only our prudent course; it is our calling.
- Gratitude is the foundation for any Christian’s spiritual life. In moments of economic uncertainty, our focus is acknowledging the giving nature of God, the blessings we receive from God’s salvation-investment in our lives, and our calling to serve as disciples of Jesus Christ through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
- The center of the Christian life is Jesus Christ; meaning that we invest ourselves in something greater than ourselves. Members of the Body of Christ are reminded: it is not about the total sum of our investments or financial resources but rather how faithful we are. We can be faithful with a little or with a lot. God is more concerned with our hearts and how we use the gifts and resources at our disposal.
- Jesus once taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) Jack Benny was a famous comedian of early radio and television who created one the most enduring comedy routines: A robber comes up to him and says, “Your money or your life.” There is no answer. Then the question again, “Your money or your life.” Jack Benny still doesn’t say anything. The robber says it a third time, “Your money or your life.” Benny finally answers, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” How does this period of economic stress affect our thinking? Surely our loyalty, devotion, and service to God so not so connected to the economic markets that we now believe we can no longer afford to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
- In his sermon entitled, The Good Steward, John Wesley wrote, “He (the steward) is not at liberty to use what is lodged in his hands as he pleases; but as his master pleases.” As the people called Methodists, we understand that financial resources serve as instruments of God. Money is only one of the means by which we organize and implement God’s ministries upon this Earth. The current financial situation is a teaching opportunity for congregations to understand John Wesley’s views on money and its involvement with the proclamation of the Gospel. Now is not a time for church leaders to panic and avoid the topics of money and giving but rather now is the time for education, spiritual growth, and commitment. The church is God’s people, each of whom has a responsibility to use their resources for the fulfillment of the Good News.