By John Chandler
I grew up bringing my Baptist “Six Point Envelope” to church: Present. Bible Brought. Bible Read Daily. Lesson Studied. Giving. Worship. Note that the scorecard was on an envelope intended for my Sunday school offering — which was to be in addition to the offering for the worship service.
Because tithing became a part of my life early, it was natural for me to speak as a pastor about stewardship. This served me well at budget time and in capital campaigns. Money was utilitarian in a growing ministry: We have a job to do, it takes money to do it, so let’s all “give until it feels good.”
But the seeker-movement of the 1980s alerted us to how unchurched people often found our discussions about giving to be distasteful and even invasive. Pastors were perceived as wanting to put their hands on everyone’s wallet. In response, the pendulum swung hard in the other direction. Many churches even eliminated the time-honored tradition of passing the offering plate.
Now, many churches are beginning to reshape how stewardship is framed. Church leaders are saying to their people, “I care about the state of your soul, your heart and your maturity as a disciple. So let’s talk about money.” This becomes less of a conversation about the practical needs of the church, and more about the cultivation of the virtue of generosity. As Andy Stanley of North Point Church says, “We talk about money, not because of what we want from you, but because of what we want for you.”
At All Souls Charlottesville, where I serve as an elder, we take a communal “Rule of Life,” with vows to exercise the Lordship of Jesus over our relation to money, sex and power. We are aiming at deep impact in cultivating generosity as the fruit of the Spirit in our souls. We’ll take our chances that if generosity is flowering, people will increasingly figure out strategies to support our church’s ministries. They will also be generous in many other ways.
Look for more of this perspective to emerge in U.S. churches. We’ll hear less and less about what is good for the church’s budget, and more and more about what is good for your soul.