And Moses answered and said, “But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.” And the LORD said unto him, “What is that in thine hand?” And he said, “A rod” (Exodus 4:1-2).
It has always been difficult convincing un-churched twenty and thirty “something’s” that there needs to be space in their diminishing budgets and growing schedules for stewardship. This group makes up 70% of the congregation of Shekinah Chapel. As a growing African-American New Start congregation that still struggles with this concept, we are learning and teaching that faithful stewardship should be practiced in various categories including finances, property, how you treat others, time, talents, and gifts. To compound matters, we at Shekinah Chapel are currently in the throes of what seems to be a relentless recession; unemployment is at record highs, foreclosures are an ever increasing reality, and savings are nonexistent for our members. It is in this context that Shekinah Chapel grapples with its responsibility to be good stewards. Our challenge was that we had to do something different.
Just as Moses stood becoming the leader of the children of Egypt — a people who had become used to being enslaved — and God declared the impossible through something as simple as a rod, so God declares the impossible through a growing congregation living in a cycle of economic strife. As believers of Jesus Christ, we are called out of the mindset that enslaves us to a limited reality into the freedom of the limitless reality of God. If we are able to realize what God has already entrusted to us and offer it freely to God, then we will see how God can take the part and bless the whole. Out of Moses’ obedience, God takes a rod and frees the children of Israel. I invited the people of Shekinah Chapel to imagine what God could do with the “rod” in our hands. The part that we give can bless the whole — the whole ministry; the whole church, our whole lives, the whole of our faith.
In 2010, we felt bad about not achieving our benevolence commitment to the synod, which was just under $3000 and about 3% of our budget. We were also spending too much money on supplies for repairs to the property at Shekinah Chapel making it difficult to maintain our commitments to the church. Just as God asked Moses in Exodus 4:2, we asked ourselves, what is that in thine hands, Shekinah? Our response had to consider the available resources within our congregation that would allow us to be good stewards of not only our finances, but also of our talents and gifts as well. To this end, members of Shekinah Chapel began to do a personal inventory of all of their resources and ask themselves, what can I render (Psalm 116:12)? After our discernment time, we agreed it was time to become a tithing church, and Shekinah Chapel would tithe back to the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. Based on our pledges, but mostly our faith in God, we decided that our 2011 benevolence goal to the synod would be $20,000.
Upon doing an inventory of “rods” within our congregation, we found that God had given time and talents, both of which were needed to be good stewards. For example, our congregation has a Facility Plant Supervisor who has been able to perform repairs on our three outdated furnaces and bring in reputable companies to do major repairs, all while personally supervising other minor repairs within the church and parish house for minimal cost. We also have a couple of retirees who have been generous in volunteering their time as part of a housekeeping team, which has allowed us to forego the cost of employing a janitor or contracting a janitorial service needed because our building is in use practically every day by community leaders, organizations, and congregational ministries. Our musicians voluntarily reduced their pay and occasionally return their payroll as an act of stewardship. There is a graphic artist in the congregation who routinely waves his cost for our print materials. Another artist within the congregation has donated time and supplies for the creation of banners throughout the congregation. A person who works for a printing company has donated her time and resources to make sure that cost for graphics and major copies are extremely low. There are countless others who are recognizing what’s in their hands. One of the greatest lessons we are learning at Shekinah Chapel is that stewardship isn’t a matter of convincing as much as it is the recognition of being purposely driven to empower ability. That is, in the same sense that Jesus approached Simon and Andrew while they were fishing and exclaimed, “I will make you fishers of men,” so, too, is the process of stewardship within the church, a process of recognizing your God given abilities and using them to build and maintain the Kingdom of God.
At Shekinah Chapel, we have begun to assist in this recognition by providing opportunities for our members to enact their abilities through participation and commitment. In order that our members become aware of the church’s finances and its importance to the function of our ministry, we have instituted a process in which a group of approximately 10-15 committed members rotate the responsibility of tellers for Sunday offerings. By diversifying these duties, members have become more conscientious of the financial state of the church which has lead to unscripted stewardship discussions throughout the church.
Shekinah works to keep its members informed of their personal financial commitments to the church by providing annual giving statements to members each year. However for the first time, we have begun to provide quarterly giving statements in addition to having quarterly congregation meetings and treasurer’s reports. The quarterly reports have given members a snapshot of where they are with their pledges, and if they are on target to meet what they have pledged, thus supporting them in their stewardship mission.
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Biblical stewardship gives out of devotion rather than duty. It is about the heart of the giver, the Christian willing to give of their gifts and resources, not only their wealth. If we continue to evaluate what we have in our hands, we will be victorious against the struggles of stewardship at Shekinah Chapel. We have to remember that our part blesses the whole.