Glen Guyton is chief operating officer and director of Convention Planning for Mennonite Church USA.
We often equate the word “stewardship” with money – how we use what we have. In a sense that is true, but in many situations, what we have is often used to control and influence people. And so stewardship is really about control. Those with more money often control those with less. That is how it typically works in this society of ours. Even in the church – big donors often get a bigger voice than us regular folks. People with money get to show up in places where decisions are made, or at the very least, they get to suggest who gets to show up. Even what I type in this blog post is tempered by the fact that I depend on money in the form of a bi-weekly paycheck to feed my family.
So it is crucial for all of us to understand the power we hold in stewardship. We have to be responsible as we exercise our influence through our money. Good stewardship also calls us to take control of our own lives. We can be and should be the stewards or our own destiny.
How do we take control of our lives? Money guru Dave Ramsey suggests four actions to take control of your money: eliminate debt; create a budget; start saving; and retire inspired. These are good principles that we as Anabaptist can expand on. Taking control for us regular folks means:
- Living simply.
- Practicing mutual aid.
- Giving generously of your time, talents, and finance.
- Serving others in each phase of life.
Other than making great pies, cheese, wood products and those miracle heating stoves, the Amish have it right in regards to stewardship. Living off the grid and living simply gives our Anabaptist cousins a great deal of control that comes from being an independent community. Keeping up with the Joneses is time consuming and never ending. The need for two incomes, two cars and Amazon Prime detracts from the stability of the family and makes us virtual strangers in our own homes. Kids are shuffled off to paid surrogates and weary spouses barely have the energy to interact with one another.
As Anabaptists we could put Visa, MasterCard, and Chase bank out of business if we practiced mutual aid, a commitment to helping one another, instead of putting trust in our FICO scores to live beyond our means.
Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
We need more community barn-raising and less debt limit raising – investing in one another and lending a helping hand.
Service is one way that we can practice good life-long stewardship. If each of did just a little bit we could make a huge impact on this world. But we have become complacent as individuals and we have put our trust in institutions or institutional proxies. But each of us has the capacity to serve, from school age children to seasoned adults. Instead of waiting for an institution to clean up our neighborhood, what if we picked up a can or two everyday as we went on our evening walks?
We send hundreds of dollars each month to cable television and cellular communications companies who promote God knows what, but we are hypercritical of missions agencies and church organizations that ask us to fund projects that we can reach out and touch. It is interesting the critical eye we place on the church’s use of money, but we freely feed McDonald’s and Exxon because of the convenience they provide. Convenience that can be detrimental to the health of our bodies and our environment. Good stewardship is also being wise about the totality of how we use our resources, not just one narrow sliver.
Giving of our time, talents and finances are import. As Anabaptists we could provide valuable services and set an example for others inside and outside of the faith community. We need to invest in the people and communities around us.
Our churches should be six-days-a-week operations, providing social programs, meals, financial education and tutoring. With too much staff, too much building and too many “nice” things that make us comfortable are we really helping transform lives?
We have gone way beyond separation of church and state, but in doing so, we have given away our Christian mission to the state. What if instead paying staff, we volunteered to do the good work ourselves? Instead of a bunch of theological, excuse-laden arguments for not paying a tithe, what if we just gave a reasonable amount to establish rainy days funds that would benefit the community while at the same time putting the same amount in our personal storehouse. Imagine the control that would give us and our communities.
Instead of holding out hope for new policies or institutional edicts, what if we built our own supportive networks? We can take control of our lives and we can expand our spheres of influence. We do not have to be slaves because we lack institutional or monetary control. I would encourage each of you to examine your own lives. What are the areas in which you can become a better steward and reclaim some of that lost control? Maybe you will reclaim control by managing your finances better. But I believe the best way of getting back control and becoming a better steward is helping others regain control of their own lives.