by Paula Jefferson
After much whining, my parents agreed that my older sister should split her paper route with the 8-year-old kid sister. 65 folks received their paper, 6 days per week, from a very serious entrepreneur. On Fridays, I collected the 75¢ subscription price from customers (well, the ones who remembered to pay!) and took my financial haul to the family kitchen table.
The papers cost 50¢ per subscriber, so first we segregated $32.50 for the paper distributor. Next, we counted the remaining money on the table. 10% of that money was segregated and put into my Sunday school purse and given in the weekly collection. The next $10 went to my savings account at the bank. Everything else went to my drugstore candy runs during the following week. A full-sized Reeses Cup was a whopping 10¢ and the grape pop was another 15¢. Those were the days!
The exercise of tithing is an incredible discipline and I’m grateful that my parents felt it was important to instill that practice. But it had nothing to do with spiritual discipline.
Tithing, as it was taught to me, required no thought. That’s just what you do. 10% goes back to God.
But stewardship….that’s different. Stewardship is a choice. It’s acknowledging that giving something—anything—back to God is a conscious process of choosing. It can be a way in which we develop our relationship with God and exercise that spiritual muscle called Faith. Stewardship requires the big girl pants. I’m not always sure that I won’t need the money I’ve put into God’s hands. And I don’t always trust that God will drop the next basket of financial manna on my desktop. What if I can’t pay my employees? What if I can’t pay my property taxes? And how will I pay for groceries when I’m 80?
Usually when I’m struggling with a stewardship issue, the root cause of the struggle is control. Gee, I’d give this money to my church, but I don’t agree with everything the vestry or the clergy does. Maybe I’ll just give it to the church with the provision that it be used for a specific purpose – my specific purpose. God knows, I understand the church’s needs better than, well, God. Oops. There’s the inherent flaw in that control issue.
When I give to SMITF, I am giving to God. Would I seriously write a check payable to God and make a note in the memo field about how God should spend my offering to Him? Do I have the faith to believe that God has participated in the process of management at SMITF and that if God doesn’t like something happening in my church home, He is able to do something about it?
Control and stewardship are like two ends of a teeter-totter. I can’t be at both ends at the same time. As I yield control, I grow in stewardship. To control requires no faith. To grow in stewardship requires growth in faith. That is the spiritual muscle I want to flex and grow.
As we enter another stewardship campaign season, the question I am asking myself is not “how much do I have to give this year?” but, rather, “am I growing in my ability to control or am I growing in stewardship?” Betcha’ God has a preference for which end of the teeter-totter I put my weight on.