I have really been mulling over stewardship and its relationship with the life of the church over the past few days. It was all sparked at our staff meeting over at Central UMC when a member led a presentation from Igniting Ministry. It had some very valuable questions that pushed the staff to reflect on what it means to be church and to move forward in ministry.
However, one thing really struck me. Throughout all of the material the church was referred to as “our church.” Now I understand what was intended by saying “our church.” The intention was surely to recognize the bond of the faith community, building, with the individuals who find themselves as members within that local context. However, I am starting to wonder if the “possession” of the church by its “membership” is somewhat misguided.
I have heard/read many theologians who push us to remember that all we have is given to us by God. Usually this language is pushed to get us to remember that the gifts we have and the resources (money, etc.) we accumulate are not fully ours but are given to us by God. In that way it really isn’t “my money” it is rather “God’s money” that has been given over to me to be a steward of. This was emphasized in my life by my mother.
You see I grew up in a single-parent household and we always went to church. However, when I was around 12 or 13 my mother ended up doing adult foster care for four gentleman with developmental disabilities. Sometimes it would happen that she couldn’t bring the guys to church because one of them was having a bad day, etc. On those days mother would send a check with me to put in the offering plate. For the most part I would just drop that check in without looking, but one day my curiosity got the best of me and I opened the check…..$200….I was floored. You see money was very tight for us at all times growing up. My mother worked sometimes up to 4 jobs to pay the rent, buy us food, and maintain the car. She worked extremely hard for the money she got and I know as a young kid I always wished we had more money so I could have all the cool things my friends had. I can remember the moment vividly of my mind racing thinking of all the things we could have if mom didn’t give away so much of “her” money to the church. I went home and asked her about it and her simple answer was this, “That money is God’s not mine.” I was left perplexed and stayed perplexed until I started to mature, had more conversations with my mother, and began to understand exactly what God had given me.
I have to admit that it took me a long time (until after college) for me to cultivate that same attitude, but I look back now and am thankful that my mother took the time with me to help me understand our relationship to God. Every year, Stacy and I are trying to increase our giving to God. There are times when I look at the checkbook register and realize that the money could have been used to decrease some of the debt accumulated in our early married life as student(s) but then I remember that I wouldn’t have that money if God had not first given us the gift of life, the mental gifts for work, and the gift of faith so truly it belongs to God.
Now back to my original train of thought. When we use personal possessive pronouns in relationship to the church, I wonder if it doesn’t reveal something about our thought. When I say “my” church or “our” church I am claiming some possession in it, somehow I am an “owner” of it. But is this right? I wonder when did the personal possessive pronoun come in to use when referring to church? These are questions I ask that I need to investigate some more, but they don’t change some of the things I am thinking.
What would happen if we banned the use of personal possessive pronouns when referring to church. What if every church in its local context were referred to by it’s name, but more importantly identified itself as “God’s church?” Would attitudes begin to change? Would we start to really try and understand where God is calling us to and who God is calling us to be? Would we become less focused on “survival” and more focused on mission? Would our own lives be transformed in a way that realizes that we are but stewards of what God has given?
I have vowed this week to never again refer to the church I am placed at as “my” church (something we pastor’s often do surprisingly) or as “our” church in any conversations. I will refer to them by title name only or “this” church when talking to those within. It is not because I don’t feel a part of this faith community (I already feel very welcomed), but rather because I think we have to be very intentional in our language because in a way what we say helps transform and form who we are.
These are the thoughts running through my head. They are still at their beginnings and I still will be thinking about them and I would love to hear others thoughts. Am I off base? Am I missing something? Does it really matter?