Synopsis: The social and financial repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic shine a bright spotlight on faithful stewardship and how we handle financial matters. We recognize ourselves as among the privileged in our world. This poses us with the challenge and the joy of living into God’s abundance and to use what we have to serve others as we are able.
The social and financial repercussions of the coronavirus will most likely follow us for years to come. We’re all feeling the impact but it’s hurting financially vulnerable households the most. More than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. This is unprecedented in the life of our nation.
Two months ago, Ruth and I were really concerned as our country was starting to shut down. Our new house in Harrisonburg was framed and under roof but lots of work remained to be done. We has recently signed a contract with a realtor to sell our townhouse here in Fairfax. And then we watched as everything began to freeze up and our retirement accounts lost a big chunk of their value.
Yes, we lost some of our financial assets but it could have been so much worse. Our building contractor has been able to keep working on our house. They were thankful for the work as other building projects dried up. Our realtor was able to list and show our house using strict social distancing guidelines. Our house was under contract in less than two days at a little above our asking price. For all this, we’re very thankful.
My other concern has been the financial wellbeing of our church. Like most churches, the bulk of our offerings comes from a small percentage of our households. What would happen when this economic turmoil affects their finances? We didn’t even know how we would stay connected when we had to cancel our physical worship services. I’m so grateful for the rump worship crew that enabled us to create a virtual Zoom service from scratch on short notice.
Another aspect of this is that part of our church budget depends on the rent from other churches that use our building. They’re also hurting financially and our church council decided to significantly cut their rent. They’ve been incredibly good about paying what they can. We’re now talking with each other about how to carefully start to again hold limited physical gatherings using social distancing guidelines.
Fortunately, our church was able to secure a CARES Payroll Protections Program loan for $10,700 to cover two months of my salary and other expenses. This has been a huge help. Even so we’re not sure where things will be financially moving forward. So far, we’re okay and our offerings have kept coming in. We’re grateful for that. Thank you!
I’m also grateful that A Place to Stand has been able to use our two church lunchrooms as a food pantry for needy Daniels Run Elementary School students and their families. Several mornings a week there is a flurry of activity as people in cars drop off food and volunteers carry it in and sort it for distribution. Another group of volunteers then distributes it to different homes.
That makes me feel good and it’s not so lonely when I’m in my office. It also makes me aware that we’re among the socially privileged. Many black and Latino communities have been hit much harder by this pandemic. They also have bourn the brunt of police violence.
Let’s consider this through the lens of embracing stewardship. Several years ago I preached a sermon series on this. I began by emphasizing that an abundant life is rooted in God’s extravagant abundance. Living into this abundance liberates us from a sense of scarcity and empowers us to develop our gifts and resources to generously serve God and neighbor. This is fun! We become co-creators with God.
Next, creative stewardship is premised on Jesus’ teaching to first seek God’s kingdom. Two things that will surely thwart the growth of God’s kingdom are: 1) an undue anxiety about our possessions and financial security, and 2) when our love of money dominates our lives and chokes out everything else. Between these two pitfalls, there’s lots of room for the reign of God to grow and flourish. This is the joyful adventure of faithful stewardship.
At some point we need to get into the nuts and bolts of faithful finances and financial planning. I’m not a financial expert and will, instead, share some general guidelines in relation to our values and goals. We can’t care for each other and share generously if our finances are a mess.
The Bible has much to say about stewardship but little that we can apply directly to finances as such. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians is especially insightful even though he isn’t talking directly about budgets or financial planning. He says that living as a disciple of Jesus involves being transformed into Christ’s image. We’re more than consumers. We’re stewards and trustees and this involves authority and responsibility. That’s lesson number one.
Being a trustee of God’s gifts doesn’t come naturally. It requires intentionally and training. The Greek word that Paul uses for servant refers to a rower in a two-tiered galley ship. That requires training and hard physical labor. A contemporary example might be a scull rowing team. It looks so graceful but requires an extraordinary amount of strength, stamina, and coordination.
That same intentionally, training, and teamwork applies to the kingdom of God. We all have different strengths and different parts to play. We’re all in this together. When one part of the team falters, the rest of the team suffers with us, supports us, picks us up, and keeps encouraging us to press on.
The Greek word that Paul uses for steward refers to the person in charge of a household. Households in the biblical world were much different from our nuclear families, which, in economic terms, are units of consumption. Ancient households were units of production involving productive land, cattle, business enterprises, and many servants. The steward oversaw all this and needed to be trustworthy and reliable. That certainly involved being able to work with budgets and finances as well as interpersonal skills in working with people. A comparable position today might be an administrator in a company or a nonprofit organization.
In our family, that’s my wife Ruth. She has a detailed financial spreadsheet on our computer that includes income from our salaries and investments, our monthly expenses including payments on our debts, our savings and retirement accounts, our projected future finances after we retire, and our charitable giving.
Faithful financial planning includes (1.) our faith-centered values and goals, (2.) living responsibility, (3.) preparing and investing for the future, and (4) giving generously. Faith centered values and goals include all of life. Money should never be an end in itself—that’s the root of so much evil in our world.
Caring for each other extends beyond our immediate community. There are more international refuges today than at any time since World War II. Beyond that, there are many locally displaced people around the world. This pandemic will certainly increase hunger and displacement in many places.
A central biblical teaching is that wealth does not consist in money or in power but in relationships. As Jesus taught his disciples, through leaving everything they will inherit a multitude of new ties, new homes with new mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, possessions, lands, and eternal life (Mark 10: 30).
Worship services and other spiritual practices that ignore supporting and caring for others are worthless. Sixteenth century Anabaptist leader Menno Simons scolded such churches and called their observance of the Lord’s Supper “barren bread-breaking” because they did nothing to help the needy.
At the beginning of this year we had no idea how quickly things would unravel or the kinds of challenges we would face moving forward. I’m deeply concerned about what life will be like for our grandchildren. Yet, I also have confidence in the younger generations and firmly believe that difficulties are also opportunities when we approach them as such.
Faithful stewardship involves so much more than giving money. The huge challenges we face as humans moving forward include caring for creation during a time of climate change, creating jobs and a social safety net for the most vulnerable among us, confronting the racism and all kinds of oppression in our society, and ending the scourge of war. We will want to support our children and grandchildren as they take on these challenges.
It appears that I’ll have plenty to keep me busy when I retire. As a follower of Jesus my goal is to keep working at such things as I’m able. At my age, I’m quite aware that this involves learning as we go and adopting best practices through our experience. As in all things, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Hopefully, we learn as we go and gradually become better at what we’re doing.
This is also my vision for our church. When people talk about Daniels Run Peace Church, they’ll say, “They’re the church that cares for each other and is involved in all kinds of different activities to strengthen the well-being of our community.” They’ll recognize us as faithful stewards of God’s abundance.