As Pumpkin Spice Season returns, congregations around the globe are turning their attention to the next great liturgical season, the Annual Stewardship Campaign. More than the start of school marking a new program year, or the beginning of Advent marking the new liturgical year, or even Ash Wednesday marking the start of the long journey toward the cross, the Annual Stewardship Campaign holds a, no, more likely, THE MOST prominent place in the congregational life cycle. This makes sense, of course, because a church cannot pay its bills without income coming in. So, we plan elaborate processes by which we will invite our members to support the budget, which is mostly clergy salaries, for another year.
As is well evidenced on this blog, I am not one for pulling the words of Jesus out of context to use them as proof texts for one’s theological position. However, occasionally, as I’m reading a text, it happens naturally. As was the case this morning, as I read the passage from Mark appointed for Proper 19B, which has nothing, at all, to do with the Annual Stewardship Campaign, and yet, rang so true to the wider experience of “fundraising” in the church.
It seems to me that the pendulum swing away from stewardship as spiritual discipline to fundraising to make the budget is an exercise in gaining the world while losing the very life of congregational ministry. It is, as others have suggested, another step in the process of the church becoming nothing more than a social services agency that holds weekly meetings. If the goal is simply to bring in enough money to pay a clergy person, keep the lights on, and make sure my church is here for me when I need it, then we might as well funnel that money into the Rotary Club or United Way’s coffers and close up shop. Instead, it seems to me that the goal of the Annual Stewardship Campaign ought to have very little, if anything, to do with budgets, and should instead be focused on the spiritual discipline of giving. It should be rooted in giving from the abundance of God rather than filling holes of scarcity and fear. It should be aimed at giving life rather than staving off death.
What does this have to do with the scene at Caesarea Philippi? Not much, except that maybe when we come to follow Jesus as the Messiah, who gave his very own life out of the abundance of God’s mercy, we might take a moment to consider what we are seeking to gain and what we might lose in the Annual Stewardship Campaign.