On Sunday we celebrated the end of the Gathering. For me this was an emotional decision, but something that just needed to be done. Being good stewards of the gifts and resources we have made it that we really had no choice. But that still does not make it easy. And in a lot of churches many programs that have passed their vitality are continued because it is too hard to let them go.
Thankfully, we have a great Session that is approaching decisions in a very different way, their quest and call has been to look at the issues brought before them and ask how we best use our gifts to build up the body. This is not an easy task and calls us to be honest, even when it is difficult. However, with the huge amount of ministries we are involved with we have to make sure we are not putting energy into things that have no sustainability.
I know that to some it sounds like a business decision, but it is not. For a business their motivation is profit; for us our motivation is to help people connect with God. So our leaders are called to be faithful stewards. In a couple weeks you will hear that word a lot through our Stewardship campaign. This is both a blessing, but also unfortunate in that it connects Stewardship in some people’s mind with merely the financial aspects of church. But Stewardship is much more than money; actually most who participate in faithful stewardship would be quick to let you know that the money is probably the least important part of Stewardship for them.
Stewardship starts with asking the question of how your relationship is going with God. No matter how much you give, it is not going to make your relationship any better. Think of it like a parent who is never home, and to make up for it lavishes expensive gifts on their child. And if the parent does not follow these gifts with time and love, we all know what happens to the child; often the gifts are not appreciated, cared for, or even used because the child, consciously or not, knows that no gift can replace the presence of their parent. Of course God does not cast off our gifts when they come from a false piety, but they also don’t allow for the relationship to happen.
Stewardship is most of all about how we are in relationship with God. A good steward will care for the world and resources around them, not out of guilt or obligation, but out of thankfulness. I often think of the thing I have been given in my life; those that mean the most are the ones I can remember the story behind and carry the significance. But there is so much more to Stewardship than our giving; there is the question of how we use and develop the gifts that God has given to us.
This is the thing most churches have a hard time with because faithful stewardship is as much about letting go as it is about growth and moving forward. This is both simple logic and faithful stewardship because if your resources are tied up one place and the community is in another, you can never fully serve the community because you do not have the resources needed.
The Gathering was a necessary thing for us to explore. It opened up a creative and experimental space for worship that allowed us for a time to experiment and even play with what it means to worship. But the model was not sustainable and would eventually need to transform or end. In our situation, it has done both. While the service came to an end and we have said good-bye, we have also taken the learnings and understandings and applied them to the Wednesday Service and will soon use much of the data to look at how we worship on Sunday morning.
And here is another very important aspect of stewardship. A good steward is never stagnant. If you look to some of the most successful congregations they are always moving forward. One of my mentors, Bill Creavey, once said “if you want to sustain church growth, always have a building campaign going; even when you finish everything you wanted to do, find something else.” He said that for two reasons: people want to be part of something that is growing, and if the church is always working on improving the facility, they are also having to ask the question how they are staying relevant to their community, and being good stewards of the gifts God has given.
While it is sad to say good-bye to something that has taken so much passion and energy, it is also extremely exciting to see how God is working in this place and using us to both connect and grow as a community. It is also great to see the energy and passion for God that is coming from our Wednesday Night Revive!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen