Wednesday, July 02, 2008 12:00 AM
I serve a congregation with its share of wealthy members. Some are very generous in their giving to our congregation.
However a point of interest is that the three pastors who serve this parish all have a place on the list of its top ten givers, year after year, and one of us is a quarter-time visitation pastor!
This is true across the church. Why are pastors among the top congregational givers though their incomes are relatively modest?
A few answers can be eliminated immediately. As good as it might have been, it wasn't the last stewardship sermon we heard or gave. It wasn't the catchy slogan, glossy posters or touching stories we mailed to each home. It wasn't even the thermometer in the narthex indicating our congregation's giving!
On the other hand, it may be the pastor's front row seat in the life of the congregation that makes the biggest difference. Such exposure helps us begin to understand where God is at work in the church. This starts with worship. Mark Allan Powell, in his book, "Giving to God: The Bible's Good News About Living a Generous Life" (Wm. B. Eerdman, 2006), writes, "The essence of faith is worship and the essence of worship is sacrifice- giving of ourselves in devotion to God."
One's very presence in worship is a type of "sacrifice," a giving of oneself. Just being there is a gift. We are giving of our time, talent and treasure, to one extent or another. Our sheer exposure to worship is part of the source of our stewardship.
Powell reminds us of David seeking to buy a threshing floor to build an altar. The owner of the property offers to give it to David, but David replies, "No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing!" (2 Samuel 24:24)
Pastors see the difference such sacrifice provides, the "economy of sacrifice." It dawns on us as we see people in the hospital and at youth events, Bible Studies, weddings, funerals, serving at food shelves and coming to worship that this congregation is truly about God's work; our sacrifices are making a difference and helping to build the Kingdom!
We need to find ways to share this view from the front row seats. We need to lift it up and celebrate it. The sermon is a great place for stories from the "front row." Preaching gives us an opportunity to invite the congregation into the lives of people they are serving but may not be aware of it. We can tell the congregation about the mother and her two sons at the food shelf, the details of her struggles and how, in even a small way, the congregation is making a difference. Then we can challenge our hearers to a deeper, more personal response to the Lord's work. We can challenge them to open their eyes, open their hearts and open their wallets; joy awaits!
After a while, it's bound to sink in that: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Faith encourages and even rewards sacrifice. We believe sacrifice makes a difference wherever it is given, at church or to the kid at the door raising money. This is the joy that is lived by people of faith, the "economy of sacrifice."
Ours is a vision that celebrates sacrifice as a way of experiencing abundant life. Let's name it and claim it. Tell the stories that are the privilege of the pastor to see. As we celebrate the sacrifice that makes a difference, we may find ourselves slipping from the top 10 givers in our congregations. What a shame!