When I teach the Healthy Congregations workshops, one of the sessions focuses on stewardship. Did you know that the word “steward” comes from two old English words? “Stig” means “house” and “weard” means “keeper” and when they are combined the meaning is someone who is responsible for guarding something, usually the house or home. Nowadays we use the term for several things. But at its heart, the steward is one who holds something in trust for another.
When we look at modern Unitarian Universalist congregations, what are the ways that our members act as stewards? Every contribution toward the functioning of the congregation is part of the steward’s role. When someone volunteers to lead a committee, they are being stewards. When a person becomes a part of the pastoral care team and visits another who is grieving the death of a loved one, they are being stewards. Cleaning up the kitchen or sanctuary after a service or meal is an act of stewardship.
You may have noticed that I have yet to mention giving money as an act of being a steward. Many times, we only think of what we give from our finances as our stewardship. Yes, the money we contribute helps to pay the salaries, keep the lights and heat on, and buys the services and material for keeping a congregation whole.
We focus once a year on the stewardship campaign where we ask each other to give a portion of our resources toward the annual budget. Occasionally, we will have a capital campaign to raise funds for expanding or buying a building. But have you ever thought to do a stewardship campaign where you ask people to give of their time and talents in addition to their treasure?
Some congregations use a form that asks people what types of activities they would like to do as part of their stewardship of the congregation. The form lists as many of the opportunities for service as can be done within the congregation and has a space for additional ways to help out. They start with a canvass of the congregation one year and repeat it every year. They also provide this to any new person who joins the congregation.
The forms are put into an electronic database and leaders within the congregation use them to match people’s interests and talents to the opportunities for ministry within the congregation. If this is managed well, then the vast majority of the congregation is involved in the stewardship of the institution. Can you imagine what your congregation would look like if you were doing this type of stewardship?
The common wisdom is that 20% of the members of a congregation usually do 80% of the work. This new form of stewardship turns conventional wisdom on its head. Should your leadership want more information or examples of what other congregations have done, contact me.
Care of our faith is all of our responsibility, not just a few leaders. Stewardship is a rewarding offering to nurture our faith and make it stronger for those who come after us. Our congregations are as strong or as weak as we allow them to be. What will you do tomorrow to be a good steward?
Yours in the Faith,