Fall usually means stewardship season in the church. As the year-end approaches, churches need to develop next year’s operating budget. It is difficult for churches to estimate revenues unless members give the church their estimated giving (pledge) for the next year. Many ministers preach their stewardship sermons starting the month of October and finish before Thanksgiving. This week, my minister preached on 1 Corinthians 3:5-23. The text is full of work references: “I planted, Apollos watered”, “each will receive wages according to the labor of each”, “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation”, “each builder must choose with care how to build on it”, “if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss”, and “let no one boast about human leaders.”
Our minister is a talented mid-career preacher. He stands in front of the congregation without notes and weaves Scripture, theology, and personal stories into well-crafted sermons. He preached on the need to build a strong church foundation and referenced the past 70+ years of the church’s existence. He named the founding and subsequent pastors, each building on the work of their predecessors. He related stories of his past work in a church planting and how our church is assisting with a revival of another Austin church that has declined on membership within a growing neighborhood with young families. The sermon was part of a four-week stewardship series that climaxes with members pledging. Our minister stressed the need to financially support the foundations of our church.
As the sermon progressed, I started thinking that the stewardship season may be an opportunity to highlight faith and work. Our congregation is professional and highly educated. The members are leaders within the Austin community, something he did mention in his sermon. Including examples of building a business within our community or church members showing leadership in building foundations in our community would resonate with our congregation.
In their book, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian Values with Business Life (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2001), Dr. Laura Nash (formerly Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Business School) and Rev. Scotty McLennan (formerly the Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University) write about the gaps between the church and business: “The Church could be one of the strongest resources we have for leading a balanced and effective business life. In most cases, it is not. It could provide spiritual and ethical insight about work that would revolutionize business life. In most cases, it does not. At the heart of these problems are fundamental tensions between Christian ideals and the realities of business life that have created a significant gap between our life at church and our life at work.” (page xix)
Businesses must make profits to keep in business. It is not sinful to ethically and profitably supply products to meet the needs of the public. Both church and non-church workers buy products sold by competitive businesses. Workers, through their wages and investment incomes, use their money to financially support the church. Their giving is essential to pay for the church’s ministries. Stewardship is an important theological topic and I commend our pastor for preaching on stewardship. Yet the need exists for linking faith and work during a stewardship campaign. “The absence of supportive church engagement in today’s spiritual quest and the presence of many alternative spiritual expressions have posed deep problems for both the businessperson and the Christian church.” (page xxv) There are opportunity costs for not linking faith and work within the church. Stewardship season is a good time to begin fusing the internal church with the external community.