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Resources: LLM Archives
For nearly a century, Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.


Random Thoughts on Stewardship

By the Rev. Helmut Kaffine

I live near a carwash that also sells gasoline self-service. I go there at least once a week for gas. About twice a year I get my car washed and that's usually in February and March when the car is filthy with winter's slush.

As I stand there pumping gas in all seasons I observe the cars lined up to go through the carwash; and I notice, to my constant amazement, that most of them are not dirty!

Apparently there are people who will get their car washed routinely every week whether it needs it or not. And I can't help but wonder if the people who regard that $5.00 wash as an incidental expense put as much in their church envelope.

We spend our money on the things that are important to us. What we put in our church envelopes is an indication of how much we love the Lord and His Church -- all pious protests to the contrary.

I have a widow in my congregation, a modern day Macedonian, whom I shall call Cora (not her real name, but she comes from that generation when the name Cora was popular). Cora is a shut-in living in a house that she owns, surviving on $600 a month Social Security. Each time I visit Cora I leave with a pack of church envelopes which she has carefully filled week by week I know that each of those envelopes contains $5.00 because she marks it on the outside. Each Sunday envelope. Each Lenten envelope. Each special envelope. Each envelope: $5.00.

I figure that comes to about five percent of her income. For her that is a sacrificial gift. She reminds me of those Macedonians who, in a severe test of affliction , nonetheless, "begged earnestly for the favor of taking part ..."' (2 Cor. 8:3-4). Of course, we know their motivation: "But first they gave themselves to the Lord."

I often say that giving is 90 percent a matter of the will, and only 10 percent a matter of economics. And for very few does sacrifice enter the picture.

Some people will spend more to go out for dinner after church than they put in their church envelope. Others will spend more for dog food, or hobbies, or video rentals, or vacations, or cigarettes than for church. You, of course, can add to the list.

People need to be made aware that what they give to the church is often not commensurate with all their other expenses. The person who drives a brand new car to church and puts $10 in the church envelope is simply not being realistic.

Some have the assumption that the church operates with a sort of "divine mathematics." Everything else costs money, but the church can exist on good will!

But then I remind them that our electric bill runs around $300 a month; that the plumber does not give us a discount; that the telephone company charges us business rates; that the young technician who services the copy machine does not drive a 1977 Plymouth; and that we recently spent S2,000 to repair the roof.

Let's get real! There was a time when you could mail a letter for 4c, and buy a brand new car for about $1.00 a pound.  What's the price of those things today? Everything costs.

Then there are those who say that it's not very spiritual to talk about money in church. Sometimes that is simply a pious smokescreen. This is God's world and how we handle the stuff of life is a testimony to our spirituality or lack of it. And that includes money!

The stewardship of money includes all of what we earn; not just the percentage put in church envelopes.

I entitled one of the columns that I wrote for our monthly newsletter, Me Written Record. I pointed out that when it's all said and done there really isn't much written record of the average individual's lifetime. Most people don't write journals and they write very few letters.

But there is a written record nevertheless. Most people write entries in a checkbook and these reflect their values, activities, and priorities. They are revealing records of a life lived.

Checkbooks also reflect how much Christ and His Church mean to you. Does your checkbook tell of good stewardship? Is there enough evidence in your checkbook to convict you of being a Christian? Suppose St. Peter were to ask only to see your checkbook? Checkbooks are telling testimonies.

Also, when it's said and done, it's always sad when people spend more for the box, the vault, the plot, and the rock than they've given to the church in a lifetime. It happens. Stewardship ought to extend even to what are euphemistically called final expenses, much of which concern matters that don't really matter.

A Christian's whole style of life tends to rebuke and shame the cultural norm of self-indulgence, and self concern: bigger, better, newer, more.

Somebody asked me if I would like to take a European vacation. I replied, "If I knew that the vacation was costing $300 a day I wouldn't be enjoying myself." In many ways I am a 'less is more' type person.

We have hanging on our kitchen wall, printed and framed, an old New England adage:

New England adage: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without."

That's how the Yankees survived, and that's how tithers manage quite well, thank you.

I've maintained that tithers are really better off than most people because they use more wisely and well the remaining 90 percent. And frankly, it's easy for people to simply squander 10 percent of their income on non-essentials and impulse purchases.

Our people need to know that pastors are also members of the congregations they serve. And as members they have church envelopes. People also need to know that, odds are, their pastors are among the handful of top givers in the congregation.

I, like Haggai, who has a little two-page book in the Old Testament. He talks about the fact that the self-indulgent do not find satisfaction. It's in that bag of holes' passage in the first chapter.

It's been said that no one is poorer for what they give to the church, nor richer for what they withhold. But Haggai is convinced that a person is definitely poorer for what is withheld.

I also like the passage in Leviticus where God's faithful people are told to live below their means so that they will always have something to share, " you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you strip your vineyards bare. " (19:9-10).

Now I must bring these ramblings to a close by writing something that I've said repeatedly.

Christ doesn't expect us to be good for nothing. The Gospels speak of rewards for the faithful. We need to be reminded that in Christ we are rich beyond measure. In Him we have a security and serenity which the world cannot give.

We have eternal life: that quality of life characterized by freedom from anxious self-concern and morbid self-justification. We are liberated from pride and greed and envy. We have joy and peace. And our stewardship of life is a proper response to the grace of God.

The Rev. Helmut Kaffine is a retired pastor who served many years in Pennsylvania congregations. In 1994 he received the Dr. Richard Lee Peterman Good Steward Award.


Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay appeared in the Faith in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.