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
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
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,
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
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.