By Roland Lovstad
Seeing stewardship everywhere, Rev. John Duerr is making it a regular theme for a second year in his preaching and teaching at Hope Lutheran Church in Warren, Mich. And, the pastor intends to continue that approach for three more years as the congregation’s leaders engage the topic on a regular basis.
“It has been a godsend,” says Duerr, describing his congregation’s experience with “Faith Aflame: Stewardship 360 Degrees,” a comprehensive look at the Christian’s responsibility as a manager, or steward, of everything God gives.
In many congregations, the topic of stewardship often arises before the annual budget meeting and often is equated only with money, according to Rev. Wayne Knolhoff, director of stewardship ministry with the LCMS Board for District and Congregational Services. “Stewardship is whole life and year-round,” he says, adding that “Faith Aflame: 360 Degrees” seeks to reach deeper.
The process is co-authored by Knolhoff and Dr. Stuart Brassie, mission facilitator in the Missouri District. It focuses on three principles: that God is the owner of everything and everyone; that people are called to be Christian stewards by God’s grace; and that managers are responsible and accountable.
“Most people think they own what they have,” Knolhoff says. “They act differently when they realize God owns everything, including their life and their family, and it’s on loan for a short while. It’s a wonderful opportunity and a high responsibility to manage for His purposes.”
He says the study materials are targeted to congregational leaders, because they can teach it to others if they understand stewardship themselves through study of God’s Word.
At Hope in Michigan, Pastor Duerr says that kind of study regularly closes the monthly church council meetings. As leaders of ministry teams, the council members then teach at their team meetings. The pastor also draws from the study for his preaching and teaching.
“It keeps us grounded in why we do what we do,” Duerr says. “By embracing good stewardship principles, we are practicing good theology. It is a Gospel response to understand that we own nothing, not even our own bodies.” He says his perspective on “360 degrees” is that anywhere a person looks he will see stewardship in the Christian life.
Knolhoff says the goal is that stewardship is seen as a life issue rather than a financial one, and that stewardship is elevated as a spiritual issue rather than an institutional issue in every congregation. So far, three of five modules have been completed. They introduce the biblical basics in the first year, and then proceed to personal stewardship and congregational stewardship. The fourth and fifth modules involve leading in life and in God’s family, and serving God and neighbor.
Knolhoff invites congregations of all sizes to participate in testing the new materials and the process. “It’s a work in progress,” he says, noting that the materials are available free from www.lcms.org/faithaflame. The modules are intended to be used in sequence, with the final two coming during the next two years.
Congregations are encouraged to participate in the full process, which begins with a three-hour workshop for 12 to 15 lay leaders and the pastors. After that workshop the congregation is asked to decide whether to participate. Then the leaders commit to participate in “learning communities” that meet monthly to pray, study, discuss, and plan. Members of the learning communities also agree to hold each other accountable for growth and development in stewardship activities.
“It’s intensive,” Knolhoff says, “but the change won’t happen without intensive, continuous learning.”
Knolhoff expresses an ambitious goal for the process — to change the stewardship culture in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. “We’re trying to help God’s people see their relationship to the Lord as Christian disciples and stewards,” he explains. The idea is to help people understand the richness of the concept that a steward manages everything — time, talents, treasures, even mind and body — for God’s purposes.
According to Knolhoff, congregations are reporting positive results after beginning the process.
In Warren, Mich., for example, Pastor Duerr reports increases in worship attendance, giving, and personal service. “There is greater enthusiasm for ministry and for the Gospel,” he adds.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted May 13, 2009