Generosity vs Stewardship.
I've written before about the Five Fruitful Practices of Congregations. One of them is extravagant generosity. Today I ran across an article by Robert Schnase, who wrote the book, and is also the Bishop of the Missouri Conference. He is discussing the differences in the terms stewardship and generosity. He visited the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, which is one of the large UM churches in the world, by membership. Their Executive Director of Stewardship recently had a title change to Executive Director of Generosity.
I wonder about that. What is implied in each word? What do we hear when we hear the words themselves? Which is a truer representation of what we are to do with the gifts God has given to us.
First, stewardship. I think it implies that we are stewards and that the "talents" we are managing are not our own. One would never expect a steward to be generous, because generosity implies ownership. If you have a financial advisor and you give him control of a certain amount of your money, you expect him to be a good steward, to use that money as you instruct him to do. When you ask for the money, it is still yours, and generosity of the money manager's part is not required in order for him to return it to you. He is your steward.
I think that there is a benefit of using that word. It does hammer home to us the idea that all that we have belongs to God. We do not have ultimate ownership of it, whether it is our time, or talents or gifts or our service. It all belongs to God, and we are to use it as he instructs us to.
Generosity is something else. We can really only be generous with something that we own. Schnase argues that generosity implies to many people a larger definition than stewardship. He believes that in our society, we have equated stewardship with money, while generosity can still apply to gifts, to time, to talents. He says that generosity is an aspect of character -- we are generous. We can choose to be generous. He also says that this word is more readily understood by "unchurched" people. Stewardship is an "insider" word, while generosity is not.
In truth, whatever it is called, I think giving to God's work needs to be done as a response to God's grace. It needs to be inclusive of more than just our money, but of all that which we have been given by God. I'm not sure which words defines that better, but I do think that we need to work on this concept in our churches.
The word extravagant? That one I like!
Image: Sunrise at the VA.