A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Pre-Institute Workshops at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, near Kansas City. Church of the Resurrection, under the leadership of Adam Hamilton, has become one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the world. Itís always amazing to visit there. (One of the hosts was directing guests by describing which workshops were held in rooms 200, 300, etc., and which were being held in rooms 3000, 3300, etc. How many churches have you visited that have room numbers in the thousands?!?!?)
My host was Rev. Clayton Smith, on staff at Church of the Resurrection. His title is Executive Director of Generosity. He described how he had just recently changed his title, after reflecting upon the Five Practices and the way the language of Extravagant Generosity has been used in so many branches of our connection in recent months. His former title was Executive Director of Stewardship. Clayton, the staff at COR, and the congregational leaders decided ìgenerosityî comes closer than ìstewardshipî to describing Claytonís purpose and role.
This got me to thinking. Whatís the difference in the use of the terms ìstewardshipî and ìgenerosityî? What comes to mind when you hear those words? For what distinctive purposes are they best suited? How do people respond to those terms?
We are stewards of the earth. We are stewards of those things entrusted to us, inherited by us, given us, and earned by us. We are stewards of our wealth and possessions and physical bodies. Stewards are those people in ancient times who were trustees, who had responsibilities, who cared for things owned by someone else. In British Methodism and in earlier expressions of American Methodism, a steward was a church officer, and the Board of Stewards presided over the ordering of the church. You donít hear much about stewards and stewardship outside the churchÖitís a language derived from our biblical roots and our church heritage. As such it risks becoming an insider language, not easily accessible or immediately understandable by those new to the church. There is something slightly weighty, heavy, dutiful, and legal sounding about the word. I grew up with notions of stewardship, stewardship campaigns, and committees on stewardship. They were almost always about money for the church.
Generosity is an aspect of character. It is an attractive quality that I aspire to and desire to see cultivated in my children. The opposite of generosity is selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, self-absorbed. Generosity extends beyond just the use of money, although it most definitely includes that. There are generous spirits, generous souls, people generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity also finds many biblical sources, and is even mentioned as a gift of the spirit. It sounds more organic, generative, less legalistic, less formal somehow than stewardship. I have to explain to my teenage sons what stewardship means. They know generosity when they see it. Generosity focuses on the spiritual qualities of the giver, derived from the generosity of God, rather than on the churchís need for money. I donít think one of these terms is superior to the other. But there are shades of difference. And perhaps there are differences in how they are perceived by young and old, those new to the faith from those long-established in our churches. Maybe using both wisely helps us reach people at different places on the journey of faith.
What do you think? Whatís the difference, and how are these terms best used to help us all grow in the image of God and in the ministry of Christ?
Yours in Christ,