Stewardship is a word Quakers are especially fond of. I secretly think we are as fond of using it as we are because when we use the word “simplicity,” you can practically see the question marks forming on people’s faces. Yet stewardship, at its roots, is often what we mean by simplicity. Simplicity is not being simplistic; it is not as much based on rules as on a guiding principle. Many would see at its roots the guiding principle of wisdom, generally centered on frugality. I would say that the real guiding principle behind simplicity is not frugality, or even wisdom, it is love.
Simplicity then is not how many sweaters you don’t have in your closet. It is not really quantified by how great a financial safety net one has acquired. Simplicity does mean that you live a streamlined life, not because Quakers are minimalists, but because doing so gives us greater freedom to be more generous, to make our love made known tangibly. Simplicity makes way for availability. In realizing that God is the real owner of all things, we begin to think about how we might be a conduit of God’s blessings to others, rather than people who covet under thinly veiled, fear based reasoning.
Our next Covenant Statement points at this reality, “We will be good stewards of the financial and physical resources God has given us.” It is easy to look at a statement such as this and to interpret it purely through a cost/benefit sort of analysis. I think the American church has been far too heavily influenced by the pragmatism of the business world, a pragmatism that is ruled by the economics of the church rather than the upside down values of the Kingdom. It would be easy in this view to find reasons to hold on to the financial and physical resources God has blessed us with–and as wise as rainy day planning is, this makes a certain kind of sense. The way I see stewardship is to think in terms of yes’s and no’s. We say no to some things in order that we may say yes to the right things. Being a good steward then is not about accruing the most monetary points, it is about making sure that we know exactly what the things God really wants us to say yes to are, and committing ourselves to helping these things thrive.
We are talking about the possibility of a projection system for the church, and as I think of simplicity this would serve as a great example. There are of course wrong reasons for seeking a projection system, such as a “keeping up with the Joneses” sentiment. But there are also reasons that reflect a loving vision of stewardship, such as seeking a projection system to help empowering young people to share their gifts in worship, or to aid the communication of God’s gospel of transformation. As I mentioned earlier, it is not about how many sweaters you don’t have in your closet, or even how much they cost. What matters is why the “sweaters” are there; what functions do they serve? Are God’s gifts to us being used to empower and aid the most valuable work we are called to do, or are they gathering dust and growing rusty from neglect? This is an issue of stewardship.
We are not successful stewards through hoarding, nor are we good stewards through wastefulness. We are good stewards when there is integrity between the vision God has given us and the actions we are taking to live that vision out. So in that regard, stewardship might call us to spend a lot of money at times, if the guiding principal of God’s love requires it. We say no, in order that we may say yes to answering the call of God. Whether that looks like furthering the ends of discipleship, using time and resources to reach out to the community, or raising money for a missionary team overseas, it is not the cost involved as much as being faithful to respond to God’s will. Mother Theresa once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” This is the vision of stewardship we might be best served by; one where love, and not the bottom line, is the chief aim. The church is not a business; it is not a corporation in the traditional sense. It should not make decisions based on what will maximize “profits” but on what will maximize God’s impact.
At Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions last year, Richard Foster gave us ten guidelines for living a life of simplicity
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status
- Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you
- Develop a habit of giving things away
- Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry
- Learn to enjoy things without owning them
- Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation
- Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes
- Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
- Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God
I don’t think Foster means these things as commandments, but as boundary markers for the dangers we face in our materialistic age. Many of our financial decisions are thoughtless, or worse, driven by fear. In A Celebration of Discipline Foster writes, “May God give you – and me- the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number one priority of our lives. To do so, is to live in simplicity” Let us be a church who learns to hold God’s blessings loosely, that we would be attentive to the ways He calls us to be generous, as well as to the obstacles we find that are holding back our generosity.
We are not called to do everything, but we are called to specific things as the Friends Meeting in Oskaloosa Iowa. As we “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and God adds His blessings to us, let us recognize the source of our blessings and use them for His glory. It is not what we have or don’t have, but our willingness to let God use our abundance or lack for His purposes. What must we let go of that is holding us back from being good stewards? What must we take hold of to ensure that God’s most vital work among us thrives?