Our Divided Self

Our Divided Self

Does the following ring true in your experience? Is it generally the case at your church?

Here is what we say through our stewardship practices: 10% belongs to God; the rest belongs to you. Give that 10% to the church, which will use it for God’s purposes. The other 90%? Do whatever you want with it.
Here is what we say through our stewardship practices: The church’s budget is God’s money; your household budget is your money.
Here is what we say through our stewardship practices: You only have to make a connection between God and your money once a year, when we are asking for pledges. (Stewardship, apparently, is not about all of life, but only a code word for “help us plan for next year.”)
Here is what we say through our stewardship practices: Your time and talents are valuable when you volunteer at church. See, we call you up front and pray for you when you are installed on the church council, or as a Sunday School teacher, or are sent off on a trip with the youth. We pass out annual “Time and Talent” surveys, but all of the options are for activities and times spent involved at church.
I came across the above in an article by Rolf A. Jacobson on rethinking stewardship. It really resonated with me as I must confess that, generally speaking, this does ring true in my experience both in churches I’ve attended and in ones I’ve led.
While one may quibble with the particulars, I’ve found the general observation Jacobson is making to be true. Too often we divide our lives into separate categories: our church life and our non-church life. I would assert this division is supported and perpetuated by our language as we frequently talk in terms of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ with the ‘sacred’ pertaining to the religious or church sphere, and the ‘secular’ pertaining to the non-religious or non-church sphere.
This division in how we think about our lives is even embedded in the structure of many churches, as many have a Board of Deacons that deals with spiritual aspects of the church and a Board of Trustees or Finance that deals with the secular, fiscal, business aspects.
Moreover, in many churches pastors have historically been invited and encouraged to participate in Deacons’ meetings, whereas they have not always been invited to Trustees and Finance meetings and their participation has often been discouraged.
Jacobson goes on to write, “Do you see that our practices divide a ‘self’ that should be whole into two pieces– the part of me and mine that God cares about and the part of me and mine that God doesn’t care about? We are mistakenly telling people that what they give to the church – both in terms of time and in terms of treasure – matters to God; but what they give at home – in terms of time and in terms of treasure – doesn’t matter to God.”
Yet this division runs completely counter to our biblical tradition. For example, the Bible says that the whole earth and all that is in it belongs to God (see Psalm 24.1) and that God’s presence is everywhere (see Psalm 139:7-12). Hence, there is no part of the Creation and no one that God does not care about. There is also no part of the Creation and no one for which and for whom God does not seek healing, health, fullness of life, shalom, and salvation.
As Christians, we have an invitation from God to use all the resources under our management to repair and heal the fallen world we live in moving it toward a state of shalom, a state founded upon the twin pillars of justice and righteousness. We also have an invitation from Christ Jesus to expand and grow the radically inclusive kin-dom and rule of God he initiated. How awesome is that – to be invited by God and Christ to be co-creators of a life giving, life sustaining, life promoting world for every person, every creature, the entire Creation! What an honor! What a privilege!
I ask you to consider the following: Because we belong to God and Christ, everything about us belongs to God and Christ – our bodies, our time, our talents and skills, our relationships, and yes, our possessions. We are stewards, managers of another’s resources that are on loan to us. In light of this how do we who not only belong to, but have also been invited by God and Christ, regard all that has been entrusted to us?
I invite each of us to enter a process of discernment and to listen for the Spirit’s voice. Let us ask, for example, for the Spirit’s wisdom regarding: 1) How do I care for myself physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually so that I’m best able to serve God and others and help build the kin-dom? 2) How do I attend to my relationships so that they are healthy and mutually life giving, sustaining, and promoting? 3) How do I use my time, talents, and skills 24/7/365 (i.e., not just as these relate to church life) to share God’s/Christ’s love and to expand and build the kin-dom?  4) How do I use my day to day ‘operating’ money and my invested money to expand and build the kin-dom? e.g., Where do I shop, what do I buy, to whom do I give my business, where and with whom do I invest? (see Economic Justice and Stewardship; Stewardship, Racism, and Justice; and Stewardship, Choice, and Discipleship.) Finally, how do we adjust our language, practices, and behavior to promote a more unified, holistic life as God's stewards and Christ's disciples?
Because we are beloved of, and belong to, God and Christ 24/7/365, so too does all that we steward (i.e., manage). When we are at work (whether paid or unpaid), at home, with family and friends, socializing, volunteering, helping others, using and managing our money, we have the honor and privilege joining with God and Christ in making God’s love and justice real, expanding and building the kin-dom of God, and moving the world toward greater shalom. Again, how amazing and awesome is this!
I invite you and your congregation to grow along with me in your particular identity as God’s steward. Stewardship, like its alter ego, Discipleship, is a lifelong endeavor. I have a greater understanding today of what that identity means and involves than I did before, and I am striving to grow more deeply into this identity and live a less bifurcated, more integrated life. Will you join me on this journey? Individually we can affect change. Together we can affect great change. God and Christ are inviting us as both stewards and disciples into their mission work. Will you join me in saying ‘yes’ to their invitation?  
Your brother in Christ,


david cleaver-barthalomew.jpg
David Cleaver-Bartholomew

Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations for the SNEUCC. Contact David for:  Proportional Giving How to calculate proportional giving for 2021 Annual Giving/Stewardship Campaign General advice and ...

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