One of the first things that I heard about stewardship when I was a child in church was the classic and catchy definition of the three t’s that I later learned worked even in English: time, talent, and treasure (tiempo, talento, y tesoro in Spanish). This was a way to think about stewardship not just in connection to material things, but also as a discipline that encompassed our whole commitment as Christians to God and to the church. We were challenged to consider: How much time do I commit to church through my participation and leadership? How do I use my talents and skills to serve God? How do I support the ministry and mission of the church through my treasure or financial support?
The Book of Order states that we bear witness to God’s love and grace as we become involved in the ministry of Christ’s church, “supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents” (G-1.0304). We support the ministry of the church not as an obligation, to get a say on what happens, or to obtain favor with God, but as a way of witnessing God’s love and grace through our response of gratitude. Through the words of 2 Corinthians 5:18, our gratitude recognizes that “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.” It is important that we connect God’s love and grace to supporting the church’s ministry. As Karl Barth famously states in Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, “Charis always demands the answer of eucharistia. Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”
How do you, as a ruling elder, invite your congregation to understand God’s grace in such a way that it elicits a response of gratitude through the giving of money, time, and talents? We may need to go back to the very beginning. In our PC(USA) curriculum Big God, Big Questions: Confirmation for a Growing Faith, the way that grace is explained is that it is “love that God gives to us, not because we have earned it, but because God loves us despite our mistakes. Grace is a love bigger than we can imagine.” It is God’s patient and kind love for us that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” God’s love never ends. We can love others because we have experienced God’s love through our salvation and through God’s creation. We love because God first, and so completely, loved us. Our love is our response of gratitude. As we practice love and grace, we grow in our ability to live gratefully, recognizing God’s grace at work in our lives and the lives of others.
Maybe then, as we think about the three t’s of stewardship, we might substitute the original wording and think about stewardship as thankfulness, thankfulness, and more thankfulness. This would move the congregations’ motivation to give from the church’s expenses to a faith practice of loving God and loving others through their expressed gratitude. We are grateful to God for God’s love and salvation and give with joy and praise. As a ruling elder, you are grateful for the gifts that are given and you express your appreciation and care with intentionality. All of these expressions of gratitude are part of the life of the church. Every gift is important. No gift is too small. Children may give their coins, help in various parts of worship, and participate in faith formation programming. Youth may assist and participate in church ministries, give to special campaigns that involve those things that they believe in, and spend time with younger members. Adults may participate in committees, find ways that help them express their thankfulness to God, and be open to the Spirit about other ways they can contribute and be faithful stewards of what God has given them.
Grace and gratitude are the core of stewardship.
- How do you recognize God’s grace in your life? What are some of the ways that you respond to God’s grace? How does your congregation express and respond to God’s grace with gratitude?
- How do you, as a leader of the church, appreciate and give thanks for the gifts that the people who participate in your church give?
- How do you, as a ruling elder, invite your congregation to understand God’s grace in such a way that it responds with gratitude through the giving of time, talent, and treasure?
Marissa Galván-Valle is a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is the senior editor for Spanish Language Resources in the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and temporary pastor at Beechmont Presbyterian Church, an intercultural church that worships each Sunday in Spanish and English. She was ordained as a ruling elder when she was 21 years old.
Throughout 2023 and 2024, monthly Regarding Ruling Elders articles will alternate between a deep dive into the ways ruling elders discern and measure the life of a congregation through the ministry of members and stories about how ruling elders are using their call and gifts as they move within and beyond the walls of the congregation.
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