I am serving my fifth year as a steward at NFC, but I only recently learned that a “bad steward” is not an oxymoron. A steward is simply a manager of property of another. A steward can steward well or badly. At least that is what my dictionary suggests. Perhaps the reason I usually assume “steward” means “good steward” is because in Christian circles, stewarding implies using resources for God’s purposes. Our intention as Christian stewards is always good: to promote the glory and kingdom of God.
My role on the stewards committee at NFC has caused me to think harder, though, about how I, and we, can be the best kind of good steward. It means managing our resources especially well, assessing and even challenging the status quo—rigorously, if needed. Each of us, personally and organizationally, is capable of applying this type of exacting form of stewardship. But applying a high standard is hard work and I am not always successful.
That broad definition of stewarding is a global responsibility of our church and pastoral staff at NFC. If you are not familiar with the more limited work of the stewards committee at NFC, let me summarize our service. Our primary functions are to monitor whether our church income and expenses are in line with NFC’s budget, to promote giving, and to project future general fund contributions (our undesignated tithes and offerings). At times we have done better at some of those functions than others. Eight or nine of us, along with a few pastors, review monthly financial reports and give feedback as needed. The reports contain an asset statement, a summary of financial giving, and expense details. The stewards get an opportunity to ask questions of pastors and staff. We offer input when we are presented with an unbalanced budget. And we find ways to publicly rejoice in the results of your giving, some of which recently have been:
• Compassionate Care – (without getting specific) helping folks in financially tight places; providing help in times of tragedy.
• Youth Ministry – continuing growth in our youth ministry due in part to the strong financial support for youth at NFC, with multiple camps throughout the year attended by many kids and many staff/volunteers from our church.
• Refugee Response Committee – We outfitted a home for a Syrian family of seven.
While awesome things like these keep happening at NFC, our work as stewards is usually without fanfare. Unlike elders and pastors, we rarely are asked to make difficult decisions. NFC’s polity gives elders, rather than stewards, responsibility over recommendations on the expense budget. The rationale is that the expense budget directly affects ministry, and elders are those who supervise ministry and call ministers to serve. Our church body also adopts a proposed budget in the manner of Friends at a church business meeting each year. Therefore, the expense budget—the foundation for the stewards’ work—is given to our committee. We don’t create it.
You may be aware that NFC is exploring options to reduce our expenses for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Elders, stewards, and pastors have worked together this year to review the expense budget through a small joint task force. This has been a healthy approach to our budgeting process this year, reminding stewards that within our polity we may approach elders with concerns about an area of the expense budget. Budgets go up and down in every church. But in our church, even in a season of reducing expenses, we can state confidently that we are fiscally sound. Our general fund contributions have been very stable near $675,000 for the past five years, with only a slight decrease this year. We have adequate reserves. We are prepared to preserve our fiscal strength.
I am optimistic about the path God has in store for us, which has a still-to-be-determined mix of adventure and continuity. Please pray for everyone who may participate in ongoing budget discussions, including pastors, elders, and stewards; and specifically for alertness to God’s vision for how NFC can best serve our congregation, our local community, the NWYM community, and our world through its resources. Those currently serving as stewards include Chuck Scott, Shanna Andres, Erik Linvog, Lisa Nauman, Mark Ankeny, Nancy Fawver, Janelle Nordyke, Aaron Dunlop, and me.
In the midst of this work, I received the unanticipated blessing of enjoying quality time with our pastors, hearing their reports of our church joys and struggles. Despite the changes ahead, we have a team of pastors deeply committed to the people in our congregation and community, who support the many functions of our yearly meeting and sweat many details of our church operations. Because of the work accomplished by all our pastors and staff, each has more liberty to offer Christ’s hope and encouragement to our world through our church and beyond.
As clerk of stewards, I encourage you to let your priorities be reflected in your everyday habits. Be faithful to Christ in giving your time, finances, and prayers. If you feel called to increase your giving in one or more of those areas, start with something small and manageable. Do it regularly. And be ready for God to stretch you one step further.