Stone Soup and a Stewardship Journey

Ah! The mysterious world of church finances can confound the best CPA. As a District Superintendent, I am the recipient of annual church budgets and myriad spreadsheets of audits and year-end reports. Some are presented via ACS (Automated Church Systems), Quicken/Quick Books, Church Books, homemade books, notebooks, or no books at all since they arrive handwritten. I have had to familiarize myself with all kinds of ways to look at figures and ascertain the bottom line of local churches.

Church finances are a sore topic for many church members and clergy. Some talk as if the whole matter is one of faith with no need of a budget or the usual month-long pledge campaign. “Campaign” is such an odd word since a financial plan for the church should not resemble anything like some concerted military action or a candidate’s political machine. My friend, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder of Emory, says that “Stewardship Journey” is more apropos when thinking of church finances, and he’s got a point! He asks the question: “Would your church like to wage another short-term campaign to raise money or go on an enjoyable stewardship journey together?”

I prefer adventure over overt or covert arm-twisting. As a matter of fact if the church lets its ministries speak for themselves then the money question becomes moot. It is a matter of faith and faithfulness! It’s like the parable of “Stone Soup” where everyone is hoarding their personal resources and starving until a stranger says he’s got a magic pot and stone that can turn plain water into a delicious meal. He lights a fire under the pot, drops the stone into the water, throws in salt and pepper and casually asks the townsfolk to have enough faith in his magic to share a carrot here, an onion there, a bit of meat, or a potato and before they know it everyone has given a little something until it adds up to a lot and feeds the whole village!

How wonderfully expressive this is of our United Methodist Connection, “Together We Can Do More!” Our Bishop, Jonathan Holston, has dared us to dream “God-sized dreams.” In our version of “Stone Soup” we are trying to collect a million new books to give to children K-5th grade. This whole adventure opens the door to churches that have able volunteers who can mentor these children. Local churches will engage their communities in practical and helpful ways. It will be marvelous if local churches and individuals will bring their books as ingredients for this recipe of success in South Carolina.

Yes, someone said this project is costly and it takes work, but I recollect that Jesus said something about taking up a cross, gave a parable about counting the cost, and offered Himself on a cross! I’m a bit reluctant to speak in mercantile terms, but we have to ask these two questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?” The answers dictate that we have to spend money, time, volunteer hours and each of us add our personal ingredients from our meager storehouses so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can nourish the whole world.

George Ade was a journalist and author at the turn of the Twentieth Century who with great turn-of-phrase poked semi-well-meaning fun at the counter-intuitive world of church, faith, and finance. Give a read to his Flannery O’Connnor-esque “Fable of the Good People Who Rallied to the Support of the Church:”

“A Congregation needed Money for repairing the Church, so the Women got together and decided to hold a Raspberry Festival. Sister Frisbie invited them to come and Carouse on her Front Lawn. Some 22 Members of the Flock flew out and brought a few Things to Wear, the Outlay for washable Finery running to about $8 per Head.

Mr. Frisbie got $9 worth of Chinese Lanterns and strung them around. He wanted to do the Thing up Brown so as to get a Puff in the Weekly. The Paper came out and said that the Frisbie Front Yard with its Myriad Twinkling Lights was a Veritable Fairy-Land. That kind of Notice is worth $9 of anybody’s Money.

Mr. Frisbie and three other Pillars of the Church devoted $7 worth of valuable Time to unloading Tables and Campstools.

The Women Folks ruined $14 worth of Complexion working in the hot Kitchen to make Angel Food and Fig Cake.

On the Night of the Raspberry Orgy the Public Trampled down $45 worth of Shrubbery.

When it came time to check up the Linen and Silverware it was found that $17 worth of Spoons with Blue Thread tied around them had been lost in the Shuffle.

The Drip from the Candles ruined $29 worth of Summer Suits and Percale Shirt-Waists.

Four Children gorged themselves and each was tied in a True Lover’s Knot with Cholera Morbus before another sunrise. The Doctor Bills footed up $18.

After clearing the Wreck, paying the Drayman and settling for Ice Cream and Berries, it was discovered that the Church was $6.80 to the good. So everybody said it was a Grand Success.”

George Ade said this was the Moral of the Story: “Anything to avoid dropping it in the basket.” Now, he might have been right but some can only give their volunteer time. In my mind it takes everyone’s effort in whatever way to make the church a thriving enterprise, business-allusion intended. As my Daddy often said, “You have got to spend money to make money.” Money comes in a lot of different forms and that’s a good thing. It just has to be spent if you want to make Stone Soup! Life is a Stewardship journey!