Contrary to popular belief, stewardship is not about raising money. It’s not even about building up our parish ministries and increasing participation. Stewardship is all about Christ. That is the most important thing to remember.
Sure, as we implement stewardship as a way of life in our parishes, we may see our offertories rise and our parish ministries may increase their numbers, but that should not be our focus. In fact, I dare say if that is your focus – as a pastor or a lay parish leader – you most likely will not see a change. That’s because stewardship begins with a conversion of heart. The true steward makes a commitment to the Lord – not merely to the parish. He gives His life to God because He wants to follow Him, and everything else – his time, his talent, and his treasure – follows suit.
That being said, however, it is important to recognize that some of your parishioners may come to conversion through participation in parish ministries. One parishioner, for example, may love to knit, so when she hears of the Prayer Shawl ministry, she decides to join, merely because it gives her an opportunity to do what she loves. Meanwhile, as she does so, she is bound to interact with other parishioners who have given their lives to the Lord as His disciples. Their examples will inevitably have an impact on her. She is bound to see the joy in selfless giving. She is bound to recognize Christ working through her fellow parishioners, and, in that, she and many others will grow closer to Christ.
Christ is what it’s all about – in our prayer times, in our ministries, and even in our offertories. And we, both as pastors and other parish leaders must make that clear by the way we live our own lives and by the way we encourage others to live as well.
People often ask me how I made St. Francis in Wichita a stewardship parish. They want to know what was my secret, and I have to admit, I had no secret. It was all God, and God made the difference – no question.
My parents taught me, at a very early age, that our lives belong to God, that we are merely stewards of our lives and of the many gifts we have, and, thus, we must live our lives for Him. I watched as they did just that. They made family prayer time a daily practice in our home. They loved and cared for my siblings and me selflessly. They were highly involved in the life of our parish community – giving both their talents and their finances. And they did it all with a deep joy, a sincere gratitude, feeling as though it was a blessing that they were able to live for the Lord. We talked about what it meant to be a Catholic – to be a follower of Christ, but what spoke louder than their words, to me, were their examples. I saw how much they loved the Lord. I saw how much they gave back to Him. And I saw the joy that they received as they gave of themselves so selflessly. I learned, very early on, what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
So, when I became pastor – first at St. Ambrose in Erie, Kansas, then at a few other parishes, and, finally at St. Francis in Wichita – my main concern was bringing the people to Christ. With that intent, one of the first things I did at every parish where I served as pastor was hold a parish mission. Before the parishioners thought about getting involved in ministries, before I addressed the budget, I wanted them to understand that life as a Christian is all about God, and we, as Christians, must put God first. I asked a guest speaker to address the parishioners, inviting them to grow closer to God, and then I worked throughout my pastorate to keep the focus on Christ.
There you have it. The secret to stewardship success is Jesus Christ. Love Him. Serve Him. And invite others to do the same. That will make all the difference!