Congregational Stewardship – “Growing Up is Hard to Do!”

In 1962 Neil Sedaka recorded one of his greatest hits - “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do!” Three years later Ginger and the Snaps jumped on the train with their own hit “Growing up is Hard to Do!” Almost sixty years later, this is more true than ever. Philosopher Susan Neiman writes “... growing up is thinking for ourselves, and this is something we're actually too lazy and too scared to do as often as we should."

Many ‘growing up’ in contemporary America are suffering from what could be called ‘delayed adolescence’. A recent survey of 2,000 young people over the age of 18 revealed that the age at which they felt themselves truly to be adults was 29. Most are spending their twenties living with their parents, getting meals cooked for them, having their washing and ironing done and, not least, paying relatively little for their accommodation.

Americans in the ‘selfie’ generation are increasingly narcissistic. We expect someone else to make the decisions and bear the consequences for us. We expect to be cared for. We want moral freedom without the constraints of moral responsibility. Many congregations struggle to find volunteers for Sunday School, youth ministry, adult ministries who value loyalty, responsibility and self-sacrifice.

We are in in a crisis of immaturity. The good news is that growing up always emerges out of crisis. We don’t grow up unless we have to and the time has come. My focus here is growing up in our congregational stewardship – particularly your congregational support for ILT and their role in preparing future pastors for the Lutheran church around the world! Let me set the stage for you.

Back in 1962, many denominational headquarters made their budgets by assessing congregations per head for their membership. This money was then distributed by the denomination to seminaries to educated future pastors, provide pension/medical insurance for pastors, fund Bible camps, nursing homes, foreign missions, etc.

As corporate structures and income began to break down in the 1980’s, denominational headquarters were no longer able to fund these groups. Seminaries, Bible Camps, nursing homes were forced to raise their own funds. These changes forced many congregations to take more responsibility in how they distributed their benevolences. Some did, some didn’t!

The emergence of LCMC pushed this even further. Rather than depend upon a denominational structure to distribute their tithe, congregations needed to ‘grow up’, take ownership and manage the distribution of their benevolence for themselves.

A large gift to our congregation forced this issue for us. We put together a team of people to investigate, debate, pray, inform the congregation, before we committed our tithe. As a result we built personal relationships with our benevolence partners that have enriched us and those we support. This crisis has helped us ‘grow up’ in mission and ministry.

Has your congregation done the hard work of investigating and developing relationships with the many ministries you support? Are you intentionally investing in preparing future pastors for the Lutheran church? Have you considered putting ILT in your church budget for that purpose? Have you carefully examined the integrity of every ministry your dollars are supporting? What kind of ‘bang’ are you getting for your buck?

We live in a world that is rapidly changing. Have the values of the institutions you supported in the past changed? Does your present benevolence plan reflect the values and mission of your congregation? Are you willing to do the hard work needed as a congregation to ‘grow up’ and fight the cultural trend toward entitlement and ducked responsibility? ‘Growing up’ is hard to do, but the result is an eternal harvest of joy, righteousness, and commendation from the Lord.

Rev. John Bent

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