If you decided to read this blog post, it may be for one of two reasons. You may be thinking, “I can’t believe I see this on the Ecumenical Stewardship Center website! We’ve been trying for years to get our church to think differently about stewardship than just keeping the lights on!” Or you may be thinking, “Yes, we often say this in church when we talk about stewardship.”
Truth is, “keeping the lights on” is a phrase that has been inferred, spoken, or written as part of many a church stewardship emphasis. I even heard a story recently about a church in the US Northeast who held worship without heat on a cold Sunday morning to make the point about the importance of church utilities.
But for much of this year, many North American churches have not had their lights
on—at least not in ways they were used to, due to the global pandemic. “Keeping the lights on” has taken on a new dimension as already vulnerable churches’ struggles to survive are accelerated and whether or not to gather in person for worship becomes a battle that tears at the fabric of Christian fellowship. Debating about the best ways to encourage faithful generosity may be the least of your worries right now.
However, I suspect that faith communities are wondering what really does need to happen to keep the lights on. That’s why as I reviewed the articles for our newest issue of Giving Magazine, I stopped short when I read The Message version of Isaiah 56:6-8 that you will find on page 6 of the issue:
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that they are lights of the world. (Mt 5:14) The events of 2020 have exposed the uncomfortable truth to some churches truth that perhaps their lights are not shining as brightly as they should: both within their congregation and beyond it. We have much to learn about practicing loving generosity with our time, talent, treasure, and temperament. But with each genuine attempt, we and those around us experience a little more warm, illuminating glow.
As you and your church continue to seek God’s leading in these unprecedented times, I hope you take Isaiah’s words to heart. As you seek to keep the lights on in your church, consider how brightly your light is shining in your community. As you try to pivot to adapt to current realities, ponder what kind of actions would truly turn you, your church, and your community around. The God who led through great darkness with a pillar of fire will be with you.
Marcia Shetler, Executive Director/CEO
Ecumenical Stewardship Center
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