Stewardship can be divided into two areas: “personal” and “parish.” Personal stewardship starts with our own conversion of heart, grounded in our own gratitude and generosity. Parish stewardship is also grounded in gratitude and generosity but focuses more on events and activities our parish takes part in as a community.
In order for parish stewardship to become ingrained in our parish culture, our own personal stewardship must become internalized in us first. If not, parish stewardship efforts won’t bear good fruit nor be sustainable over the long term. We may see some short-term growth, but after a few years, stewardship formation hits a wall and becomes stagnant or in some cases, disbands.
The late Msgr. Thomas McGread (one of the writers of the pastoral letter “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response”) said, “The real success of stewardship in our parish is found in the hearts of people. Without conversion of heart, no one is able to give themselves as Christ asked us to do.”
How we live our lives says more about us than what we say about how we live. Most have heard these universal quotes before. “Faith is caught more than taught.” “People believe a homily they can see rather than one that they can hear.”
How are you growing in your own personal stewardship? Look at your calendar or your bank statement. What are you spending your time and money on? Are you investing it with eternity in mind or for earthly comfort and glory?
Just as there are stewardship best practices for parish communities, there are personal stewardship best practices.
Prayer — one of the best things we can do is to develop a daily prayer routine. Talk and listen to God, every day, throughout the day. There are many examples to choose from, pick one that helps you start or strengthen your personal relationship with God.
Participation — First, discern how God is calling you to use the gifts He has given you. In addition to prayer, there are several spiritual gifts surveys that can help. Second, share the joy of living your faith with others. Tell family and friends about God’s active presence in your life. When we align our thoughts and actions with God’s plan, we are filled with supernatural joy and peace. This is the “good news” we can’t wait to tell others about.
First fruits — instead of money being a “god” before God, use your money in a way that brings you closer to Him. Give from your “first fruits” and not what you have leftover. Plan your charitable giving on an annual basis and determine a percentage of your income to give to Church and charity each year.
Stewardship is not just a series of activities to increase Mass attendance, get more volunteers or raise more money. Rather, it is a lifestyle of on-going conversion to help us become more Christ-like.
From the Gospel of Matthew, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… But store up treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.