Here is an excerpt from a book recommended to me recently, called "Best Practices in Parish Stewardship" by Charles E. Zech. Let's see if you can spot what is missing:
Best Practices in Parish Stewardship
1) Be a Welcoming Parish
2) Have an Active Stewardship Council
3) Make Stewardship a Critical Component of the Parish Plan
4) Emphasize Stewardship in all Parish Formation and Education Programs
5) Provide the Opportunity for Lay Witness Presentations
6) Communicate with Parishioners about Stewardship
7) Encourage Parishioners to Pledge
8) Good Stewardship Starts in the Parish House
The magical formula has been revealed: act like we really like people when they show up at mass, butter them up with food and games, hammer stewardship into their heads at every opportunity, regularly interrupt the words of Jesus (speaking through our priests) with presentations by lay witnesses, give people an easy way to donate without having to think about it too much, and then tell them exactly where their money is going, and create a stewardship council to make sure it all happens just like we planned. Now sit back and let the money roll in.
Did you catch what is missing? God! No mention of prayer, internal conversion, fasting, penance, or even outreach opportunities that make people feel good about helping others. Last time I checked, "Greeting the parishioner" was not among the corporal works of mercy. And these items are the result of a "comprehensive survey".
Now I know of no panacea for causing people to open their checkbooks and support their church. All I know is that Jesus' sermon on the mount wasn't cut short by a guest speaker cajoling the disciples to fork over the dough.
I think my brother Jack was on to something when he said that we need conversion first, and stewardship will come later. I know that my personal conversion brought about great fruits. Before, I hardly went to church, and when I did, it was at best a couple of bucks in my pocket that ended up in the basket. Post-conversion? Wham! Attempting to tithe, weekly adoration hour, internet apologetics defending the faith, daily prayer, and on.
As I was thinking about this last night, it made me think of our faith, and how we are justified. We are justified by grace through faith and works. The key though is that faith comes before works, always. As a baby, it is the faith of our parents that empowers the work of baptism. As an adult, it is an 8 month period of discernment.
Where this "best practices" list goes wrong is that it puts works before faith. None of these "best practices" help increase faith (except possibly faith formation, which I agree with). And I believe that I have seen the result of following them - a parish culture where the word "stewardship" gives parishioners a headache and quickly becomes background noise. If they don't love their Catholic faith, chances are they aren't going to love up their parish and their world with being good stewards.
I believe that there should be no such thing as a "Total Stewardship Parish". Instead, preach the faith, preach it boldly! Introduce the Traditional Latin Mass and let the graces flow. Convert people, teach them the truth, start a fire in their soul and their heart. Show them Jesus! Stewardship in all its forms will flow from within. Might a parish lose parishioners? Probably - but Jesus was not interested in the lukewarm. In John Chapter 6, thousands turned away from him and he did nothing to stop them. The book of Revelation tells us that He will "vomit us out of His mouth" if we are neither cold nor hot. I say, better to preach the truth and force everyone to be cold or hot. It is the hot that give the most anyway - they are the ones carrying the load. And if we can entice some more to become hot, souls are saved.
Let us pray for our priests, for our parishes, and for each other, that we may come to know the full truth and have it set us on fire. Our parishes, our communities and our world will be better and stronger for it.