Worship and stewardship: foundations of the life of faith
By Jennifer Phelps Ollikainen
Sisters and brothers, both your work and your rest are in God. Will you endeavor to pattern your life on the Lord Jesus Christ, in gratitude to God and in service to others, at morning and evening, at worship and at play, all the days of your life?
Response: I will, and I ask God to help me.” (Affirmation of Christian Vocation, ELW, page 84)
As this address to Christians affirming their vocation describes, the life of the faithful is defined by the intersection of God’s gifts and our grateful response. Worship celebrates this intersection. Good stewardship seeks to enliven this intersection in our lives.
In worship, we hear the word of God proclaimed and receive the sacraments, the means of grace. We experience God’s transforming love that permeates our whole life. In response, we sing, praise, pray and collect gifts for God’s mission in the world. Worship can be summed up as our experience of God’s grace and our response to it.
Likewise, we practice good stewardship throughout our lives of faith when we understand that everything in our lives -- our money, our talents, our possessions, our time, our passions -- has been entrusted to us by God for use according to God’s call. Again, stewardship can be summed up as the interplay between God’s grace and our response.
Therefore, worship and stewardship are pervasive in our lives of faith, reaching beyond the once-a-week service or once-a-year emphasis. They intertwine and become an all encompassing intersection between God’s gifts and our lives.
Weekly worship benefits
Attending worship once or twice a year stunts the growth of a faith that is deeply shaped and strengthened by the living encounter with the presence of God. So also, an occasional emphasis on stewardship in worship -- such as an annual consecration Sunday or series of “temple talks” about giving time, talent and treasure -- is not sufficient to shape a life of faith on the foundation of the all-encompassing intersection between God’s gifts and our lives.
In worship each week, the community of Christ recognizes that all that we have is from God countering our human self-centered possessiveness and illusions of consumerist power. In worship, we acknowledge that the ways we use God’s gifts matter and that God calls us to use these gifts in ways that contribute to the mission of the gospel for healing, reconciliation, peace and justice. In worship we are reminded of our responsibility to care for creation and all God’s children.
Examine the language and practice of your congregation’s worship throughout the year. How does worship acknowledge all of God’s gifts and encourage a grateful response to those gifts in the lives of the faithful?
Ideas for implementation
- When the community gathers for worship, give thanks for all the gifts God provided so that the congregation could come together on this day: favorable weather, means of transportation, worship space, members of the assembly and more. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving and concern for those who are missing from the assembly.
- If Thanksgiving for Baptism begins the service, name local bodies of water to emphasize the specific and knowable gift of creation for the local community.
- If Confession and Forgiveness begins the service, use language of confession that intentionally names our misuse and possessiveness of God’s resources. In words of forgiveness, name our responsive and responsible use of resources as a response of gratitude to the grace of God in Christ.
- In the prayers of intercession, craft petitions that acknowledge the variety of God’s gifts in our lives and our call to a responsible stewardship of those gifts that reaches toward all God’s children.
- When the congregation gathers the weekly collection, craft prayers and use songs that emphasize God’s first action of giving before our own response. Collect more than money to emphasize the all-encompassing nature of good stewardship. Bring forward non-perishable food for the local food pantry, hand-made cards for those who are sick or school supplies for children in need. Recognize various ministries in the congregation by giving thanks, praying for and blessing the people who participate in the ministry as well as those who are served by the ministry.
- During the Holy Communion meal, emphasize how our participation in the meal connects us to all the places in the world that are hungry for the grace of God in Christ by careful selection of prayers of thanksgiving, invitations to the meal and songs during the distribution. The grace we receive does not end in our own salvation. Rather, our sins are forgiven and we are strengthened in faith by the meal so that we can, in turn, reach out to those who are in need throughout the local community and the world.
- At the end of worship, send out the collection of gifts -- money, things or people -- as a way of connecting worship practice with the stewardship of our lives throughout the week. Use the Blessing and Sending for Mission or Affirmation of Christian Vocation, all found in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” resources, and adapt them to the particular circumstances to make clear that our worship gathering shapes the ministry and stewardship of individuals as well as the whole life of the congregation beyond Sunday morning.
Other helpful resources
- Craig Satterlee, “Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow” (Alban, 2011).
- Stewardship Sermon Starters for the whole year
- Seasonal Offering Prayers are found in the “Prayers for Worship” section of “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 64.
- Prayers for “Stewardship,” “Creation,” and “Social Ministry” are found in the “Additional Prayers” section of “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 72 ff.
- Propers, including readings and prayers for “Stewardship of Creation,” are found in the “Propers” section of “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 63.
- “Affirmation of Christian Vocation” in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 84.
- “Blessing and Sending for Mission” in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly” (Augsburg Fortress, 2009) page 159.
- “Recognition of Ministries in the Congregation” in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly” (Augsburg Fortress, 2009) page 93.
Jennifer Phelps Olikainen is the southeast Pennsylvania congregational coordinator for Lutheran Congregational Services, an affiliate of Liberty Lutheran Services.