I Own It -- Will You Take Care of It for Me?
I Own It -- Will You Take Care of It for Me?

May 2002
Somewhere in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Curious about the picture? Permit me to tell a few things about it due to my being very familiar with it.

That home is a United Methodist Church parsonage for which 3 congregations are responsible. Two pastors have lived in it since it was built -- one for 16 1/2 years beginning in January 1980 and the other for 5 years until July 2001. Since then it has been sitting vacant, and as you can see, so far this spring the grass has not been cut -- it is approaching 8 to 10 inches in height as of this writing on Memorial Day weekend!

Why is it vacant? That's a rather long story but in brief there were a couple of people who initiated a complaint against the first pastor mentioned. Because the complaint wasn't handled according to the guidelines of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, the result was a disaster with the pastor retiring before the time originally planned and a number of persons leaving the churches. This resulted in a struggle taking place until the time came that the three congregations could no longer pay to support a full time pastor as they had done for a long period of time. So in July 2001 a part time pastor, who has his own residence, was appointed to be the pastor of those congregations.

It was a big change from the days when those three congregations accepted stewardship responsibility seriously. Without any kind of cash reserve on hand they took on the challenge of building a new parsonage for the pastor and took out a 30 year mortgage which was paid off within 10 years!

While they did not literally "own" the parsonage (it was held in trust for the United Methodist Church), they made sure it was properly maintained at all times. For a number of years they exhibited the qualities of good stewardship -- not owning the home in which their pastor lived, but nevertheless taking very good care of it.

But now, with the grass soon to reach a height of a foot or more, the home is taking on a shabby and very abandoned appearance. And since many people in the area are familiar with the home and its identity, there is a message that goes out to all who pass by -- "The people of xxx churches who are responsible for this home simply don't care about it or how it looks!"

But there is more than a message here about a clergy residence in which people who are responsible for its care and appearance have chosen to shirk that responsibility -- maybe the two people who started the trouble in the beginning have infected everyone within those three congregations with their attitude and spirit! It has been known to happen from time to time. Nothing but chaos will result when congregations allow carnal and unrepentant individuals to intimidate and control the direction of those congregations! This is most grieving to the Holy Spirit Who is seeking to direct believers in fulfilling God's high and holy purpose for them. There will always be some kind of loss experienced in some form.

The Scripture precisely reveals the fact of God's ownership of all things starting with the basic truth that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof…(Psalm 24:1).

King David acknowledged God's ownership in his prayer as generous offerings were given in preparation for the future building of the temple under Solomon:

Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the LORD; and King David also rejoiced greatly. Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the congregation; and David said: "Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope. O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own. I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You….
1 Chronicles 29:9-17 NKJV

Yes, it's very tempting and certainly very deceiving to lay claim to "owning" anything even if our names do appear on certain documents such as deeds to property, titles to motor vehicles, stocks, bonds, and bank accounts!

The reality is something like this -- God says, "I own it -- will you take care of it for me while you live on earth?" That really puts a whole different perspective on life and our ultimate accountability to God!

But wait -- this thing just doesn't apply to material things such as a home in which a preacher dwells, or other material objects for which we are accountable to God as to how we have handled them.

There is this life saving message called the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is entrusted to the care of every person who professes to be a Christian. Paul said it this way:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
1 Thessalonians 2:4 NKJV

But if we are sloppy and shabby in the way we handle material things (even a church parsonage perhaps?), what are we going to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is practically a given that if we don't care much about a home, we're not going to care much about getting intensely involved in sharing the message of Jesus Christ! There's something called consistency in stewardship at issue here and when it's lacking there's another word that enters the picture -- it's called hypocrisy!

However this neglect of stewardship responsibility is also critical in the area of our total being -- body, mind and spirit. The Corinthians were told that they did not really belong to themselves -- that is, they were not free to say, "It's my life and I'll do with it as I please!" Specifically they were informed:

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NKJV

Again we are confronted with a basic fact of life which the vast majority, including too many church people and church leaders, choose to ignore -- God owns all things and He expects us to use and take care of them in such a way that He will be highly honored and we will have been found diligent and faithful in our stewardship responsibilities! These things include:

    our property and possessions (UMC parsonages included!)
    our finances, including investments, etc.
    our time -- each of us is allotted 24 hours every day
    our total being -- body, mind, and spirit

And all of the above are to be incorporated into efforts to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the far ends of this sin saturated planet -- that message which alone offers forgiveness, peace, and everlasting life -- that message He entrusts to our care!

So, how's it going in your experience of being a steward for the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you striving each day to take good care of all that He, the Owner, has entrusted to you?

Or is your stewardship witness like the witness of the home in the picture -- a message shouting out to the passing public -- "There are 3 congregations that are responsible for the care and appearance of this home, but they simply don't care -- there was a time when they did, but not anymore!"

Isn't it strange how even as few as a couple of people can shipwreck a church when it comes to the responsibilities of stewardship?

May 24, 2002
by Clayton D. Harriger
Elder in Full Connection
W PA Annual Conference
and presently pastor of
Gipsy Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Gipsy PA

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