Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, “How are we robbing Thee?” In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me; the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house; and thereby put Me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. Malachi 3: 8-10
I have served as an Orthodox priest for over 20 years. I’ve gone through the stewardship cycle, the Greek Festival cycle and the fundraising cycle for more than two decades. And I still haven’t found the magic formula to get people to give more joyfully and to give more. Even as I write, I feel like readers like you will hit delete on this message because “oh, the priest is going to talk about money.” Good news, there are only a couple more messages on generosity before we change the topic, so please be patient and keep readingJ
There is a chapter in a book called “Rebuilt” by Michael White and Tim Corcoran which is entitled “Don’t Rob God.” Today’s reflection will be based in part on some ideas from this chapter. The authors are Roman Catholic and the premise of their book is how to awaken the faithful, reach the lost and make church matter. Like us, the Roman Catholics have carnivals and raffles as essential parts of raising income for their church. Like us, they rely on non-church people patronizing their fundraisers in order for their bills to be paid. And like us, they spend time and energy, significant effort, in preparing the fundraisers—effort that could be spent in worship, education and service. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Greek Festival in our parish affects the better part of three months of our year. Bible studies get cancelled in favor of food preparation. The week before the festival everything shuts down to prepare and the week after, everything shuts down in order to recover. As our festival is the second weekend of November in Tampa, combine those two weeks with Thanksgiving week, a lot of momentum is lost.
Going now to their book, they begin the chapter by saying: “Jesus talked about money all the time. Why? Because He understands how it dominates our thoughts, holds our hearts, and stands as a big obstacle to a relationship with God. So mu so, He told us flat out you can’t serve both. You’ve got to choose.” (Rebuilt, p. 171)
Most of us are familiar with the quote from Luke 16:13, where Jesus tells us: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money).” When we think about how much of our lives we spend thinking about money—how we are going to get it, how we are going to spend it, if we are going to save it, if we are going to run out of it—it is safe to say we probably think about money more than we think about God. One priest surmised that if people gave to the church what they were paying in interest on their credit cards, the parish income would triple.
There are two reasons to give to the church. The first is obvious. It costs money to run a parish. There is the cost to just have the buildings—mortgage, insurance, utilities, maintenance, upkeep and repair. In many churches, including the one I serve, that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Money is needed to pay church staff. And most churches are understaffed. Many churches with one priest need two in order to adequately serve the people. Parish administrators, secretaries, bookkeepers, custodians, choir directors, organists, chanters and others are needed in order for the church to function. It might be a nice thought that all of this could be done by a volunteer army. However there are two problems with this—first the volunteers are not necessarily proficient in all the tasks they would be called on to do. And second, volunteers are not always committed.
Second and most important, if the church is really going to spread the Gospel to all nations, it has to do more than just survive. If the church is going to care for the poor and help the helpless, it has to do more than just survive. Giving enables not just maintenance but outreach and growth.
Most parishioners have not learned how to give, which is why the parish continues to rely on fundraisers and gimmicks in order to make ends meet financially, in order to just survive, let alone thrive. Relying on twenty percent of a budget to come from a festival is a risky proposition. What if it rains on festival weekend? Telling parishioners that the church would make it if everyone just gave $10 a week is like reducing the offering to an admission price. And how does it look when a shiny new car sits out in front of the church with a sign that says “You could win me—buy raffle tickets here!” Wouldn’t it be better if the sign said “Come all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
When we give expecting something in return, even the possibility of something in return like winning a raffle, we are not really giving, we are exchanging. Christ did not teach us how to exchange but how to give. The church cannot be funded on exchanges but rather should be funded from gifts.
I want to conclude today’s message by quoting a paragraph from “Rebuilt”:
It’s like fruit. Fundraising is all about going for the “fruit”, plucking it off the branches, shaking it out of the tree, gathering it up from the ground. It is sometimes successful short-term but it is a losing long-term strategy when it comes to church funding. At some point, we’ll have taken all the fruit off the tree; we can even damage or kill the tree with overaggressive harvesting (professional fundraisers call it “donor fatigue.”) We can go for the fruit. . .or we can plant fruit-bearing tress. These are two very different exercises, leading to two different outcomes. Successful church funding should be about planting fruit-bearing trees-parishioners who are givers. Fundraising raises fund. We should be raising givers. (p. 177)
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank Thee that Thou hast answered me and hast become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech Thee, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech Thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and He has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar! Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to Thee; Thou art my god, I will extol Thee. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118: 19-29
How to give to God through the Church is something we can all learn to do better!
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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