2 False Premises When Preaching a Stewardship of Time—and One Question to Ask Instead

Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If preaching on stewardship fills you with dread or resistance, consider joining our Stewardship Sermon Bootcamp for a renewed perspective that will enable you to preach a sermon you believe in (early bird discount ends Friday). 

There are two extremes I commonly hear when people talk about time.

Extreme #1: Scarcity

The first extreme is scarcity. I hear it (and say it myself) in phrases like:

If only I had more time!

There are never enough hours in a day.

Time goes by faster and faster!

The consequence of a scarcity mentality is always to be running on fear-induced adrenaline. Always trying to "catch up" with time, deadlines, and to-do lists.

But "catching up" is as elusive as catching up to the horizon.

If there were such a thing as a "time lottery" in which we won more hours in the day instead of money, and we won the jackpot, I doubt many of us would get any farther "ahead."

I'm persuaded that if we had more time, most of us would fill it with more of what we do now. With an abundance of time, we'd add more deadlines and more items to our to-do lists.

In other words, we'd fill more time with what we truly value—and that's whatever it is we're doing with our time now.

How are we spending the 24 hours we have in a day? That's likely how we'd spend our extra hour or two.

Extreme #2: Sentimentality

The other extreme is sentimentality. 

Treat every day as if it's your last.

This is the first day of the rest of your life.

Never take a moment for granted.

A good friend of mine, Karen, a brilliant Methodist preacher and writer, died several years ago after living publicly with terminal cancer for five years.

She told me about the many well-wishers who expressed thoughts like these in cards, wishes, and prayers. If anyone would embrace these philosophies, you'd think it would be Karen, who spent five years preparing for her death.

On the contrary.

As someone who could pretty closely guess when her days would run out, Karen knew the intensity of "living each day like it's your last" was impossible.

The emotion was more than most could bear.

That's because if each day were our last we'd be: 

  • paralyzed by the choices of what's really the most important way to spend one's last day on this planet
  • constantly saying good-bye and final "I love you's" to loved ones
  • perpetually preparing that final, all-important sermon that would be the one to be remembered by.
  • tempted to neglect the mundane, daily chores in which meaning, service, and God are so often hidden.

The persistent tsunamis of gratitude, loss, love, grief, joy, and regret are too exhausting to manage daily for a lifetime.

Sometimes, Karen said, even most of the time, we just have to spend our time as we do most days.

That's as much as we can take.

How Not to Preach on the Stewardship of Time

When it comes to preaching about the stewardship of time, it's easy to perpetuate a scarcity mindset or sentimentalize time.

We perpetuate scarcity when we insist our listeners have a duty to carve out a prescribed number or percentage of hours to give to the church.

For over-extended parents, "retired" people working two jobs to make ends meet, or commuters who spend inordinate amounts of time in traffic, the guilt or shame implied when they're not giving "enough" is not likely to raise up joyful givers.

For those whose time is scheduled to the max, they might wonder how we preachers would feel if they insisted that to honor God we had to carve out a few hours a week to invest in their business!

Indeed, resentment may be the outcome when listening to a pastor who doesn't "get" their situation.

Likewise, sentimentalizing the time we have with a "this is your last chance" attitude is an impossible emotional standard that wears us out—and would wear out the recipients of our lavish attentions just as much!

One simple question: Does This Honor God?

The truth is, time is fixed: 168 hours in a week. No more. No less.

Much of the time, we assume we'll have all 168 available to us to spend as we choose, but we never truly know.

Events and surprises derail our calendars and to-do lists, from pastoral emergencies, to a failure of the church's air conditioning system, to a child home sick.

Plus, we may not even be able to access all 168 of those hours, even if the rest of life cooperates. We all know a car accident, stroke, diagnosis of cancer—or even just a cold—can turn our lives upside down in a heartbeat.

But we always have time enough.

We always have enough time if our primary purpose on this planet is to honor God.

If our primary purpose is to honor God—that is, to make God known by loving God and our neighbors as ourselves—then any moment we spend doing so in any way is a sufficient amount.

Not only is it a sufficient amount, it's sufficient in its grace.

There's no need to layer on sentimentality to "make more" of the moment, because every moment of grace is an eternal reflection of God's grace given to us. How can we "make more" of that?

The question, then, is this: Does our use of time honor God?

Does our use of time make God better known to our children? 

To our next-door neighbors? 

To our fellow parishioners? 

To those in need of food, a safe place to sleep, or a kind word?

When we preach a stewardship of time that encourages us to honor God with the time entrusted to us, we will use our time to reveal God in all we do.

And it will always be enough.

Join Stewardship Sermon Bootcamp

Stewardship season is around the corner, and Backstory Preaching wants to help preachers embrace stewardship preaching with the same enthusiasm as other sermons. 

If preaching on stewardship fills you with dread or resistance, consider joining our Stewardship Sermon Bootcamp.

You'll examine your theology of stewardship to develop a renewed perspective that will enable you to preach a sermon you believe in. You'll also enjoy the guidance of a mentor and the camaraderie and collaboration of preaching colleagues.  

Early bird discount ends Friday!