Saddlebag Stewardship #5

onedollarIn reflecting on the parable of the Widow’s Mite in Mark 12:42-44, Asbury started a fund for the general church to help provide for preachers and their families.  John Wigger writes:

As he traveled with Bond, Asbury collected small contributions from whomever was willing for what he called his “mite subscription,” after the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:42-44).  Bond says that Asbury started this fund after hearing “an account of the great deficiency in the preacher’s quarterage in the New-England Conference.  The bishop thought it most likely that the same deficiency would prevail in Ohio and Tennessee conferences, and that many of the preachers, especially those with families, would suffer, or have to locate; in order to seek support by their own industry in some secular imployment [sic].”  If the plan generated a surplus, Asbury hoped to use it to fund German-, French-and Spanish-speaking missionaries.  No one was supposed to give more than a dollar, reflecting the grassroots nature of Asbury’s plan.  The money itself was important to Asbury, but he was also aware of the symbolic value of what he was doing.  Here was the church’s senior bishop, emaciated, poor, and suffering, begging for those in need.  Poverty was nothing to be ashamed of, just the opposite.  Social pretension was the enemy of true religion, of this Asbury remained sure.  Why else limit contributions to a dollar? (American Saint, 396-97).

I think it is interesting that Asbury decided on a method of raising money for a specific project by limiting donations.  This seems counter-intuitive to us, and indeed it may be.  I’m not suggesting that we follow a similar pattern in our church now, but I do think this example serves to remind us of the importance of every person doing what they can.

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday’s service is the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30.  A wealthy master leaves on a journey and puts three of his servants in charge of a vast sum of money.  Two of them double it by the time the master returns, but the third servant buries the talent he was given in the ground (out of fear).  Many followers of Jesus don’t believe that their gifts–financial or otherwise–are worth much so they decide not to use them or offer them in the service of the Church.  This parable, and the example of Asbury’s “mite subscription” serves to remind each of us of the importance of everyone doing their part–no matter how small that may be.  Doing small things for the church is just as important as doing large things!  Please, think about ways this week that you might be able to accomplish something small for the church.  And, thanks for all that you do!  It does make a difference.

Saddlebag Stewardship #4

prosperity-gospel1Almost everyone in our society would agree that poverty is a bad thing.  Poverty is something that even we in the church have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves to “get out of.”  Poverty is bad, and having money is good, right?  Well, Francis Asbury wouldn’t have necessarily agreed with our culture’s analysis of poverty.  John Wigger writes:

The only acceptable course was to live in a state of voluntary poverty, or as close to it as decency allowed.  Writing to an English correspondent in August 1788, Asbury noted with satisfaction that he could hardly afford “one coat on my yearly allowance.”  “Our connection is very poor, and our preachers on the frontiers labor the whole year for 6 to 8 pounds,” which, in Asbury’s mind, was a good thing.  His belief in the virtue of poverty was one of the reasons he clung to the practice of paying all of the preachers the same salary ($64 a year), whether probationers or bishops.  This had the virtue of reducing competition for more affluent, usually urban, circuits, since the preachers assigned to those circuits couldn’t expect to benefit much from the relative wealth of their congregations.  Offering better salaries on circuits that could support them would have drawn more candidates into the ministry and kept others from locating, but only at the risk of making money a motivation for preaching.  (American Saint, 176).

I was intrigued by what John Wigger terms Asbury’s belief in the “virtue of poverty.”  This seems to fly in the face of many mega-church pastors like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren who make millions of dollars a year, and other similar pastors who tout what has become known as “the prosperity gospel.”  This is a belief that if we live faithful lives that God will bless us with lots of money.  However, when I read the gospels I have never heard Jesus say, “Follow me…and I will make you rich.”  Though, I do recall at least one instance where Jesus told a wealthy young man to sell his possessions and follow him.

My Greek professor at Duke, Dr. James Efird, always had some useful comments about money and the church.  “Do you want the pagans to have all the money!” he once remarked.  I have to say that no, I don’t want the pagans to have all the money.  However, I think Asbury might be on to something when speaking about the virtue of poverty.   Asbury didn’t worry about money.  His worries were about the church and the fate of the souls of sinners.  Many churches in our day and time have it backwards–they worry more about money and less about people.  We would do well to worry more about such things as occupied Asbury’s thoughts and prayers, and to worry less about money and more about people.  I think that there is much for us to learn from Asbury and his belief in the virtue of poverty.  However, there can also be virtuous ways to use wealth.  Perhaps that is part of our task as the church today–to use our wealth virtuously without forgetting the virtues of poverty.