Let’s face it. Stewardship is not the church’s strong suit. Surveys indicate Christians tithe between two and three percent of their income. Pretty anemic. George Barna says the biggest culprit is the lack of a compelling vision. He’s right. The good news is that it’s wedding season. At almost every ceremony we see the compelling vision – hot bods.
Over the years, research on tithing has been done by many organizations, including The Barna Group, founded by George Barna. He says there are “five significant barriers to more generous giving.” 1) The church has failed to provide a compelling vision, 2) insufficient return on investment, 3) ignorance of the church’s needs, 4) an ineffective “ask,” and 5) selfishness. Christians seem to be deeply in debt (and can’t tithe) or feel they’ve worked hard for their money (and don’t want to tithe).
Either way, Christians are robbing God (Malachi 3). Since most believers also know robbery is criminal, they con themselves. While 17 percent of Christians claim to tithe, only three percent actually do so. In reality, the average weekly donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17.1 Pretty pathetic.
More generous giving requires a more meaningful metaphor. Albert Einstein said you could not solve a problem using the same mind that created it. A new frame, or compelling metaphor, is called for. Good news. We have one. Weddings.
You’ll likely witness a wedding ceremony this summer. Take note of the bride and groom. They’re a picture of stewardship. Teeth are whitened, skin is tanned, bods are buffed, cuticles are manicured, hair is trimmed, and – in most cases – weight has been lost. A 2007 Cornell University study by Lori Neighbors and Jeffery Sobal found that 70 percent of 272 engaged women said they wanted to lose weight, typically 20 pounds. Bride and groom know they’ll be front and center in the ceremony, as well naked before one another on the wedding night. They don’t want to be shamed. So they work on having hot bods. All that preparation is a picture of stewardship.
A full-body gospel explains this. God is love (I John 4:8). Love is the enjoyment of others as well as the desire to expand the circle of love.2 In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Spirit decided to expand the circle of love by having the Son wed a bride. God created the entirety of humanity – us – in his image to be the bride. God’s wonderful plan for our life is to “marry us.” This reality is stamped right in our bodies as male and female, right in our sexuality.
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” He’s quoting Genesis 2:24. He’s picturing nuptial union. Marriage, including sexual consummation, is the main metaphor for Christ and the church. That’s why coming to Christ is described as being betrothed. “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (II Cor. 11:12). Betrothal is similar to modern engagement, except that the couple was considered married yet living apart to demonstrate devotion to one another. Devotion required discipline, or stewarding your life. Just as modern brides and grooms whiten their teeth and buff their bods, the church is supposed to get buffed for Jesus.
Jesus used the same gospel metaphor. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt. 22:2). He also told a parable about ten virgins (Mt. 25: 1-13). They were supposed to be getting ready for the wedding day, stewarding their entire life in anticipation of getting married. Some did. Others didn’t.
It seems that many believers today don’t feel a need to get buffed for their upcoming wedding day. Anemic stewardship is one indicator. The culprit is likely the disembodied faith disseminated in so many churches today. The wedding of Christ and his church has become an abstraction. Stewardship has been reduced to a series of “principles” or “concepts.” These are not terms of endearment but enlightenment. The Enlightenment is a disembodied approach to life. It’s a disaster. Stewardship is never a principle or concept. It’s presenting your body to God to prepare for the wedding day (Rom. 12:1).
It’s a shame that so many Christians view body talk as bawdy or vulgar. It’s not. It’s virtuous. As Gregory the Great noted in reading the Song of Songs, “kisses are mentioned, breasts are mentioned, cheeks are mentioned, loins are mentioned.” These words paint “holy pictures” which “are not for mockery or laughter” but, rather, “to incite us to holy loving.”3 They also incite healthy stewardship.
George Barna is right. More generous stewardship requires a more meaningful metaphor. We have one. It’s found in scripture. Or we can witness it in almost every wedding ceremony this summer. Hot bods are telling a holy story.
1 George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura: Regal Books, 1997), p. 20.
2 Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization (New York: Image Book, 2012)
3 West, At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 49.