Does It Matter What We Call It?
Some readers may ask: does it really matter what we call it as long as people give generously? Anyone who has read the entire series of posts will know that I believe language matters immensely. While it’s possible to invent new names for new things, the rules of language do not allow us to change the meaning of words willy-nilly. Words have a history and carry a baggage that includes semantic, cultural and psychological elements.
Carol Johnston is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Several years ago she conducted research into what produces a culture of generosity in a congregation by studying five generous congregations in different parts of the U.S. One of the things she learned is that many church members, even those who are very affluent, live in fear of not having enough. In a recent conference presentation she said “Stewards in the Bible are usually slaves, or at best hired hands. When they don’t measure up, they are punished. So when Christians are told that their primary identity is that they are “stewards”, and their anxiety about money is already high, it does not help. There are many ways in which Christians do properly engage in “stewarding” work, but Christians are not primarily stewards. We are first and foremost children of God, heirs of the promise, and as such ultimately secure in life and in death.”
How we say something matters a great deal. Surely we don’t want to increase people’s anxiety about a subject that is already fraught with negative emotion. Changing the way we talk about something may produce vastly different results.
For a dramatic illustration of this point, have a look at this brief (less than 2 minutes) video.