Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Saving Money Good Stewardship?

We all know what stewardship is. It is that thing that pastors start talking about when money is needed for a new building or there are several church members who are having financial difficulties. The short form version of it is often “be less greedy and give more to God.” The Bible has a lot to say about good stewardship and how to take care of God’s money. It is all God’s money, we are told, and we are to take good care of it. The concept of saving money often comes up when we are talking about stewardship. We don’t want to waste money, so that mean we look for low prices. We don’t always take the lowest price, since doing so may result in a lower quality product and we may not have what we need or we may have to replace it sooner. It sure sounds like good stewardship to look for cost savings and then use that money to give more to missions, for the poor and for church projects, but is it really?

I started thinking the other day. It had to do with the price that people are paying for books. There are so many authors writing books that it has pushed the price of books to a very low mark. A publisher can offer an author as little as $500 for a manuscript and the author will take it. Why? Because the chances of another publisher offering more is very slim. Think about this. An author has spent weeks on the manuscript. Let’s say the author has spent eight weeks on the manuscript. Let’s assume a forty hour work week. That is a total of three hundred twenty hours that the author has spent on the manuscript. The book will probably not earn more than the advance, so the author is working for $1.56 an hour or maybe as much as $3.13 and hour. Isn’t an author’s time worth more than that? I think it is, but with people paying such low prices for books, there is no way that the publishers can afford to pay authors what they deserve. Most books lose money for the publisher. So what does this have to do with stewardship?

Luke 10:7 tells us that “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” The job of the steward is to do what the master desires. God has made it clear that he wants those who work to receive the pay they deserve, so as stewards of God’s money, is it appropriate for us to pay people less than they deserve? An author’s work is distributed to many customers, so it is hard to determine how much each customer should be paying, but looking for the lowest priced book may not be proper stewardship.

Let’s not apply this only to authors, let’s apply it to other fields as well. Our quest for the lowest prices may not be the good stewardship that we think it is. It may be just another form of greed. We look for low prices so that we can take money from those who deserve it and buy more of what we want, while at the same time giving enough to church to make it look like we are doing well. Instead of asking what price is the lowest, wouldn’t it be better to ask how much value the item brings to you? What if you determine that it is more valuable than the asking price? Wouldn’t it be good stewardship to give more than the stated price?

One of my college professors once showed us a intricately carved horn. It was the image of a cat and it was beautiful. My professor was in a foreign country and he asked the man who had done it how much he wanted for it. The man must have spent many long hours doing the work, but the asked for twenty American dollars. My professor said that he gave him fifty, because he knew it was worth much more than twenty dollars. The man cried after receiving the fifty dollars. Good stewardship isn’t about giving people what they are asking or what the market allows. Good stewardship is giving people what they deserve for the work they have put in. That is what God wants from his stewards.

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