Playboy Bunnies and Stewardship

It was a get-rich-quick scheme. Because our newly-planted church family always struggled to meet expenses, one board member suggested, “We have got to figure out how to pay our bills. So why not sell tickets to a church service? We can do it on Saturday night, combine dinner with a drama, and call it . . . ‘Eats-n-Acts.’”

“But who will buy the tickets?” I asked.

“I’ve already thought about that,” he replied. “KING 5 TV will give free advertising time to nonprofit organizations if they bring a group of at least 30 people to sit in the audience for a taping of their live morning show. If we get everyone in our church to show up, we can make a 15-second pitch for our program.”

The following Wednesday, a group of us shuffled into the studio. It wasn’t until the cameras were rolling, however, that we learned of a special guest being interviewed for that edition. She was a news anchorwoman from Phoenix whose claim to fame was that she got fired for posing for Playboy magazine.

I slumped low in my seat, hoping the cameras wouldn’t disclose my whereabouts. I figured my boss at the conference office wouldn’t be too impressed with our stewardship campaign if he saw me there.

But my evasive tactics proved futile. Every time I caught a peak in the monitor it displayed my blushing face larger than life.

Things only got worse. During the commercial break the centerfold was busy signing Playboy magazines that audience members had brought with them. Suddenly she looked at me and asked, “Karl do you spell your name with a C or a K?”

Every member of my church (where our stationery read, “Celebrating the nonjudgmental love of Jesus”) stared at me. I squirmed. Before I could say anything a stranger sitting in front of me said, “I spell it with a K.”

Later the elderly matriarch of our church said to me, “Pastor, when she looked up and asked you how to spell your name, I immediately sent up a prayer.”

“Thank you, sister,” I answered.

“I didn’t pray for you,” she said. “I prayed ‘Dear Jesus, don’t you dare come right now, ’cuz I want to see Pastor Karl wiggle his way out of this one!’”

Fortunately, I didn’t have to! It really was a bizarre coincidence—one that helped us as a church to rethink how we might go about raising money.

Following the fiasco at the studio we unanimously decided: “No more gimmicks or get-rich-quick schemes.”

“What we need,” a wise member reasoned, “is to cultivate generous hearts.” We then made a covenant to invite people every Sabbath to the cross. Every sermon, every song, every drama would in someway highlight the cross of Jesus.

We agreed that as people contemplate the generous grace of God, their hearts would naturally respond in generous grace to God.

That proved to be a life-defining moment. Not only did the experience revamp giving in our church (for the next four years we rarely missed making our budget), it also caused me to do some deep reflecting about my own motives for giving to God.

Really, there is only one reason to give to God, and that is because He’s given so generously to us.

Milo Kaufman said it well: “Christian stewardship most certainly is not a scheme to deprive men of their cash. It is the natural consequence of an experience with God—the natural reaction of the human heart that has been touched by the divine spirit.” •

May 01, 2003 / Fresh Start
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Karl Haffner is senior pastor of the Walla Walla College Church and writes from College Place, Wash.