I grew up in church, and my family rarely missed a Sunday. I don’t remember a single sermon, but I do remember my nervousness over the word “stewardship.”
Every September our church hosted “Stewardship Sunday” where the minister would preach an emotional, guilt-inducing sermon stressing the need for everyone to give more – and it worked. I left those services feeling pretty guilty. To make matters worse, when I was in high school, I was “recruited” to visit the homes of church members to present them with a “Stewardship Pledge Card personally.” It was my job to compel them to make their giving commitment for the coming year. They felt awkward. So did I. Those memories marked me.
My awkward relationship with stewardship evaporated in my mid-twenties when I was exposed to some bold teaching on the biblical perspective of stewardship. It changed the trajectory of my life — things I had never seen before became clear. I discovered the Bible speaks more about money and possessions than almost any other topic. Jesus talked often and openly about our relationship with money. My perception of stewardship changed dramatically.
For the last 17 years, I have served on staff at two large churches leading their stewardship ministries. During this time, I witnessed a surprising number of church leaders who also have an awkward relationship with stewardship. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Based on what I have learned, here is what I wish every church leader knew about stewardship.
1) STEWARDSHIP, GENEROSITY, AND GIVING ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS
These terms interchangeably confuse people. Stewardship is simply the act of being a steward. In biblical times a steward was a respected person of high integrity entrusted with his master’s possessions. He was expected to manage the possessions following the master’s wishes. Since God created and still owns all we have, stewardship is recognizing God is the owner, and we are His managers. As managers, we are responsible for using God’s possessions to please Him.
Giving is an act, and generosity is an attitude. Generosity involves a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others personally. Giving is merely the act of abandoning something of value. Giving can be done without being generous (the Pharisees are an example), but you cannot be generous and not give.
2) STEWARDSHIP IS MORE ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTH THAN DOLLARS AND CENTS
It is estimated that 25-50% of church attenders give nothing or next to nothing. The lack of giving is not a financial problem but a spiritual one. God is a giver. Our willingness to give reveals our relationship to God.
When we communicate to our people about money, they must understand we want something for them not something from them. If teaching on money is only about giving to the church, people tune out, and we will miss an excellent opportunity to help our people grow. When our people gain a biblical perspective of their role as stewards, a culture of generosity can flourish.
3) POOR STEWARDSHIP IS DANGEROUS TO OUR PEOPLE
Luke 12:15-21 Jesus describes a rich farmer blessed with an abundant crop. He gives no credit to God, nor does he give any thought to being a steward, but thinks only of himself. Jesus calls him a fool, not because he had great possessions, but because his possessions had him.
Similarly, in Revelation 3:14-17, we get a chance to eavesdrop on God’s letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the people in the church took such pride in their wealth, they concluded their material blessings indicated they were right with God. But God exposed their blindness, nakedness, and depravity.
In both these cases, their unhealthy relationship to wealth was the root of their spiritual blindness.
4) OUR STEWARDSHIP CULTURE IMPACTS OUR MINISTRY’S EFFECTIVENESS
A powerful example of how our relationship to money impacts our spiritual lives is found in the parable of the four seeds and the four soils in Mark 4. Beginning in verse 18, Jesus explains the meaning of the third seed. “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Don’t miss the critical message stressed here. Of all the things Jesus could have mentioned, He calls out the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for more things which lead to the real danger of “making the Word unfruitful.” A wrong relationship to money is not primarily a financial issue but a spiritual one that robs God’s Word of its fruitfulness. As leaders concerned about the spiritual vitality of our people, we cannot afford to miss this.
However, Jesus gives us good news in explaining the fourth seed, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Isn’t this the kind of multiplication we want to see in every area of our churches? Teaching our people to resist the power of wealth to deceive will keep the door of their hearts open to “accept” the Word and to experience abundant fruitfulness. Stewardship matters!
5) TRUE STEWARDSHIP IS ABOUT HEARTS AND NOT CAUSES
We live in a world of abundant causes to support. And yet, the point of stewardship isn’t about causes – good as they may be. During a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, in Mark 14:3-9, Mary emerges with a year’s wages worth of precious perfume and pours it on Jesus. The Bible says some of the disciples grumbled, imagining all it could have done for the poor. But Jesus wanted to focus their attention on the heart attitude of the giver. Mary showed her deep love for Jesus by how she utilized her resources. The disciples missed the point. How easy it is for us, church leaders, to miss the point that our relationship to money impacts our relationship to God. When we make God our highest priority, and we honor Him, it releases a spirit of love, which triggers acts of generosity.
In 2 Corinthians 8:8, Paul addresses this same concept when challenging the early Macedonian church, “I am not commanding you, but want to test the sincerity of your love.” Generosity, even amidst poverty, tests our love for God (v. 8:2)
6) WE NEED TO PREACH MORE ABOUT MONEY, NOT LESS
As a stewardship pastor, I can tell you our people are struggling financially more than we realize. Money is an emotional topic that causes many people to hide their financial struggles. Not only is this impacting their spiritual condition, but people often feel they are not in a position to be generous. Avoiding the topic of money intensifies the problem. Preaching frequently about money creates a greater willingness in our people to address their financial health. And, with stewardship ministries in our churches, they will have a place to go for help.
I’ve heard many messages on the Good Samaritan, but I don’t recall any that taught this parable from a financial perspective. In Luke 10, the Good Samaritan not only generously gave of himself, but he was also a good steward. He intentionally saved money in advance for an unknown and unforeseen need. Because he was a saver, he had the surplus to express his generosity to the wounded traveler tangibly.
7) THE RELATIONSHIP OUR PEOPLE HAVE TO MONEY IMPACTS THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD
This truth is what energizes me to challenge people in their stewardship. This ministry is not primarily a financial ministry; it is a discipleship ministry. As church leaders, if we are not teaching and preaching about money we are leaving our people spiritually exposed to one of Satan’s most effective tools.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says it is impossible to serve two masters. Either we will follow and serve the powerful force of money (Mammon), or we will serve the one true God. It is not possible to do both. Each one of us must choose whom to serve. As leaders, we need to be at the forefront of communicating that truth.
In one of the saddest passages in Scripture, we eavesdrop in on a conversation between Jesus and a rich young ruler. In Luke 18, the intelligent and influential man asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus engages him in conversation and learns that the man believes he has kept the commandments from an early age. Knowing the one thing that was holding him back, Jesus asks him to part with his wealth and follow. When confronted with making Jesus or his wealth a priority, the rich young man chooses his wealth. The power of money to deceive was stronger than his desire to follow the God of the universe. And he walked away sad.
The stakes are high. We cannot leave our people lacking a clear understanding of the spiritual implications of their relationship to money.
If we build a healthy stewardship culture, our churches will never be the same! Our people will grow closer to God; our congregations will experience increased spiritual vitality, and greater resources will be unleashed for significant Kingdom impact.
This article was originally published by the Church Stewardship Network.