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Know the true meaning of stewardship

By Dave Briggs

As a stewardship pastor I have often been asked why so few churches are investing in a comprehensive stewardship ministry. It’s a great question considering the emphasis the Bible places on stewardship, money and possessions.

It comes as a surprise to many that the Bible speaks about money and possessions more than any other topic except love. More than 2,400 verses address our relationship to wealth, the dangers of mishandling it and the barriers money can present to our relationship to God and others.

So why has stewardship not been emphasized more in our churches? The last 25 years of involvement in stewardship ministry have led me to several thoughts in response to that important question.

One, as a church body, we have misunderstood the fundamental meaning of stewardship.  I believe the great majority of our church leaders have defined stewardship incorrectly. Stewardship is not just another term for giving money to support church ministries. Stewardship is simply the act of being a steward.

A biblical steward is one who has been entrusted with the property of the owner and expected to manage it wisely as the owner himself would. Giving is the portion you manage that you give away, stewardship is the responsibility you have to wisely manage the total amount, most of which you keep.

Pastors need educating
Two, many church leaders have not been taught the true meaning of stewardship and therefore are not in a strong position to teach others. The formal education most of our pastors and senior leaders receive rarely includes a serious study of stewardship and the biblical perspective of money. When the topic is discussed, it is mostly in response to the significant pressure felt by senior leaders to raise funds to keep ministries supported.

Three, as churches, we frequently get the biblical message reversed. The vast majority of scriptural references to money and possessions address the responsibilities of the individual rather than the needs of the church. Stewardship is important because individuals cannot be fully aligned with God’s desire for them if they get the “money thing” wrong.  Funding church ministries is not the primary reason the Bible speaks so frequently about this topic.

Yet, it has been my observation that the majority of messages about money from senior church leaders primarily emphasize giving. What we should be doing is teaching individuals to recognize their calling to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to them. When we do that, the giving follows; not because we made it the goal but because that is the result as we grow mature stewards.

Four, church leaders often miss seeing money biblically as a discipleship issue rather than a financial issue. As Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley so eloquently stated it, “Biblical teaching about money should focus on what we can do for you rather than what we can get from you.”

Not just for hurting
Five, churches frequently associate a stewardship ministry with helping those who are hurting financially or have become overwhelmed with debt. We should be seeking to help those people, absolutely, but that should never be the main focus of a stewardship ministry. We are all called to be stewards, and building a ministry around people in financial trouble will actually hurt the stewardship effort, since those doing well financially will assume they are exempt from learning to live as stewards.

It is interesting to note that most of the time the Bible speaks about money it is directed toward those who had money but were using it or relating to it in a way that was spiritually damaging and contrary to God’s design. A healthy stewardship ministry addresses every person and seeks to provide opportunities for growth regardless of their financial condition.

Six, we have not presented the teaching and training of money in our churches comprehensively.

Money impacts us in three major ways, all of which are dealt with in great depth in the Bible. The first is the practical aspect of money – how specifically we are to wisely manage and account for what has been entrusted to us. The second area is the spiritual aspect. How our relationship to money and possessions impacts our relationship to God.

The third is the emotional aspect of money. It is here that we often find our greatest struggles since emotions drive us to make poor and often harmful decisions about wealth and possessions. An attempt to address the stewardship topic without diving into each of these areas will leave major holes in our understanding of what it means to live as a true biblical steward.

Money is never neutral
The foundational principle behind developing a solid theology of money and stewardship is that our relationship to money will always impact our relationship to God. Money is never neutral. It will either draw you closer to God or drive you farther away. As scripture tells us, we can’t serve two masters.

Jesus tells us clearly that there is a battle going on for our affection and loyalty between the God of the Universe and the god of money. Each one is trying to win our hearts and minds but only one will prevail.

Dave Briggs is the director of the Stewardship Ministry at Central Christian Church in greater Phoenix, AZ. He held a similar position for seven years at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL. Previously, he spent 27 years as a finance manager with General Electric. www.CentralAZ.com

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Where stewardship leaders gather

Christian Stewardship Network is an organization of stewardship leaders serving in local churches throughout the country.

CSN has launched a two-day workshop designed for church leaders and decision makers who are interested in starting or strengthening a stewardship ministry in their local church. Dave Briggs co-teaches the seminar with Chris Goulard, the stewardship pastor from Saddleback Church in Southern California.

Workshop topics: Benefits of a Healthy Stewardship Ministry, Developing a Biblical Theology of Money, How to Structure the Ministry, Elements of Success in Stewardship, Recruiting and Empowering Volunteers, and Creating an Implementation Roadmap for Success.

Registration for the next event in Dallas, February 9-10, 2012, can be done by e-mailing Dave.Briggs@CentralAZ.com. For more information about CSN go to
www.ChristianStewardshipNetwork.com.

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2 Comments for “Know the true meaning of stewardship”

  1. Well said Dave. If you think through American’s complaints about Wall Street, big business, Washington, the media and so on, it’s basically that they all put their interests ahead of our interests, usually in the interests of money and maybe power. And you’re basically saying the church is doing the same. As the Bible says, judgment on a nation begins in the house of the Lord. When church leaders take your counsel to heart and are again more interested in the finances of our members than the church’s finances, the church may again be what God intended and things may again become right in our land.

  2. I could not agree more! I believe that this is the kind of healthy, sound, biblical teaching that needs to be presented in the church. These are the principles that will lead to financially healthy churches and members.

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