By Rez Gopez-Sindac
Financial Stewardship Pastor | Gateway Church | Southlake, TX
In 1999, Gunnar Johnson was a frustrated entrepreneur owing $88,000 in consumer debt and headed fast toward a financial cliff. Desperate for help, he joined a Bible study group led by stewardship organization Crown Financial Ministries. As the study progressed, Johnson says he realized his problem was spiritual, not just financial.
Johnson repented and made a commitment to become “the best steward of God’s money.” What followed, he explains, was a season of intense preparation that saw him selling one of his businesses and starting a small construction company debt-free, allowing him to pay off all his previous debts. He also committed himself to spiritual growth by reading the Bible daily and serving part-time at Crown Financial Ministries in Florida.
Eventually, God opened doors for Johnson to move into full-time church stewardship ministry, beginning in 2004 at The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, TX, and at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX, in 2006. Johnson believes that God has prepared him for such a time as this to help churches build a comprehensive stewardship ministry for every person sitting in their pews.
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What is a comprehensive stewardship ministry, and how do you help build one for churches?
A comprehensive stewardship ministry is one that reaches each socioeconomic group in the church. It is built to serve those who are struggling, stable, financially solid, and those with surplus. We teach the same timeless biblical financial principles in a way that relates to each specific group. Every church context is unique, so we developed a two-day collaborative training called “Art of Stewardship” to help customize a ministry model for each church.
In what ways do Christian churches in America miss the mark when it comes to financial stewardship?
I think any church that doesn’t exercise financial discipleship is missing a huge opportunity to move people closer to Christ. We need to give people a biblical answer to the “why” of giving and then teach them “how” to apply the wisdom of Scripture.
Pastors don’t need to become experts at this overnight. Nowadays, there are great turnkey resources, including Gateway’s Blessed Life, Generous Life small group curriculum, and Financial Hope Workshop. Dave Ramsey has several great resources, as well as Howard Dayton (Compass), Ron Blue (Kingdom Advisors), and Crown Financial Ministries.
I also believe that in every church God has placed mature believers with financial skills to help lead a stewardship ministry. They simply need a vision to build a unique stewardship ministry to meet the discipleship needs of their church.
What are tangible signs of an effective church stewardship strategy?
To name a few: increase in volunteers, in giving, in the number of people living according to God’s purposes, in families paying off debts, in savings, as well as an increase in the number of stronger marriages.
What financial strategies work for Gateway Church?
We don’t have any financial strategies, per se; we do have some discipleship strategies. Our goal is not to raise money, but to raise disciples. Christ disciples give money to support the ministry, which includes feeding the poor and reaching the lost. Our church slogan is, “We are all about people.”
How does Gateway’s stewardship ministry impact its people and community?
We offer comprehensive stewardship/generosity training to all socioeconomic groups in the church and in the community. In 2013, we committed to training more than 3,500 people and 500 churches. These numbers represent changed lives — more Christ-like in their view of money, possessions and opportunities to spread the Gospel.
This fall, we partnered with some church members who teach Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits for 120 CPAs. Our team provided some biblical training during the lunch break, and our executive pastor, Randy Bell, over at the business office made a presentation describing his role in a large-church environment. The attendees gave great reviews of the training and thanked us for helping them see the connection between faith and finances.
What common barriers keep church people from living a lifestyle of good stewardship?
People suffer because of a lack of biblical knowledge. Most people have no idea what the Bible says about money and possessions. As church leaders, we must first let them know what we want for them before we tell them what we want from them.
What do we want for our people at Gateway? Here are seven items:
- To have a Christ-centered financial view
- To be generous in their tithes and offerings
- To have margin in their time, treasure and talent
- To be debt-free
- To be savers
- To live on a spending plan
- To be a life steward, operating in their strengths and giftedness
Is Gateway Church debt-free?
We are not debt-free yet; but, relative to our income, we carry a very conservative amount of debt, which is less than 70 percent of our annual budget.
Our desire is to become debt-free as God blesses. We continue to need room for a growing congregation and yet balance a desire to pay off our building debt.
Issue of the heart
Since breaking free from his own money troubles, Gunnar Johnson has devoted much of his time and resources to helping people and churches all over the world walk in financial freedom and create their own stewardship ministries. He has counseled more than 1,000 families on biblical financial principles and raised millions of dollars in capital campaigns and planned gifts.
In September 2013, Gateway Create Publishing released Johnson’s first book, Generous Life Journey: The Road to Financial Freedom, described by Gateway as the culmination of Johnson’s “journey of faith, struggles and obedience in carrying out a very clear and precise vision God gave him on how to build a stewardship ministry.”
Johnson likes to call it an “incredible adventure” during which time he learned biblical principles on financial management and their practical applications.
The book, Gateway adds, is the story of Johnson’s encounter with God and how this encounter “forever changed his life and taught him how handling finances is an issue of the heart.”
Year established: 1999
Senior Pastor: Robert Morris
Number of full-time staff: 550
Yearly budget: Not shared publicly
Number of locations: 5
Combined weekly attendance: 25,000