By Neil Earle
Some years back our denomination asked its pastors to consider designating January of each year as “Stewardship Month” – a time to make needs known, report back to the congregation on how their donations were being spent and take them more into the “business side” of the church.
Stewardship has been defined as the wise management of available resources. This annual program has worked out very well for us. Though we collect a weekly offering we don’t have to “bug” people about special donations as the year continues. While some see money as a “taboo” subject others feel churches involved in the work of ministry and mission to the world need have no embarrassment about discussing the matter openly and honestly.
I agree with the last group. Acts 6:1-7 shows the early church running into a snafu about the allocation of donated resources. They appointed six deacons singled out for their wisdom and expertise on the “business side” of church – the word “business” is actually used in the King James Version of Acts 6:3. The apostle Paul had no hesitation about gently and diplomatically chiding his Corinthian churches because they were not keeping the commitment they had made to provide poor relief for the saints at Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 9:1-11; Romans 15:25-29).
So, in that spirit, each January we place a Financial Narrative on our information table and give at least one sermon on the subject of Stewardship. This triggers off some “for real” thinking amongst our members, many of whom are feeling the crunch as the economy sputters along.
Along those lines I thought I’d share the overall strategic concepts of the best talk I have heard on Christian Stewardship. It was given by Mark Vincent about 12 years ago in a special seminar on Money and Fundraising. Some of his points were overall so long range that I think it will be helpful to share them here. Financial advisors all urge each individual household to have a financial plan, to have at least a six months supply of emergency funds for a “rainy day” budget. Unfortunately some people are living so close to the wire that when car trouble flares up they are completely knocked out of commission. That is unfortunate and sometimes it is a result of not saving even a minuscule amount to a bank account designated for a rainy day that begins to add up as the years wear on.
My wife comes from a family of successful, frugal business types and she taught me that in our first month of marriage – “Always save something, even if it only $5 a month.” The Bible is lavish in its teaching of that principle, such as in Proverbs 6:6, 10:5, 14:24, etc.
Anyway, here are Mark Vincent’s thoughts, not given as a “pitch” for money but to help us think of this matter more holistically and perhaps motivate us to take hold of our financial lives:
First, money outlives us. Amazing, but true. We talk about “estate planning” and leaving a legacy. A good man leave an inheritance to his grandchildren and that is a one true proper use of money (Proverbs 13:22). It goes marching down the generations. There’s the old quip, “I made my money the hard way, I inherited it.”
Second, money expands our circle of influence. As one individual donor we can do a lot – think of Jesus praising the widow’s two pennies in Luke 21:1-4 or Mary extravagantly anointing Jesus with ointment worth ten month’s income (Mathew 26:6-9). But through a group effort we can do much more. Here at new Covenant Fellowship we have been able to help plant and support fourteen churches in Bangladesh, supply disaster aid to Haiti and buy an ATV for our African director to visit his scattered churches (see box). This is the power of money and every church worth its salt has some kind of missionary/outreach program.
Third, money is a prime indicator of our character, to what’s really inside us. Mark made the point of reminding us that if there are problems within a family usually the disbursement of a will sees them emerge. Families squabble over inheritances they feel were their due. That’s why Jesus said, where your treasure is there will your heart be also. Watch out – it’s a magnetic thing when you’re hard up and the chance of easy money comes our way. Even the rich still get tripped up by it as high-level scandals keep showing us. We could say, as Mark did, money is mysterious – otherwise we’d all have lots of it.
Fourth, almost everything can be monetized including some of the most deeply spiritual things. Think of paying for a funeral today or buying a church building or paying tuition at a seminary or even buying a Bible. “Money talks,” says one comedian, “and it usually says ‘bye bye, bye bye.’” This gives us an idea that there is little separation between spirituality and money.
Fifth, money has the power to mimic some of the promises of God – “many mansions,” streets of gold, fine linen neat and clean crowns of gold. Mimics, yes, but deceptive for there’s nothing true than the old adage, “You can’t take it with you.”
Knowing these Biblical counsels about the power of money should make us determine to be more astute in the way we handle our own financial resources. Or see the need to get some good advice from good sources. Perhaps we can determine to start a savings account if we don’t have one yet. No wonder almost half of Jesus’ parables were connected quite directly to money – the lost coin, the pearl of great price, the Prodigal Son, Lazarus and the Rich Man, the laborers in the vineyard, the unjust steward. Let’s end this discussion with some of his own fervent advice to us. Jesus said, just after urging us to seek the Kingdom first, to be generous in the wise use of our resources:
“Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old…For where your treasure is there will your heart be also... .give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap,. For with the measure you use it will be measured to you again” (Luke 12:33; 6:38).
There are few better investments than that!