Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stewardship article (written for Good News Tucson)

Stewardship: It’s what you think...and a whole lot more

What’s your definition of stewardship? Your answer depends on your frame of reference. And, your answer, along with how you understand and approach stewardship, can have a dramatic effect on your church or your ministry.

It could be that you think of that sermon in the fall when the senior pastor (maybe that’s you) talks about giving money. Or, maybe you would say it’s how we give our time, talent and treasure for God’s Kingdom purposes. Or, you may think of the earth, since in the secular nonprofit world stewardship is all about how we treat our planet. Or, you may have no idea at all, particularly if you’re younger! For some, stewardship is an old-fashioned word.

In my conversations over the past decade with pastors and ministry leaders, the most common response when I mention my passion for stewardship is often about giving money. “Oh, our giving is pretty good this year”, or “We’re little bit down because of the economy”, or “We just did our annual pledge drive”. And, some will even say they’re doing a stewardship/money management program like Financial Peace University or Crown.

Stewardship is about that, and a whole lot more. And, it makes a big difference how we define and understand stewardship in a deeper, Biblical context. In my first stewardship pastor job, people would meet me for the first time, hear my name and say something like, “oh, you’re the money guy, huh?” So, I’d tell them that I actually worked as a surgical assistant in the operating room - helping the Master Surgeon change hearts.

The dictionary defines stewardship as, “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care”. Lynn C. Miller, author/professor at USC says stewardship “is the act of organizing your life so that God can spend you.” And Martin Luther summarizes stewardship this way, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Whatever your answer to the stewardship question is, there is one Biblical truth that undergirds the whole conversation. And that is the fact that God created everything, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And not only that, He owns everything. “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

So, if God owns everything, that means we own nothing. We are simply managers of His stuff. Which means we have no rights, only responsibilities. Oh, we act like we own our house, or we work at our job, or we parent our children but if we really believe and live out the Biblical truth, we know deep down inside that we’re managers of God’s stuff. 

And here comes the squirmy part, of everything God’s given us (on loan) to manage, the one thing we seem to have the most difficulty with and like to talk the least about and act like we have it all together with is (drum roll please) - money.

In fact there are 2,450 Scripture verses that deal with money and possessions. More than heaven and hell, more than faith and prayer, more than any other topic. In fact, about a third of Jesus’ parables have to do with money and possessions. So, money is obviously important to God. In fact, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Several years ago, after having used the number of money and possession verses in the Bible many times, a pastor asked me just exactly where were all those verses? So, I contacted my friend with Crown Ministries and he sent me a listing of ALL those verses, subdivided into 20 different categories like debt, counsel, honesty, children, budgeting, and the list goes on.

Here’s the amazing realization as I looked at those topics, and one we all need to consider: only ONE category has to do with GIVING. Does that surprise you? Quite frankly, it takes awhile for most church leaders to even comprehend that fact because so much of our discussion in churches has to do with giving money. But God cares deeply about how we manage 100% of our money and possessions.

Stewardship is a primary discipleship issue, not just about how we give, but about how we manage everything entrusted to us. And all Christians, (and those seeking Jesus) at your church and mine, need help in this area, particularly in our culture today. Every church needs a stewardship champion and game plan on how to equip God’s people, at all ages and stages, on how best to manage His money, possessions, kids, jobs, cars, houses, clothes and well - everything.