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Developing Your Personal Theology of Stewardship
Do you really believe that God will provide for you and your family's needs? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us:
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." –Luke 6:38
God is generous, giving, loving, forgiving, and gracious. God desires our loving response to His generosity. In reading books on stewardship, what stands out for me is the personal witness of the writer, who has been the recipient of God's generosity. I have not always given generously to God through the church, but my wife Judy and I have been generously blessed. God's generosity can be seen most clearly in retrospect. Examine your life. Search to see God's generous hand in it. Take out a pad of paper and write down the times in your life or in the lives of others close to you when God's hand has been present. Keep these examples. They will make wonderful illustrations for your stewardship teaching and preaching.
Now think of some times when your congregation has stepped out in faith and God has been there. Jot down these times and save them; they too will be wonderful stewardship sermons.
When we have acted faithfully and responsively, God has provided.
A quotation from the Rev. Sara Chandler, adjunct professor of stewardship at the Virginia Theological Seminary, states: "God doesn't order what God won't pay for!"
Stewardship is thanksgiving, giving thanks for all that God has given us–our time, our abilities, and our money. Stewardship is the way we manage all our time, abilities, and money. Nothing of value happens in human life without these three currencies. Nothing of value happens in the life of a church without these three currencies. Some think of stewardship as what we give, or return, to God for His work through the church; they teach that the tithe means 10 percent of our worldly goods. I believe that 100 percent is God's.
Our stewardship is our decision as to how we live and manage our entire life. What we return to God through the church is only a part of our stewardship. We are given by God the freedom to manage all of our time, abilities, and money. That process of management is called stewardship.
Are You A Good Steward?
The first key to good stewardship in a congregation is the pastor.
1. Is the pastor comfortable about money?
2. Does the pastor tithe?
3. Is the pastor comfortable about preaching and teaching about money and the tithe?
Is Tithing Christian? Is It Biblical?
If one examines the Hebrew scriptures, one finds many explanations of tithes and offerings. In Genesis, Abram is blessed by Melchizedek after he brings his tithe to the priest.
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him one tenth of everything. –Genesis 14:17-20
In Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, the Hebrews are told to set aside a tithe of their harvest to give thanks to God in a wonderful celebration of Thanksgiving:
Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will chose; spend the money for whatever you wish–oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year, you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. –Deuteronomy 14:22-29
In Chapter 26, the Hebrews set aside a tithe every third year for the priests, aliens, orphans, and widows, those who are in need:
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: "I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments; I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. –Deuteronomy 26:12-4
In Malachi, God speaks to the Hebrews in the way of rebuke to those who have not returned their tithe:
Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, "How shall we return?"
Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, "How are we robbing you?" In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me–the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if will open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. –Malachi 3:7-12
In the Hebrew scriptures, wealth was viewed as a sign of God's blessings and the presentation of tithes was expected as a sign of our thankfulness for these blessings. Moses, David, Solomon, and Job were all blessed by God in a material way. But they were expected to return tithes (10 percent of their income, produce, wheat, animals, goats, wine, etc.) to care for the Temple and the poor.
Jesus and Money
In reading the Gospels, it is clear that tithing was the standard of giving for the Jews at the time of Jesus. Jesus takes tithing for granted and warns us against making the tithe an idol, about becoming prideful about it and substituting it for compassion.
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. –Luke 11:42
Jesus gave this illustration after observing how much people were giving at the Temple in Jerusalem. (And you think Jesus does not care how much we put in the collection plate?)
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on. –Luke 21:1-4
The widow who gave everything–her offering was held up for praise. When I have discussed tithing with governing boards, inevitably someone, usually a man who has a good job and income, will say: "Remember the widow's mite." I have responded, "In the New Testament, there is no gift too large in thanksgiving for the kingdom of God. If you want to give all you have, as she did, it will be gratefully accepted." (Obviously, that is not exactly what he had in mind.) As North American Christians, we resemble more the rich giving from our abundance rather than the widow from her scarcity. Overall, I have found widows to be generous in their giving to God through their church. Jesus knows us as we know our own brothers and sisters.
The standard of the widow's mite is observed in monasteries and convents, where, when members accept the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they give all their income and assets to the order–truly, "all they have."
Jesus has more to say about us and our possessions (our wealth) than about any other subject of our spiritual life. He tells us:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Luke 12:32-34
The value of the kingdom of God requires everything. Our possessions–our house, cars, clothes, and computers–are not going to make it to heaven. We must leave those behind for others. Only people are going to heaven. Through the God of materialism, our world tells us to use people to acquire money and wealth to buy things. Jesus calls us to do the opposite: give and invest in our children, our young people, our adults. Love people and use things!
Jesus knew well the value of money and the power of wealth. In the parable of the talent (Matthew 25:14-30), a man gives to three servants (slaves) five, two, and one talent each. Jesus is talking about trusting these slaves with real money. For these slaves, "each talent was worth fifteen years of wages as a laborer" (NRSV, Harper Collins). Today, if one is paid the current minimum wage over the course of fifteen years, the equivalent in 1996 dollars would be $132,600. We really should read this passage as: "The master gave to one servant $633,000, to one $265,200, and to one $132,600." Now that is real money. That gets our attention. The two who doubled their money were told,
"Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." –Luke 25:23
I believe that individually and corporately we are supposed to risk and invest in the kingdom of Heaven. I often see the church not acting as the first two servants did–risking and investing in the kingdom of God–but acting like the third servant, hoarding, afraid it will lose what God has given it.
In the Episcopal church, there is a saying, "When is a business person not a business person? When that person is a member of the vestry." A collorary would be, "When are priests not missionaries? When they preside at a vestry meeting." I have constantly seen business men and women who take risks in business, risks in personal investment, and then, as members of the vestry, act timidly, afraid of risking and using God's money. I have seen clergy who expound great vision, but, when chairing a vestry board meeting, act out of self interest to protect the parish.
Jesus warns us about the power of possession, money, and wealth in the parable of the rich man:
As he [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. –Mark 10:17-22
"Jesus, looking at him, loved him." What a wonderful image of Jesus looking into the man's eyes and loving him and inviting him to be a disciple. All he had to do was sell his possessions and give them to the poor. What an adventure he was offered, life with Jesus. Today, there would be numerous churches named after him–his name would be known along with the names of Peter, Thomas, Mark, and John; instead, he walked away grieving, no name, walking into obscurity with all his possessions, worshiping the God of money and materialism.
It is clear that discipleship requires the commitment of our time, abilities, and money if we are to follow Jesus Christ.
The last scripture I cite concerning the words and teaching of Jesus on money and possessions is from the Gospel According to Matthew:
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. –Matthew 6:24
Each one of us must choose and keep choosing the master we will serve–God or wealth (mammon). In The Challenge of the Discipline Life, Richard Foster deals with the power of mammon–money. It is not neutral; it has power to control and corrupt the creatures of God. He states:
What all this talk about stewardship fails to see is that money is not just a neutral medium of exchange but a "power" with a life of its own. And very often it is a "power" that is demonic in character. As long as we think of money in impersonal terms alone, no moral problems exist aside from the proper use of it. But when we begin to take seriously the Biblical perspective that money is animated and energized by "powers" then our relationship to money is filled with moral consequence (page 24).
Our relationship to money is what concerns God. Whom do we worship? What do we worship?
Paul and Money
In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us about the early church's understanding of money, how it is shared and given to the saints in Jerusalem. He encourages us to be generous:
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. –2 Corinthians 9:6-8
We are to give cheerfully out of our abundance, not as the world gives grudgingly out of its scarcity. Thus the early church saw itself abundantly blessed with money, sharing God's blessings of money with the "saints in Jerusalem."
The church's history of stewardship, its use and teachings of our time, abilities and money from the days of Paul and the early church, to Constantine–the age of Christendom, to our time in the nineties–post Christendom, would take a book in itself.
Today we face, as the church and its people have always faced, the power of mammon–money. All around us we are confronted with the God of materialism. A perfect example of this worship of mammon is found in a huge new mall in Towson, Maryland. One walks into this secular cathedral to an atrium four stories high, all open to the ceiling, with waterfalls, sculptures of angels, chairs on which to meditate on the abundance of the God of materialism, classical piano music to inspire the soul, a wonderful dome rivaling St. Peter's in Rome–all this to meet your every need.
Depressed about your marriage? Buy a new suit–just charge it to your American Express® card.
Anxious about your job? Buy a pair of designer shoes–just charge them to your Discover® card.
Afraid of being alone? Buy a 40-inch television with remote control to keep you company. Just charge it to your Visa® card. You won't even have to move from your La-ZBoy® chair to change the 35 channels on your cable.
Unhappy? Buy a diamond tennis bracelet and charge it to Mastercard®.
Overweight and slothful? Buy a Nordic® track to bring back your youth. Just write a check and bring your balance down to zero.
The God of materialism has a solution for your every problem. On any Sunday afternoon, it is impossible to find a parking space in the mall's seven-floor parking garage. When was the last time you had to wait for a parking space at church? If a Martian were to look down at Earth, he would indeed see the shopping mall, with its acres of parking lots and hordes of people coming and going in all directions, as our cathedral to the God of money!
Excerpted from ONE MINUTE by Charles Cloughen Jr.. Copyright © 1997 Charles Cloughen, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Foreword The Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff Bishop of Maryland
Section I Developing Your Theology of Stewardship
Section II How to Construct Stewardship Sermons
Section III One Minute Stewardship Sermons
Cross References and Index