By David Jackson, BCM/D Missionary for Church Multiplication
The last thing a typical church planter wants to talk about is financial stewardship.
Since the early days of Willow Creek’s ministry, planters have been under the impression that talking about money in church is a sure path to extinction. Planters were told By Willow Creek and other churches from the same 1980’s time period that unchurched people in their communities thought churches were “after their money.” As a result, most planters stayed silent on the subject. Or if they did speak it was to offer a disclaimer telling guests they weren’t expected to give. Still other planters determined never to “pass an offering plate” in worship. Attendees, in fact, could visit a church for a full year and never hear a sermon or lesson on the topic or ever be confronted with an opportunity to give.
Times have changed. Willow Creek and other like churches have admitted they erred in this regard. And today most new churches—though they don’t like to do so—recognize that they must talk about stewardship, financial and otherwise.
Why the change? Three reasons quickly come to mind.
People need to know. Jesus talked about money and possessions more than just about any other topic. He knew the reality of life requires individuals to come to grips with God’s teachings on the subject. Most who come to church today are eager, especially in these tough economic times, to know what God has to say about the subject. Education is a part of the solution.
People need to grow. Stewardship of money and possessions is an essential part of discipleship. Following Christ as one’s Lord has to take place in every part of one’s life, not just the familiar or easy parts. Being a steward requires that disciples be found faithful with the things God has placed in our care. Learning to let God be Lord of our finances is a critical lesson in trusting Him.
People need to show. By their example and testimony, believers are able to demonstrate for others the difference that Christ makes in dealing with finances. They give witness to God’s sufficiency for their needs and by their reliance they declare that He will take care of them. As they proclaim their reliance on God with their financial resources, they encourage others to trust Him in handling their own finances, too.
So how do you go about instilling a heart for financial stewardship in the life of the people who attend your new church (or any age church, for that matter)? Well, in order to build stewards you must…
Model stewardship. Stewardship has to be a part of your own life and practice. You testify to the ability to trust God with your paycheck when you, God’s leader, tithe and give generously. You exemplify integrity and obedience when you show others that it is possible to live simply and successfully in “the joy of the Lord.” There may be nothing that enables others to take this necessary step in their own lives like your personal example of stewardship.
Preach and teach. Don’t shy away from proclaiming God’s Word on the stewardship of finances—and all of life—when you preach and teach. Do it consistently, not just when there is a financial need in the congregation’s life. Researchers have shown that preaching “series” on this topic or holding classes like “Financial Peace University” will help followers of Christ mature in their regard as the Bible suggests they should. In addition, it will help them in making biblical decisions involving finances every day of their lives.
Cast vision, not need. People deep down inside want their lives to make a difference. They want their lives to matter. For this to happen, church leaders have to appeal to Christ-followers out of the vision God has for a lost and dying world around them. They have to challenge people to be a part of fulfilling God’s dream for these people to see transformation come to their lives through Jesus Christ. Need is everywhere, but vision captures the heart.
Be accountable. People need to know that you and the church handle their financial gifts with integrity and accountability. Trust is paramount for a willing and obedient congregation. Thus, all financial dealings need to be “above board,” handled with honesty and openness for anyone who needs to know. Such willing transparency engenders goodwill and faith in your leadership. This will result in a greater willingness by the people to give freely.
Afford opportunities. If all your teaching is “book” knowledge and not experientially-based, followers will never learn through life how to implement the processes in their own walk with God. Give believers chances to give biblically, to practice generosity and to worship God through their tithes and offerings. Allow these opportunities to stretch their faith and to grow in their dependence on the Father. It will help them better learn the faithfulness of God.
Share stories and celebrate victories. Tell the stories of the difference generous giving and obedient stewardship are making in and through the new church. Celebrate the successes of families helped and communities assisted. Rejoice in the provision of God and remind people that together we are able to do far more, even in giving, than we could ever do ourselves.
Yes, it really is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). From the very beginning in planting your new church, declare it enthusiastically. Rally the people around God and His cause, and then watch Him bring in a harvest that will be wondrous to behold.
David Jackson is the missionary for church multiplication with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. He can be reached by phone at (410) 977-9867 or by email at email@example.com.