April 2018 Good $ense Newsletter

Is Simplicity Complex?

I really enjoy books…complex, simple, hardbound, or otherwise.  Some books are classics, like Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.  I believe Foster speaks clearly to the yearning of many of those our ministries attempt to serve – so I share a few brief thoughts with you.

 

A central theme of the book is that there is freedom in simplicity. Is there any doubt that some simplicity in the midst of our hurried, activity-filled, possession-overloaded, cell-phoned, texted, and snap chatted lives would be welcomed and freeing? Let’s just live a simple life!

 

Aha, but Foster points out that simplicity is not simple. There is far more to it than the outward manifestation. The outward lifestyle must reflect an inward reality. Otherwise the whole concept (and indeed our teaching of stewardship) becomes legalism… give this much, save that much, have this lifestyle and presto, a new pharisaism. That’s why Good $ense teachings emphasize the Biblical foundation and a grace-filled approach. It is heart change – transformation – that is the ultimate goal and it is in the soil of heart change that the techniques and behaviors we teach take permanent root.

 

When the inward transformation occurs and one realizes their worth comes from being the beloved son or daughter of God and not the trappings promoted by the “pull of the culture,” then seeking first the Kingdom of God can become reality. This simplified (but not easy!) approach to life empowers us to divest ourselves of the unnecessary things that so clutter our lives and which, because of their demands upon us, often own us rather than our owning them.

 

And then, when we no longer have to care for, worry about, protect, and fight over those things we no longer have, we are free to devote our time and energy to what Jesus said was the first and greatest commandment – loving relationship to God, others and self. And when that occurs and the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, not only our personal finances but macro issues like ecological concerns, the poor, and global war and famine will be given their proper attention.

 

So, fellow stewardship leaders, let’s be sure that as we teach the outward manifestations of good money management (be generous, save, get out of consumer debt…) we do so in the context of heart transformation.

 

If you would like hear stories of transformation in person, fellowship with others on this stewardship journey, and receive a special offer from our newest stewardship champion, Estate Planning Ministry, you might want to join our annual Good $ense Vision night on April 21. Register now as spots are filling up.

 

Sid Yeomans

Good $ense Movement
www.goodsensemovement.org
Transforming Finances!  Transforming Lives!


Truths That Transform: Stewardship Pharisaism

Stewardship Pharisaism

One of the dangers we face as we look to guide our congregations in honoring God with our finances is the danger of “Stewardship Pharisaism”. Pharisaism can creep into our ministries and into our impact without our realizing it. Our teaching can lead our congregations to focus on the outward manifestations of stewardship; our emphasis can unintentionally move people into places of judgmentalism toward others; and our coaching can create attitudes of joyless obligation rather than joyful gratitude.

These attitudes characterized the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and he often confronted them about their focus on the external rather than the internal, their pride in their own spirituality and lack of concern for others, and their emphasis on the trivial over more important matters.

How can we keep our stewardship ministries on track, avoiding the attitudes of the Pharisees?

 

Emphasize heart transformation, not offering plate response

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” — Matthew 23:25-28

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for focusing on external appearances over internal realities. In stewardship, those external factors might be things like tithes and offerings, debt, or spending. To the extent that our coaching and training focuses purely on these factors, we run the risk of creating pharisaical attitudes in our congregations toward stewardship. On the other hand, as we shift our focus to concepts like gratitude, a mindset of abundance, and acknowledgment of God’s ownership, we empower our congregations to approach stewardship from the inside out.

Major in the majors

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” — Matthew 23:23-24

Consistent with their emphasis on external appearances, the Pharisees paid more attention to minutiae than to more important matters – matters that weren’t as easily observable but that have much more meaning in God’s sight. They “majored in the minors” – raising things that were relatively insignificant to places of importance in their sight, and neglecting the things that were more important to God.

Jesus’ teaching here is reminiscent of God’s words through Isaiah:

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” — Isaiah 58:5-7

Emphasizing heart transformation will help us to “major in the majors”, keeping the things that are most important in God’s sight at the center of our teaching and ministry.

 

Broaden the scope of stewardship

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” — Matthew 23:16-19

The Pharisees focused on the monetary aspects of worship. They valued the gold of the temple more than the temple itself, and the gift on the altar more than the altar itself. While our focus in stewardship is typically on the financial aspect, we need to keep in mind that stewardship involves more than just our money. Some have said that it’s about our LIFE – our Labor, Influence, Finances, and Experience.

Maintaining this broader scope of stewardship is consistent with a focus on heart transformation rather than on the externals. The believer who concentrates only on the externals may consistently drop checks in the offering plate, but he’s not likely to honor God with his life as a whole. The believer who is wholeheartedly committed to God will naturally steward all of his life accordingly.

 

Focus on helping people rather than establishing rules

“They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” — Matthew 23:4

Jesus noted that the Pharisees were quick to make rules difficult for others to obey but had no concern for actually helping people obey those rules. The fact that the Pharisees themselves did stick to their rules was another way they had of separating themselves from other people, another way they could think of themselves as being superior to others.

By contrast, Jesus’ own burden was light (Matthew 11:28-30). Our teaching and coaching on stewardship should be like that of Jesus, not that of the Pharisees. Rather than imposing difficult rules and then inducing guilt when people cannot meet those rules, our stewardship ministries should come alongside members of our congregation, helping them to experience inside-out transformation. By providing Biblical guidance, practical tools, support and sensitive accountability – all with a grace-filled approach – we become enablers and encouragers of real stewardship in our congregations.

Emphasizing heart transformation, majoring in the majors, promoting a broader view of stewardship, and focusing on helping our congregations will create an environment in which our stewardship ministries encourage true discipleship rather than surface piety.


A Better Stewardship Year, pt. 2

A Better Stewardship Year, pt. 2

How well does your congregation understand and practice stewardship? What obstacles do people face and what help do they need? How do you envision your stewardship ministry empowering and encouraging your congregation to grow in the area of stewardship?

Someone has said, “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” While there is value in offering individual stewardship classes and these classes often offer help to individuals in specific financial and life conditions, an individual class often won’t move the needle for your entire congregation in stewardship.

 

Establishing a Vision

How would you go about establishing a vision for your stewardship ministry? Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

  1. Prayerfully “dream” about where God would want your congregation to be in stewardship. For some thought starters, check out our Biblical Financial Principles on the Good $ense website.
  2. Assess where your congregation is today in their understanding and practice of Biblical stewardship. (See below for a few “thought starter” questions.)
  3. Establish some goals based on the two above exercises. What would a roadmap look like to get your congregation from where they are to where you believe God wants them to be in stewardship?
  4. Based on your thoughts about a roadmap, outline some next steps.  Enlist a few others in the congregation to pray with you over these steps. Check out the Good $ense Freed-Up Stewardship Ministry Pack as a way to get some additional ideas and review some available resources.

 

Assessing the Status

There are a number of ways you could assess the current health of your congregation with regard to stewardship. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • How often does your congregation hear about stewardship from the pulpit?
  • What is the breadth of stewardship teaching they hear? Does it focus solely on giving, or is it more well-rounded?
  • What does the average person in your congregation think that stewardship means? (Perhaps an informal survey here would help)
  • What (if any) stewardship-related events are part of your church’s annual ministry calendar?
  • What are some key demographics in your congregation and what stewardship training do they need? For example, do you have a high percentage of retired people?  Young families?
  • Are there people in your congregation who “get it” with regard to stewardship and might make a good ministry team?
  • What is the temperature of senior leadership in the church with regard to stewardship and the potential for a stewardship ministry?

 

Growing your Vision

Interested in sharing ideas with other stewardship leaders, interacting with Good $ense leadership and learning more about the Good $ense vision? Consider attending our annual Vision Night, scheduled this year for Saturday, April 21. Click here for more information.

 


Stewardship Tips: Planning for Annual Expenses

Stewardship Tips: Planning for Annual Expenses

Annual expenses can be difficult to plan for. Most of us are on fairly tight budgets to begin with, with not a lot of headroom to set aside additional money for events or expenses that occur only once a year. As a result, we tend not to budget money on a monthly basis for these expenses, and then scramble to meet them when they occur. This can result in increased credit card debt and add stress to our finances.

Here are a few suggestions to help in handling annual expenses; pass these on to your congregation!

  1. Understand what your annual expenses are. Christmas, vacations, occasions like anniversaries and birthdays that call for additional spending – these are examples of events and items that create annual expenses. Consider also annual bills such as taxes (income and property), insurance (home/auto, etc.), and others. Estimate these as closely as you can – both amounts and dates.
  2. Consider matching up annual income with these expenses. For example, tax refunds and annual bonuses make good income for purposes like this. While it’s difficult to count on those from a budgeting standpoint, any windfall incomes like this can help with preparing for annual expenses.   Often, if we don’t make specific plans for these windfall incomes, we end up spending them on things we don’t really need and may deprive ourselves of an opportunity to handle the larger annual expenses without going into debt.
  3. Consider making monthly expenses of annual bills, where possible.  For example, property taxes and homeowners insurance can often be rolled into monthly house payments and held in escrow for the annual payments. This is a kind of “forced savings” for these annual expenses and can prevent surprises that create financial strain.
  4. Consider setting up a separate bank account for annual expenses and target an amount you need to deposit each month to that account in order to meet your expenses. By keeping this money separate from your normal spending money, you can prevent using the money for other purposes, again ensuring that you have it available when you need it.
  5. Evaluate the importance of your annual expenses. Some expenses are relatively fixed, such as property taxes. But for those that can be controlled to an extent, determine how much you can really afford. Do you need to spend as much as you were originally considering for Christmas or other events? Is a less expensive vacation an option? Often, a little creativity can replace significant spending in some of these areas and can result in more meaningful experiences and lasting memories.

However you decide to approach it, be sure to consider annual expenses as part of the budget process. And track with your saving and available funds to meet those expenses. A little planning and discipline can prevent a significant amount of debt-related stress!


Stories of Transformation