Stewardship Conversations: Discipling Congregations in Stewardship
Our Stewardship Conversation this month features Brooke Bartlow on the topic of how churches can effectively disciple their congregations in the area of stewardship.
GS: Based on your experience, how well are most congregations doing in terms of personal Biblical financial stewardship?
Churches vary widely in their approach to stewardship and the attention they give to discipling believers in this critical area. Regardless of church size, church staff, and denomination I believe there is a spectrum of stewardship discussion, participation and teaching.
Discussion can happen among the church staff and elders, with church members and volunteers all having hopes, dreams and belief of where God is leading them when it comes to stewardship.
Participation in stewardship is happening weekly in church service moments for offerings and tithe. But many churches aren’t effectively helping the congregation to see their stewardship in terms of its impact on the community and the world. Churches that are doing this well are reporting to the congregation on a regular basis some of the fruit of their efforts. However, the area that has the most differentiation is teaching stewardship.
Relatively few congregations experience regular, balanced teaching in the area of stewardship. I have heard several pastors open up a stewardship message either out of fear or comical relief, ‘Today we have to have the dreaded ‘Money Talk Sunday’; clearly implying, “you know I don’t want to talk about this but we need to once a year.” At the other end of the spectrum, some churches feature an entire sermon series tied to stewardship and may offer other teaching/learning opportunities.
GS: It’s a primary tenet of the Good Sense Movement that our financial lives are a reflection of our spiritual lives. How effective have you found most churches to be in discipling people financially?
Real financial discipleship is often missed. Money is often seen only in terms of giving and then only from the church’s point of view – a metric on a weekly church summary, a necessity to keep the doors of the church open. Of course, the church does need funding for ministry; however, emphasizing a weekly or year-to-date comparison between church budget and actual giving misses the main point of giving.
The main point of giving isn’t about funding programs. This is important, but there is no shortage of resources in God’s economy. Discipleship in finances requires a committed shift in our thinking. Shifting from owner to trustee. Teaching all ages that our heavenly Father loves us so much that he is entrusting us to manage everything he gives us while on earth.
We learn to see God as our provider, giving us such things as shelter, transportation, food, clothing. He is asking that we not make idols out of these things rather thank him for his provision and agree to care for it all well.
In Freed-Up Financial Living we discover two truths: First, God holds us accountable for how we manage the money and possessions entrusted to us; Second, we will be found either faithful or foolish in our response.
No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24 (NLT)
…Well done, good and faithful servant!… Matthew 25:21 (NLT)
Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12:21 (NLT)
GS: If you were to sit down with a stewardship leader in a church and try to assess where their congregation is in understanding and practicing Biblical stewardship, what kinds of questions would you ask?
First, who do they believe a stewardship ministry serves? The answer should be everyone! This includes their elders, pastors, staff and congregation. Second, what is the level of engagement of their elders, senior leaders and staff in living out biblical stewardship?
Third, who is the stewardship champion on staff or volunteer staff? Fourth, how often is stewardship discussed on a large platform, during all staff gatherings, celebrated privately and publicly? What stewardship courses are being offered and how often? Several questions that people ask about starting or revamping a stewardship ministry are addressed in our FAQs.
GS: Think about a few churches that are effectively discipling their people in the area of stewardship. What are they doing? How did they get started?
Above anything else, they are using the Bible as a textbook to equip, guide and train their church. There are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible that talks about money. God is serious about our roles as trustees and we only learn how to fulfill this role by reading these scriptures often, hiding them in our hearts and living them out in our lives.
From a practical view, these churches are living out Biblical truths by doing things like tithing on the church tithe and making an effort to report to the congregation what was done – visually showing via interview on stage or video the impact made with tithe.
Additionally, churches that are discipling effectively make it personal – not just about the church. They cast vision and promote healthy financial practices like avoiding debt, cutting back on excess spending, and saving for future needs and plans. As part of this teaching, these churches offer stewardship courses as a regular rhythm of discipleship or adult learning. This is not an exhaustive list but it is often among the common themes of churches focused on stewardship. If you are interested in starting or revamping you stewardship ministry, click here.
Finally, churches that effectively disciple people in any area are churches of prayer. In the area of finances, this means that church leaders are praying for people in their congregation who are struggling financially, small group leaders are praying for their group members in the area of financial discipleship, and the congregation is being trained to pray for their own stewardship and financial priorities. As leaders and members of the congregation pray over the issue of stewardship, we find that God changes hearts and changes circumstances.