Last time, we discussed the importance of assessing where your congregation is in the understanding and practice of stewardship. The next question follows naturally: Where is God calling your congregation to be in this area?
Discerning God’s calling for your congregation in the area of stewardship, like all the steps in this journey, begins with prayer. How does God long to see your congregation grow in this vital area of discipleship? What are the heart attitudes and character qualities that God wants to produce as He grows your church in this area? What impact will your congregation’s stewardship have on the body? On the community?
As you pray about this, consider a few examples of the impact of stewardship from the New Testament.
Nothing belonged to them
The last few verses of Acts 4 describes how stewardship impacted the early church. The passage begins this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (verse 32) As we’ve seen previously, this is the basic mindset of the faithful steward – an understanding that everything belongs to God and is entrusted to us to enjoy and to use on his behalf. The early church exemplified this in the way they shared their possessions.
Verses 34-35 imply that this wasn’t a systematic, programmed giving plan. Instead, “from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” The result? “There were no needy persons among them.”
The early church recognized God’s ownership of all things, and overflowed with love in response to His goodness by sharing their possessions with each other. They did not count their possessions as their own, but saw them as trusts that belonged to God. See Acts 2:44-45 as another example.
A fragrant offering empowering the Gospel
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanked the church for their generous gift to him and recalled several earlier instances of their sharing with him when he was in need. (Philippians 4:10-19) A few key points become evident about the Philippians’ giving:
- Their vision encompassed more than their own body and community, as they gave toward the expansion of the gospel in other regions through Paul.
- Their giving repeatedly expressed this vision, as they contributed to Paul’s mission multiple times.
- Their giving was pleasing to God.
Overflowing in praise
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul reminds the church about their commitment to support the poor in Jerusalem. He begins by pointing out the sacrificial generosity of the Macedonian churches, who gave beyond their means. He describes them as giving themselves “first to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5) Not only so, but they actually had pleaded with Paul for the opportunity to share with the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:4). Their hearts of generosity sought out ways to share with others, even when their own resources were stretched.
One of the results of this generosity was a leveling of sorts – equality among the churches in their resources (2 Corinthians 8:13). This is reminiscent of the equality among believers in the early church in Jerusalem, as we saw earlier (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). The spirit of generosity was thus spreading from the Jerusalem church outward even as the Gospel spread.
Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that their generosity not only supplies the needs of God’s people but results in expressions of thanks to God (2 Corinthians 9:12-15). Their generosity encouraged those in need, and built up a sense of unity between the churches (verse 14).
As you pray about God’s leading for your own church in the area of stewardship, envision what impact churchwide stewardship might have on the body, on the community, and even beyond. These examples have focused on giving but we know that giving is only one part of stewardship. We’ll look in future articles at how other financial areas such as debt and spending contribute to stewardship and affect the body’s ability to further the impact of the Kingdom.