Training is key for the growth of all institutions. The North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church went beyond expectations when all of the leaders of the conferences, unions and other institutions in the division were called for a season of training and refreshing from January 8–11, 2023. This took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, the city that is called the “Tournament Town” for its wealth of athletic venues. In that event, people were able to experience the Christian euphoria that brings them together, provides a sense of belonging, and unites them as members in the great family of God.
NAD Stewardship Ministries started their training early. January 7 was declared Generosity Sabbath for ten churches in Greensboro and the surrounding area. The guest speakers, pastors, and church members were on fire to lift up the name of God. The day included divine worship in the morning in the churches and a seminar on the Relevance of Stewardship in the afternoon at the Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel, which was followed by networking with fellow stewardship leaders.
I was privileged to attend the Greensboro SDA Church, where the guest speaker was Pastor Ray Hartwell, Stewardship Director of Georgia-Cumberland Conference SDA. His sermon was entitled, “The Last Issue for the Last Church in the Last Days.” The main idea of the sermon was that stewardship is trust. Pastor Hartwell presented the example of Job, who could not trust his friends or family. If and when that is also true for us, then who can we trust? In order to prepare for the last days, a Christian must practice trust in God now. The last-day church will be made up of only those who have practiced trust in God above all else. Where is our trust placed? Money puts rice in the bowl; prayers put life in the soul.
The seminars on Sunday, January 8 began with Pastor Philip Baptiste’s devotion on Luke 13:6–9. In that devotion, Pastor Baptiste said, “If Jesus is your gardener, He will make it well. The owner is God the father, Jesus is the keeper and we are the tree. We are not here by accident; we have been planted by God. No matter what year you are producing in, be patient: by God’s grace you will produce fruit.” Several seminars were presented that day: Dr. Steve Case presented a seminar on “Connecting with Millennials/Gen-Z.” Another seminar was presented on the Relevance/Future of Stewardship, and Dr. Carlton Byrd presented a seminar on “Post-Pandemic Leadership.”
In his seminar on “Connecting with Millennials/Gen-Z,” Dr. Case outlined the generational differences and provided several tips on how to connect Millennials and Gen-Z’s with the church. Among those tips were (1) encouraging stewardship, (2) letting them have a voice or input, (3) inviting collaboration, and (4) accommodating the reality that their giving patterns are often sporadic and interest-based rather than systematic. A final thought that Dr. Case shared was that many in these younger generations are not necessarily at church and that we need to go to where they are; we need to go to them.
The next day Scot Coppock presented a seminar on “Conversations on Giving: Demystifying Planned Giving & Trust Services.” He spoke about the economy of heaven and the role of Planned Giving and Trust Services, which is all about relationships and transformational gifts. Planned giving is transformation, and Coppock highlighted Jesus’ words that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:25). Coppock also pointed out that tax and legal benefits are important, but not the primary focus. He also emphasized the importance of (a) developing relationships, (b) casting the vision, (c) communicating with people, (d) and creating a culture of generosity within the organization of the church.
Coppock’s seminar was complemented by the following presentation by Dr. Carlton Byrd on “Generosity Reset.” Dr. Byrd spoke on how to create that culture of generosity. He posed the question, “How do we get our members back to understanding this idea of generosity in return for what God has done for us?” The calling of our lives is to share that love of Jesus couched in the stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Within that, Dr. Byrd spoke to the changing face of giving within the church and how we might be open to new options for giving. For example, online and mobile options such as Cash App, Zelle, and the Church’s website and “app,” AdventistGiving.
Several other compelling presentations were given by Diana Smith (Jesus on Social Media), Pastor Troy Levy (Financial/Economic Life), and Pastor Michael Harpe (T7—Revolutionary Generosity). Each of these presentations provided helpful guidance and encouragement in their particular points of expertise.
Overall, the Symposium provided an excellent forum for learning, for conversation, and for discussion about some of the prevalent issues that face us in ministry today. In particular, I left thinking about how we are living in post-modern times where everything is moving so quickly. The world is obsessed with money and technology. In this postmodern age, we have created idols of money, profit, and consumerism.
During the Symposium, they discussed the Lordship of God, and I thought about how the book of Genesis illustrates His authority as Creator and Savior even in the midst of these new idols. All of the seminars on stewardship, generosity, and relationships point us in a different direction than the consumerism mentality. As we focus on Christ, it is truly more about giving than consuming. Thus, as we acknowledge God as the Owner and Creator of all things and the Provider of our wealth and possessions, we express our appreciation through our tithes and our offerings.
Such giving is required to sustain the preaching of the gospel and undergird the spreading of the message of salvation to others. Therefore, even though we may not be involved in the direct spread of the message of salvation, freely giving what has been freely given to us is critical to sustaining God’s mission.
This symposium really emphasized the idea that a mission-focused steward is the one who tithes and gives charitable offerings freely as it guarantees God’s honor and wins more souls to Christ. As the owner of all things, God has entrusted us with the means necessary for spreading the gospel. He guarantees that faithful stewards shall be entrusted with more and promises abundance for those who bring tithes to His house (Mat. 25:29).
By Herode Jean-Vilien Thomas
Pastor of the Shiloh Bilingual French, Siloé French, and Galilee French Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the Greater New York Conference, Pastor Thomas is also a mentee of NAD Stewardship Ministries. He successfully defended his doctoral dissertation on Mission Focused- Stewardship at Andrews University in February 2023 and will be awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree in May.
Congrats to Pastor Thomas on becoming Dr. Thomas!