Stewardship Marginalized

Happy New Year! 2021 ignites new hope. 2020 was tough and thrust us into a new normal with COVID-19. Vaccines distributed, millions scheduled to be inoculated, political unrest, sounds like an introduction to an end-time reality drama series: starring Wreak Havoc, Death, and De Struck Shun. An episode snatched from the Old Testament prophetic Bible visions, for these days, what is witnessed, is quite pathetic. Yet, the real truth is, the Bible foretold these events.

Amid Coronavirus, many are anxious, angry, frustrated, scared, and uncertain of the future. Jesus prophesied that pestilence (pandemics), etc. would be a sign of his coming. Matthew 24:3-8, MSB: “3, Later seated on the Mount of Olives, his disciples approached and asked him, “Tell us, when are these things going to happen? What will be the sign of your coming, that time’s up?” 4-8, Jesus said, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines [KJV: and pestilences], and earthquakes will occur in various places. This is nothing compared to what is coming.” Get ready, be ready, stay ready, He’s coming!

COVID-19 did not sneak up on God. As He weeps over every precious life lost, it hasn’t moved him off His throne. His omniscient character knew it was coming and its’ origin; but with every challenge, threat, natural disaster; with every stock market crash, malady, and pandemic surge, Jesus remains the Answer! You would expect me to say that. Well, I said it because I live it, and it remains true.

Another challenge during these tough times is the marginalization of Stewardship. The word has received a negative reputation in the mind of many believers over time. Many worshippers were and still are introduced to it at the tithe and offering phase of our worship experience. Due to this limited exposure, we have been conditioned over time to think of stewardship in terms of money only (passing of the offering plate). Unless a highlight is presented relating to the significance of a personal relationship with God over money; then the spiritual importance of stewardship is marginalized. Stewardship then becomes transactional, about money only. And that’s how most believers view it.

Over the years, our church has wisely repeated the importance of reviewing the beliefs of the Bible in relationship to the church to aid the membership in understanding the foundations of the faith. This is perpetuated in a myriad of ways, books, articles, audio, video, evangelistic outreaches, sermons, etc. One official way this can be seen is in the church’s Adult Sabbath School quarterlies. And somehow in the didactic repetition of these truths, the holistic, balanced, and salvific message of stewardship seems to have taken a back seat. It was about 46 years ago that the focus of stewardship was seen in a complete Sabbath School quarterly, fourth quarter, Oct.-Dec. 1974, until the first quarter, Jan-Feb. 2018.

I think we thought that it was simply understood that the weekly standard offertory readings from the Division, found in the hymnal, a great quote, or words during offering were enough to sustain its survivability. Weekly we are inspired and reminded in our worship experiences to strengthen, sustain, refresh, renew, and or reignite our relationship with our loving Savior, Jesus. In many cases, new members are birthed out of these experiences. This is a good reason (from time to time) for repetition of the loving principals that brought them to the Savior—the same principals these new believers fell in love with when they joined our mission-driven church. It is with this same passion and healthy repetition that the complete culture of stewardship must be shared.

The pockets of stewardship warriors who have continued the vigil of promoting the complete (wholistic) culture of stewardship, experienced increased giving. Thank God for them. A couple of years ago (44 years since 1974’s quarterly) another Sabbath School quarterly (by John Mathews, former NAD Stewardship Director) was dedicated to the subject. The world church studied and experienced the magnitude and the scope of stewardship. Giving increased as a result. We must not lose this boost and resuscitation of stewardship. There are resources available at GC/NAD Stewardship to help aid in this thrust. Not only that, we are poised to produce more. Stewardship is not transactional, about money only. It is transformational, wholistic, balanced, and salvific first.

I would implore administrators across the division to keep this elevated focus of stewardship central to the mission of Jesus and their fields by insuring there are stewardship leaders represented in their territories. This must be priority one. There’s been a dearth of stewardship leaders at our local churches, conferences, and union levels. When tithe levels drop, then stewardship is revisited, transactional thinking.

The last challenge is when leadership is multitasked, that’s when an individual is strapped with other leadership hats. Hence, stewardship is in danger of taking a back seat and becoming marginalized. If the other hat is elder, pastor, conference communication director, or whatever it’s packaged with, stewardship becomes secondary and will not receive primary/full attention. Other (what some may call) lesser ministries experience the same disparity. In some cases, it is understandable that budget restraints (now COVID-19 contributing to these restraints too) at the conference and union levels may keep stewardship from being a single department held by one individual even though this should be the model.

I respectfully recommend to administrators when linking departments together for a departmental director to manage, the magnitude of responsibility should be well considered, i.e., if stewardship cannot, for budgetary reasons, stand alone, then stewardship is a good companion with planned giving & trust services. Other recommended companion ministries could be PARL, ASI, or prayer ministries, etc. Whatever the case, major ministries not standing alone could be paired with minor ones. What should not happen (if at all possible) is major ministries combined to major, i.e., youth ministries/communication, communication/stewardship, ministerial/sabbath school, etc.

Every department ministry leader holds the belief that his or her ministry is the most important, that’s understandable since many are called by God for that ministry. And they do have their part in the body of believers and without them, we would lack that blessing. However, it is the consistent highlighting of stewardship education that will aid in strengthening the field financially. When believers are inspired and reminded of faithfulness to the Master through stewardship principles, the result is increased giving, tithe and offering. This is how we reverse the marginalization of stewardship which is much more than a liturgical segment in worship.

Published 8 January 2021 by Michael A. Harpe