When we hear or think of the word “Stewardship,” we should not cringe, hide our wallets or purses. In its presentation, and maybe not intentionally, the idea and focus of stewardship has become transactional (about money only) instead of its transformational (spiritually balanced) qualities.
Allow me to share thoughts on the fundamental rethinking of the word Stewardship and plans to respond effectively to new challenges and circumstances in stewardship ministries remaining conservatively progressive.
Stewardship, the word has received a negative reputation in the mind of many believers over time. Many of us were and still are introduced to it at the tithe and offering phase of our worship experience when it is much more than a liturgical segment in worship. Stewardship is worship, just as much as an act of worship. Worship means giving our all lovingly to the One who lovingly gave His all for us, and still gives His all to us. The stewardship act of worship is part of the everlasting gospel to be preached to the world.
This is relevant in these last days and to prophecy. Rev. 14:6-7, says, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” And is supported by our mission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (KJV Matthew 28:19-20).
Worshiping God is a Joy. The Father is the supreme lover and giver. Jesus is the greatest gift (John 3:16-17). He’s our example. The Holy Spirit is our ultimate Guide. God’s generosity is revolutionary and relational. It is because of our relationship with Him that we delight to partner with Him in funding the mission—the everlasting gospel to the world. The Creator exhibits exemplary revolutionary generosity. Hence stewardship essentially is about relationship first! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (KJV Matthew 6:33). Yes, stewardship starts with relationship. Relationship between steward (life manager) and Creator (Owner). It is not just about money. Relational generosity must be emphasized first.
Revolutionary generosity demands that we change our perspective. We must gain a fresh vision of the nature of generosity. How does real generosity act, look, and feel in the context of our current reality?1
When thinking of generosity, many people look at the size of the gift or the nobility of the cause. But, Jesus looks beyond the outward appearance and measures generosity by a radically new standard: the condition of the giver’s heart (www.generousgiving.org/faq). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21). Stewardship is a matter of the heart, a matter of the soul. This goes deeper than the value of a dollar. It is a spiritual matter emulating Him and it’s interactive.
A church group was getting kicked out of a park because of their interaction with the homeless. The police officer said, “You can’t feed the homeless here; you need a permit!” The pastor replied, “We are not feeding the homeless, we are eating with them.” This is the true heart of generosity, how it looks, acts, and feels.2
Often, generosity is about something we do for an individual or group, as opposed to something we do with them. In doing so, we perpetuate our sense of separation.3 Revolutionary generosity means being interactive Christians. We must move beyond social programs, of which we are so proud, and move toward a hands-on, socially engaged lifestyle.4
Many seem to lean toward the easy way out, or the path of least resistance. For example, think of how much easier it is to care for the homeless by sending a check to the local shelter instead of planning to eat with them. And, think of how much easier it is to direct people to a few verses in the Bible in response to life’s tough questions instead of working it out with them; or how much easier is it to complain about the inequality in the world as opposed to being involved in bringing equality through social justice to the world.5
What would Jesus do? What did He do? If Jesus wanted to simply do something for us, He could have done it from Heaven. Instead, He chose to do it with us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He stepped into first-century Palestine’s culture. He invited people into His life and allowed Himself to be invited into theirs.6
They were not the right people with which to be generous;7 they were what people of society considered the “unlikeables” and treated as untouchable. These were people that many would select “unlike” or “unfriend” from their Facebook or social media platforms. These people had nothing with which to repay Jesus. They were sick, blind, and lame, physically and spiritually, but these are the ones who Jesus kept putting at the head of the banquet tables. Are you ready for that?8 This is the true heart of generosity, how it looks, acts, and feels
A generous steward is a life manager. Therefore, in the realm of spirituality and practicality, we manage God’s goods. God (Owner) has given us dominion over His possessions. So, we must remain in close relationship with Him for guidance. Faithful management of His stuff is relevant and woven into every aspect of life.
Stewardship executed properly allows us to breathe. Trust God and seek His help daily. David implies this trust with, “…I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love; you saw my pain, you disarmed my tormentors. You didn’t leave me in their clutches but gave me room to breathe.” (MSB Psalm 31:6-8).
Smothered by life’s challenges? Breathe! Tough finances? Breathe! Health issues? Breathe! Family challenges, Breathe! Abused? Breathe! Stressed by current local and world events? Breathe! In earth’s final prophetic hour? Breathe! God gives us room to breathe when we are challenged. Stewardship ministries in North American Division is an opportunity by God’s grace to breathe fresh positive life into your experience. The new Breathe Conferences will focus on a wholistic Revolutionary Generosity Lifestyle.
Life Management (Stewardship) may be categorized into seven (7) basic stewardship lifestyle philosophies The T7 Concept or T7: T1-Time, T2-Temple, T3-Talent (T3.5-Terra), T4-Treasure, T5-Trust, T6-Theology, and T7-Testimony. T7 targets all aspects of our lives and relationship to God and his people. It is an essential element of faith. And includes both spiritual and practical components to each.
The first four are tangible and the last three are the foundation of the first four.
- Spiritual: individual, personal worship, bible study & relationship building with God (Time with God).
- Practical: – Time Management: Organizing time for family, the individual’s life, and planning for the future.
- Spiritual: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” The individual is a temple of God, comparison to the Bible sanctuary—living temples.
- Practical: Body-health management, natural principles of health.
- T3-Talent-Gifts from God.
- Spiritual: God gives individuals gifts to do His work.
- Practical: God gives individuals talents to have gainful employment.
- T3.5-Terra: we place care of the planet (Terra firma-Mother Earth) under Talents. Since Talents represent our God-given ability to manage the gifts, he has given His people to bless His church. And in a practical sense bless the world with skills He has given mankind to produce items we enjoy in life. He also has given humans gifts to take care for every aspect of the planet (stewards of the Earth), Terra (T3.5).
- T4-(His) Treasure-
- Spiritual: Relationship with God through the Tithe and Offering.
- Practical: Personal finance/Money management/Debt relief.
Foundational T’s: These are foundational to the four main tangibles overlapping continually.
- T5-Trust in God: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (NIV Proverbs 3:5-6).
- T6-Theology: Biblical foundations and study of stewardship lifestyle principles.
- T7-Testimony: Verbalizing what God did, does and will do.
These principles are shared at every opportunity; the outcomes: 1) magnify the devotional life, 2) achieve debt-free living, 3) make good wellness lifestyle choices, 4) energize faithful tithing, 5) maximize spiritual gifting potential, 6) stimulate cheerful offering contributing, and 7) inspire generous living and many other lessons which will be shared in our messages, workshops, and seminars. Giving it all to Jesus is worship. And worship is a lifestyle. This revolution is for life. This spirit of generosity correctly exemplifies the principles of biblical stewardship.
Stewardship is a central Biblical teaching. The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes it as one of its fundamental beliefs (#21): “We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellow human beings, and by returning tithe and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and the victory over selfishness and covetousness. Stewards rejoice in the blessings that come to others as a result of their faithfulness. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal. 3:8-12; Matt. 23:23; Rom. 15:26, 27; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:7.)”
Charles E. Bradford, former North American Division president, shares that stewardship links central biblical themes. “It [stewardship] embraces and connects many of the great doctrines [teachings, principles] of the church and becomes an organizing principle of understanding Scripture. The… [biblical teachings of] creation, humanity, redemption, and restoration; the… [principle of the] Sabbath…and the church are inextricably bound up with the idea of stewardship. Stewardship… the root of mission, the basis of sharing the gospel with the world” (Charles E. Bradford, On Stewardship, Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology: Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 12, pp. 651-674).
As it relates to the church, Stewardship (Life Management) refers to two areas (1) the personal life of the member, and (2) church life, the organization, institution. For the member, the 7T concept applies. For the church, this is also true and includes relationship building, vision, budget, tithe/offering, capital campaign, fundraising, entrepreneurism, etc. In conjunction, stewardship extends and expands to all ministries of the church at all levels. The 7T’s are applicable and inter-departmentally connected to the following: ministerial-pastors, elders/local church; prayer ministries; health ministries; Adventist community services; family ministry-couples, singles; youth, young adult, and children’s ministries; evangelism, discipling, personal ministry; treasury, fundraising, women’s ministries, Sabbath school, planned giving, & trust services, etc.
Imagine a revolt, a complete “Revolution of Generosity” in the constituents of North American Division, let our minds be drenched with this thought until it becomes a reality. Let’s revolt against the generated norm of what is thought of stewardship, that it’s about money only: an enemy hath muddied the truth. Generosity is at the heart of stewardship. So let’s start a revolution, a complete revolution of generosity in the people of God to become faithful stewards. “…Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man [woman] be found faithful,” I Corinthians 4:1, 2. Generosity Stewardship is an act of worship.
It is through this spirit of generosity that we partner with him in funding the mission, God loveth a cheerful giver. Returning tithe and giving offerings are part of our worship relationship, a joyful expression of our praise, love, and gratitude.
“And now behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: And thou shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.” Deut. 26:10, 11. II Cor. 8:7-9; II Cor. 9:12-13. “… God imparts His gifts to us that we also may give, and thus make known His character to the world. Under the Jewish economy, gifts and offerings formed an essential part of God’s worship. The Israelites were taught to devote a tithe of all their income to the service of the sanctuary. These were the means for supporting the ministry of the gospel for that time. God expects no less from us than He expected from His people anciently. The great work for the salvation of souls must be carried forward. In the tithe, with gifts and offerings, He has made provisions for this work” (Ellen G. White, Christ Object Lessons, p. 300).
Giving, then, is more than an obligation for followers of Christ; it is an exciting opportunity to lay up treasure which will last for eternity. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts 20:35. Today, God has positioned His people with unprecedented wealth and opportunity to glorify Him by emulating His generosity (www.generousgiving.org/faq).
- I. Our desire is to apply some fundamental rethinking to respond effectively to new challenges of stewardship: Be conservatively progressive, continue the legacy of promoting the Gospel of wholistic stewardship (emphasizing enhancements in integration of the gospel into the Christian lifestyle), encourage faithful stewardship (life management), and to facilitate the individual, corporate, and leadership dimensions of stewardship as a partnership with God. We plan to produce materials that will help pastors, and local stewardship ministries lead their members in a more integrated Christian walk reaching their full potential, families thriving and communities flourishing. Utilizing the terms “Revolutionary Generosity” and “Life Management” are included in our theme for the Stewardship Ministries Department of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
- Our mission is to inspire God’s people to fund the message of Hope and Wholeness.
Mission and Vision Objectives:
- INSPIRE members through media at the level of story that opens the heart to the Spirit’s influence.
- EDUCATE members through redefining stewardship and its impact on their lives in the light of eternity.
- IMPLEMENT stewardship through training, collaboration, and the development of resources.
- Our focus is in expanding the biblical philosophy of life and ministry with careful attention to faithful stewardship for each age group, coaching personnel on each ministry level (church, conference, union, division) in stewardship (life management) by refining and enhancing its curriculum.
Let’s move to the next level in our love relationship with God and our fellow man. Stewardship is about relationships; it is a matter of the heart, a matter of the soul, this is what helps me become a cheerful giver.
In the parable of the talents, we read, “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (KJV Matthew 25:19). As we remember, two of the three were found faithful and invested the master’s talents, “Well done” was pronounced on them. We remember what was said about the unfaithful one. This idea of settling accounts is similar to the activity relating to the investigative judgment of our day. In other words, God simply asks his servants, stewards, managers of His goods, an obvious question: How did you do with My stuff? I left you in charge of it. Your life, employment, children, money, everything is in your care. Have you managed to My glory, or yours? Good stewards know that they have an advocate with the father, Jesus the righteous Judge, and are wearing the Judge’s robe of righteousness. The robe covers because we give our cares to Him daily. We then are not anxious about the judgment, because we are in relationship with the Judge.
Become radical for Jesus and Revolt from past selfish practices, and start a Revolution, a complete Revolution of “Generosity as a Lifestyle!” And Breathe!
By Michael A. Harpe, Stewardship Director, North American Division
1-8. (Thomas Nees. The Outlook (bi-monthly newsletter), September-October 2007).