I will never forget the time a wealthy Christian friend told me, "Giving to the church is like putting money down a bottomless pit; you give and give, but they're never satisfied."
I still remember how intimidated I felt hearing this from an influential deacon in the church. On top of that, this was my first church! It's no wonder that, for years, I cringed at the prospect of "needing to" preach on giving.
But the Lord is always faithful. During the next 15 years, God led me on an exciting journey that has transformed my preaching on giving as well as my convictions and conclusions about my own personal stewardship.
In 1995 I was asked to develop a congregational program and teaching series on stewardship titled, Take God at His Word (Sweet Publishing). My prayer is that what the Lord has taught me may help you as well. Believe me, I'm still learning, too.
I believe God wants giving to be an adventure with Him, not a burden to be endured or dodged. When we step out in faith, God will open miraculous doors by providing for our needs and increasing our faith. This faith places us in a position to receive His power to change the world. My convictions and experiences lead me, in my preaching and teaching on stewardship, to emphasize four key principles:
1. Giving, when taught and modeled correctly, feels good.
2. God is the source of all our blessings.
3. Fight fear with faith.
4. Set the pace yourself.
Like many preachers, I have encountered apathy and cynicism when I have preached about giving. In my first few years of ministry, the offerings seemed to have little correlation to anything I did in the pulpit. This puzzled me. I was working with good churches that loved the Lord and His Word. I believed people would surely increase their giving when they saw that giving is an important part of their walk with the Lord or that materialism is a big danger or that our church could increase our ministries if we gave more generously.
In reality, the people had heard all these points before. Few were openly critical. But they politely tolerated my sermons and did what they pleased.
PRINCIPLE 1: GIVING CAN FEEL GOOD
God started getting my attention with a sermon He led me to preach about 10 years ago while working through an expository series of 2 Corinthians. When I got to chapter nine, verse seven, it hit me: The Lord loves a cheerful giver. The word translated "cheerful" here in the Greek New Testament is hilaros, from which we get our English word "hilarious."
Imagine that! God loves "hilarious givers." I was energized. I immersed myself in the whole section of Scripture as if I had never read it before. Even though it was far from my first attempt at the topic, this particular sermon on giving was the first one that people made special, positive comments about afterward.
One of my elders, who also was a longtime preacher and a fund-raiser for a Christian parachurch ministry, said it was the best sermon on giving he had ever heard. That amazed me. Another person said, "That didn't even feel like a giving sermon!" I replied, "Thank you, I think," and laughed at his comment.
Now I look back and realize God had shown me a principle I'd never seen before: Giving is supposed to feel good. It is not supposed to feel like a necessary household chore, like when we take out the kitchen trash. It should stir our spirits, not quench them.
If people felt pressured or beaten up when I preached about stewardship, then I must have missed something. Sure, there are always financial pressures associated with ministry, but God is more than able to lead His people to follow Him. We teach, encourage and pray. He causes the increase.
God showed me a couple of other special insights as I explored this revelation that giving should feel good. Once, while attending a John Maxwell conference on stewardship, I heard Maxwell say: "You don't give to get. You give to get to give again." When I heard that, another light came on: God wants to use us as channels of blessing.
That same idea played out for me another time during a capital stewardship campaign in which our church was trying to raise more than $3 million for a building expansion. One of my dearest friends gave me another piece of the "giving feels good" puzzle. This brother, who is a fantastic, generous giver, said: "Don't pray and see how much God wants you to give. Instead, pray and see how much God wants to give through you. That number will be the amount you should commit to give."
I was totally hooked. Giving should feel good. Stretching faith is always tough, but it brings the best spiritual feeling you can imagine. Now all my stewardship sermons have a positive, faith-filling motivation. As you would suspect, I now enjoy preaching on giving instead of dreading it.
PRINCIPLE 2: GOD IS THE SOURCE OF BLESSING
Recognizing the difference between "source" and "means" is a major battle today. Many Christians have inadvertently bought into the world's economic system and have drawn the false conclusion that the source of their income is their bank account, ability or intellect.
Instead, consider this: God is the one who gives the ability to make wealth (see Deut. 8:17-18). This means money, ability and intellect are not the sources of our income. They are simply the means by which God, the source, provides blessing.
God provides for our needs according to the riches of Christ. He uses the material resources of our world as the delivery system to care for His children. To experience His abundance, we must first see Him as the source of every blessing.
A new definition of 'rich.' In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gives an interesting definition of the word "rich": "Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God" (2 Cor. 9:10-11, NKJV).
Did you notice the definition of "rich?" God's Word defines it as able to be generous ("for all liberality"). Most people think you are rich if you make a lot of money. But being rich has nothing to do with the amount in our checking account. We're rich when God gives us enough to take care of our needs and have extra to share.
This is an incredibly liberating idea. It helps me see how blessed I am when I drive a car, take a hot shower or eat at a restaurant. We should never worry about being rich enough to give. God promises that if we give to Him, He will enlarge our financial capacity to be generous.
I have another friend who is a successful businessman and leader in his congregation. Through the years he has counseled scores of couples who were in deep financial difficulty. When they came to him for advice about solving their money problems, he agreed to help if they would decide to give 10 cents of every dollar they made to the Lord. My friend said every couple that followed through not only got their financial house in order, but they also had the opportunity to do good for God. That's a tremendous track record!
God will take care of our needs. When was the last time you read Luke 6:38? "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
I have a confession to make. For far too long I simply did not believe this passage. I tried hard to find some way to get around the truth that is taught so clearly. I think my motivation was based partially on my opposition to perceived extremes in "prosperity teaching." But deep inside, I think my struggles with this passage really signaled my lack of faith in God to reward my obedient giving.
Jesus says to tap into God's economy. The Lord is a generous provider. You won't run out of money. Don't be afraid to give.
For years I thought it was materialistic to think God would bless me financially when I gave money to do His work. But in reality, the materialistic view is thinking that my own ingenuity is the only source of my ability to make money.
A spiritual person obeys and trusts God to release His blessings and to provide all the resources of life. The unspiritual person believes human effort is the source of material wealth.
We reap what we sow. This life principle is found in both Galatians 6:7 and 2 Corinthians 9:6. It is crystal clear.
In preaching, always emphasize the cause and effect relationship between what someone gives and what he receives in return. The principle holds true whether you are talking about finances, friendship or faith. If people want to be blessed, they should do something that is a blessing in that area of their need or desire. God will oversee the experience.
It is safe to teach people to be bold in this area of faith because God will oversee the results of our sowing and bring about what is truly in accordance with His will. He doesn't guarantee this principle to create selfishness but to create faith to partnership with His purposes.
Remember to teach people to be patient, too. As a preacher friend of mine has said:
1. You reap what you sow.
2. You reap more than you sow.
3. You reap after you sow.
When we see the scriptures on giving as insight into the ways God works, we will conclude that giving is not an expense--it's an opportunity.
PRINCIPLE 3: FIGHT FEAR WITH FAITH
When I first started preaching, I thought Christians who didn't give were simply not committed enough to the Lord. I thought that preaching "ought-to messages" would eventually win them over. My preaching contained heavy doses of commitment-getting strategies.
I emphasized obedience. I also pushed ministries, facility needs, missions--all the regular themes. Once again, people listened politely and then did what they would normally do anyway. All my points were good and biblical, so why the mediocre results? Was it the economy? Was it their selfishness? Was it me?
While I am sure there is truth in all these concerns, I am more convinced--after working personally with many churches--that the No. 1 reason why Christians don't give generously is fear: fear about the future, fear about not enough money left over to pay the bills. God understands their desperate situation and doesn't expect them to give. And the devil has them right where he wants them--failing to see God as the Great Provider (see Matt. 6:33).
This realization convicted me to turn my emphasis to how God wants to care for us as a father cares for his children. I began focusing on the many passages of Scripture that credit faith in God as the source of all our blessings--spiritual, emotional and physical.
It is from a very practical standpoint, then, that I preach tithing. Malachi 3:8 is my favorite verse, but I am careful not to overdo the "'Will a man rob God?'"passage. Even though people need the warning about the curse to get their attention, the long-term change will come when they link faith with finances.
It takes a step of faith to tithe, but God says, "Let Me prove it to you--I'll bless you with more good things than you can handle." He will, too!
PRINCIPLE 4: SET THE PACE
It is important for those of us who preach and lead to be personally committed to tithing and to giving extra offerings. This is crucial for several reasons:
First, we need to set the example. God will not bless contradiction in leadership. This applies to pastors, others on staff and spiritual lay leaders.
Recently, a bi-vocational pastor friend of mine told his congregation he was trusting God in his finances, as he had given to the Lord an unusually large portion of his commission check from the men's clothing company he works for during the week. The following week, when he beat his best sales total, the other salespeople asked him what his sales secrets were. He simply gave the credit to God. Not only did he receive a much-needed financial harvest for his family, he also witnessed Christ to people who would not usually have listened. Such pacesetting examples inspire confidence and motivate others to give.
Second, stepping out in giving will provide you with personal testimonies to encourage and to strengthen others to take new steps of faith. My own experience has allowed me to see God work in marvelous ways. So when I preach on giving, I am confident that what I am sharing from the pulpit is a way to receive more blessing. I have watched God work through challenging times in my finances.
Finally, setting the pace is a form of spiritual warfare. You bear witness to the heavenlies that you will follow God and "take the land" He has set before you. The angels rejoice and the demons recoil at expressions of faith.
God will provide material blessings to meet our physical needs and to gain our spiritual attention at the same time. God's response to money problems is the same as His answer to health concerns, family problems or any other difficult circumstances. God wants us to trust Him, not our job or our bank balance.
Jesus said, "'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'" (Matt. 6:21). Since God wants our hearts, He works through our finances. When we learn to trust Him with our money, we will learn to trust Him with anything--even our very lives. *
Kregg Hood is a pastor, an author and the director of The Worthy Network (www.worthy.net), which helps churches and ministries to maximize their use of the Internet and to integrate it into their ministry efforts.
Recommended Resources on Christian Stewardship
There are many great resources available to help pastors better understand and preach on giving. Here are just a few.
Take God at His Word:
Experience the Power of Giving
By Kregg Hood, Sweet Publishing (1995/1998), Fort Worth, Texas.
This book is part of a four-week congregational teaching series that has impacted almost 2,000 churches across the country. Senior pastors may request a complementary copy by calling Sweet Publishing at (800) 531-5220.
"GIVING THAT FEELS GOOD!"
This sermon by Kregg Hood is based on exposition from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. It presents five motives for giving, from lowest to highest, that Christians use in deciding how much they will give. Each motive is presented with "pros" and "cons" to help people see the strengths and weaknesses in each motive.
The goal is for Christians to move from guilt (an unscriptural motive) to responsibility to encouragement to thankfulness to worship (the highest motive). The full outline is available in the teaching series which accompanies the use of the Take God at His Word program.
The Key to Everything
By Jack Hayford, Charisma House (1996).
This important book is packed with wisdom and practical ideas on teaching this topic in a positive, "big picture" way.
Finding Contentment Through Giving
By Ron Blue, Zondervan (1997).
Ron Blue always presents sound, practical, biblical advice on stewardship. This excellent book is especially helpful in ministering to baby boomers.
CROWN FINANCIAL MINISTRIES
Log on to www.crown.org for great resources on giving. This organization provides a huge assortment of practical study resources to help you lead your church in godly principles of wise money management.