For many pastors, giving the annual "stewardship" message ranks up there with getting a root canal. Why the dread over dollars and biblical sense? Because many of us fear that people will misjudge our motives or accuse us of focusing more on money than ministry. We don't want to be clumped with those melodramatic televangelists always clambering for donations.
The truth is, none of us should apologize for preaching on giving. Think about it: We don't apologize when we preach on marriage. We don't apologize when we preach on faith, prayer, studying Scripture or any other spiritual discipline. We address these subjects because, as pastors, we have a desire to help people and a mandate from God to equip the saints. We preach these things because we believe people will have a more joyful and abundant life if they practice them.
It's the same with giving. Giving is not the key to financial prosperity, it's the key to an abundant life. Giving affects our hearts. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (NKJV). Our hearts follow our treasures—not the other way around. When you invest in a stock, you check the newspaper or Internet to see how it's doing. Since part of your treasure is there, so is part of your heart. Likewise, as a shepherd, if you want your sheep to have a heart for the kingdom, let them start investing in it!
Satan, of course, tries to prevent this and targets pastors with a dose of deception. You're preaching on giving because you want to build a bigger building, he tells us. You need to hire another staff member or fund another ministry, and you're just manipulating the people. To combat these lies, I've learned to address the enemy head-on in my money messages. I emphatically state to the congregation that I don't have an ulterior motive, and that I genuinely want to help them discover the joy and freedom I've found from having a selfish heart turned into a generous one. By being upfront and transparent, they can sense that my motive is pure.
They also know this because I live what I preach. God has blessed our church tremendously. By the end of our first year, we had paid off the $1.4 million for our first 14 acres—in cash. During the next three years, we made two multimillion-dollar expansions, again completely with cash. We've recently purchased 190 acres and are now master planning. God's grace has allowed us to do these things, but in the process I believe He's revealed to us five crucial truths that can destroy the lies of the enemy. As a pastor, you can be free from the stigma surrounding money and, in turn, spark an entirely new perspective on giving in your congregation.
1. Become a joyful giver.
My wife and I love to give. By God's grace we've been able to give away several vehicles and even a home to families who needed those things. When I preach on giving, it doesn't come across as a minister trying to raise funds for his projects. I share as a believer whose life has been completely changed by this revelation. I talk about God's blessing and provision in my life. Not just financial miracles, though they are included. I talk about God's blessings and rewards in my spiritual walk, about breakthroughs in my marriage and family.
Let's face it, many pastors don't preach on giving because they don't have any personal illustrations. I know some who don't tithe because they believe their tithes are their time. They feel they don't get paid adequately—and they don't! But where does blessing and provision come from? Your income is not set by a board but by God. And you determine the size of the instrument He uses to dish it out to you. "For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).
If these words are more condemning than liberating, understand that it's not too late. You can begin to relearn what true giving is. Study God's Word on the subject. Read some books on it. Talk to a friend who has victory in this area. Though most of us have seen God's supernatural provision at times in our lives, we can't expect to help others in this area if we remain in bondage. Press in to gain freedom. Trust God, step out in faith and begin to give for the pure joy of it.
2. Give to give.
Much of the current preaching on giving turns my stomach. At its core is this message: Give to get. How many times have you heard someone summon the checkbooks with a pre-offering misinterpretation of 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"? When you back up a little in this chapter, you find Jesus saying, "Give to everyone who asks of you ..." (v. 30) and "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return ..." (v. 35). Lend, hoping for nothing in return. That sounds a lot like giving!
Luke 6:38 is a verse about giving, not about getting. Yes, God loves and rewards a cheerful giver, but that's not our motive for giving. We should give because we want to see God's kingdom advance on the earth, because we want to truly help people—and not out of a selfish motive. The current "give to get" message appeals to the selfish nature of our old selves that we are told to "put off" (Eph. 4:22) and "reckon ... dead." (Rom. 6:11). God wants us to get the revelation of giving, not of getting. Luke 6:38 is the reward for giving, but it's not the motive. When you immerse it with the gospel message of denying ourselves, it is the reward for giving from our hearts.
3. Recognize the gift of giving.
Romans 12 clearly lists giving as one of the seven spiritual gifts mentioned. Isn't it possible, then, that one out of every seven believers has this gift? Yet how many of us know how to recognize this gift and develop it in people? Maybe the real question is, How many of us even recognize it as spiritual?
Despite knowing the Scriptures, we often view giving as a predominantly financial matter rather than an equally spiritual one. It's time to turn that around in your congregation. Can you spot those in your church who have the gift of giving? I don't know what anyone in our church gives, but I can spot the givers, because in the same way that I know about teaching, serving or leading, I know about giving.
It's amazing how we will train the teachers in our church, but we have no training for someone with the gift of giving. We help the leaders develop their leadership gifts, and we put the servants to work, but we don't seem to know much about this spiritual gift or have any resources to help these people. They need to know the gift God has given them is important and spiritual. And who is better able to help mature them in their gift than their pastor?
4. Put God first.
The most important part of the tithe is not that it's 10 percent of our income, but that it's the first 10 percent. God didn't tell Israel to conquer all of the promised land and then give Him one city. He told the people to give Him all of the silver and the gold from Jericho. Why? Because it was the first one, and the rest would be blessed if they gave the first one. God didn't tell Abraham to have 10 sons and then give Him one. He wanted the first one!
The reason God accepted Abel's offering and not Cain's was because Abel gave the firstborn, but Cain didn't give the firstfruits. Cain brought an offering in the process of time. God accepts only the first! It takes faith to give the first one, yet God said that if we would, He would bless the rest. In biblical times, if an animal was unclean, a clean one (a lamb) had to be sacrificed for it to be redeemed. Jesus was the firstborn clean Lamb of God, sacrificed for all of us born unclean so we could be redeemed.
This is what the tithe does. When we give our firstfruits to God, the rest of our fruits (money) are redeemed. Doesn't this bring tithing to life? Our congregations need to hear this revelation so they won't continue to see tithing as law. The truth is, tithing was a principle that was in Scripture hundreds of years before the law. It is simply the principle of putting God first in our lives. When every pastor catches this revelation and preaches on giving with sincerity and a burning passion from God to break the yoke of the enemy upon His sheep, we'll see the windows of heaven open over us. Not so we can drive nicer cars or wear nicer clothes, but so we can send missionaries, build churches, support pastors and preach the gospel to a hurting world.
5. Operate your church's finances according to biblical principles.
Every pastor's finances should be a model of biblical stewardship principles. We should live below our means, save and give generously to the kingdom. We've operated the finances at Gateway Church this way, and I believe God has blessed us accordingly. As a young church, we began giving 10 percent to missions and saving 10 percent. After a few years, we increased our missions giving to 15 percent. God has opened up the windows of heaven over us because we have put Him first in our finances.
As pastors, we can't preach on tithing and stewardship yet operate our personal funds and those of our churches by different standards. We must practice what we preach. We can no longer shy away from learning, living and teaching biblical principles of financial stewardship. God's Word is true! Remember, our obedience can open the windows of heaven.