When Faith and Finances Intersect

Imagine what your congregation and services would look like if your church was financially free. (iStock photo)

Picture in your mind what your church would look like if your people were financially free. Dwell on that image. Dwell on the impact your financially free congregation could have on your community, on the world. Stewardship ministry is an integral part of making that happen.

The hope of the world isn't politics or economics. If the government could really fix the economy, every president would have a good economy. Our country is in trouble, and the only solution is transformed lives through Jesus Christ. The church, as the bride of Christ, is the force to bring this hope to the world.

The church plays three vital roles in making this happen. First, we are like the Mayo Clinic. People show up hurting and don't know why. We diagnose, help them get healed and build a solid foundation.

Second, we're like the Pentagon. We've been given a worldwide strategy and mission. We hear from our Commander-in-Chief in heaven, and we do what He tells us.

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Finally, we're like a military base. We bring in the recruits, the believers, and we train and equip them. Then we send them out to shine the light of their freedom, including their financial freedom.

Healing the Wounded

There have been church members who have been hurt by improper teaching of stewardship and generosity. But this hurt has also been inflicted on pastors and church leaders by other pastors and ministers who abused them, misused their gifts and their giving and left them hurt. There are many walking wounded among us because of what the church has done.

As a stewardship pastor and a representative of the stewardship ministry, I want to apologize. Congregation members have been wounded because well-meaning pastors were not trained properly. And because of the role you play in your churches, the damage can be even greater than among the members of your congregation.

The Pastor's Perspective

Let's take a look at how pastors perceive ministry:

  • 52 percent of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health.
  • 56 percent of pastors' wives say they have no close friends.
  • 57 percent would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70 percent don't have any close friends.
  • 90 percent feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry. I think we're always going to feel that way. The Holy Spirit is never going to let us get ahead of Him to the point where we say, "I've got it, Lord." He won't let us step out in our own pride to do God's work.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries every month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure.

I believe that pastors can help and support each other and that you, as pastors, associate pastors and church leaders can work together to change these numbers and guide your church into new areas of spiritual, physical and financial growth.

When the culture of stewardship and the spirit of generosity rise up in the church, things change. The church becomes stronger.

Why a Ministry of Stewardship and Generosity?

First, it's because it is God's heart for people. It's not something God wants from you. It's something God wants for you, for His people. This is why we teach this material; why we work to give people a solid foundation of who they are in Christ in the area of finances.

To do this successfully, our motives must be pure. It is the pursuit of the spirit of mammon to say, "If our church had more money, we would be successful."

Congregations that do this chase unrighteous mammon and serve a counterfeit god. God has never told anyone, "You need more money," or "Your church needs more money. And when you have it, then you can do all I've called you to do." He has never made money a condition of success or a sign of holiness. Money is one of the tools He provides to carry out His work, but His work can be achieved without money by those whose hearts are open to serving Him.

Why teach stewardship and generosity? It's biblical. If, as a pastor, I'm charged to teach the full wisdom of God, I want to get it right. There are 2,300 Scriptures on money. Seventeen of the 38 parables Jesus taught are on money.

A lot of Christians are shocked to learn there is so much about money in the Bible. It's shocking to many non-Christians as well.

When we teach on money, we need to first go through the exercise with our leadership team. They need to be prepared and understand God's plan in this area.

Now that everyone has pretty much adapted to the new normal, even though the economy is still not great, the questions and attitude are different. The atmosphere in churches is changing. The realization is dawning that stewardship and generosity could really change lives.

There are seven things we want to see in the people of Gateway Church at all levels of the stewardship ministry:

  • We want them to have Christ-centered financial views. We want them to wear the Biblical principles of stewardship like a contact lens so they see everything through it.
  • We want them to be generous in their tithes and offerings. We unapologetically teach on giving because we know what it's going to do in their lives. Money given to Gateway will result in souls in the kingdom.
  • We want our people to experience margin, to live in such a way they have money left over at the end of each pay period.
  • We want everyone to be debt-free. We teach and counsel them in how to develop a plan to get there. Being out of debt creates margin and gives emotional and psychological, as well as financial, freedom.
  • We want them to be savers. The Bible says we're fools if we don't save. We don't want a bunch of fools around our church. We teach the principles of saving for the short-, medium- and long-term. We want them to save because we have fun when we're seeing margin increase.
  • We want them to live on a spending plan, assigning every dollar a task.
  • Finally, we want them to be life stewards, operating in their strengths.

At Gateway, we believe everyone is a life steward. God has given them talents. My job as the stewardship pastor is to help them identify these gifts and then plant them in the areas they're good at, to get them in the right place.

God's Managers

Another reason to teach this: Stewardship is not something we do; it is who we are. God created us to be stewards. In Genesis 1:1, we see the principle of God owning everything: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." He's the Creator/Owner. About 25 verses later, we find that He created us to be stewards:

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock, and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (Gen. 1:26).

Paul gives a nice summary of why we should teach generosity and stewardship. In these verses, he gives insight into what to teach the people about money:

1 Timothy 6:17-19

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

We want people at Gateway Church to use this passage as a model for their lives.

God Will Hold Us Accountable

This is a final reason to teach this. At the end of time, we, as pastors and church leaders, will be held accountable. I don't say this to scare you, but to remind you. When we have a deadline, we tend to work more diligently towards it:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

Getting It Done

Let me share with you how we get this done at Gateway Church. We're not simply building a curriculum; we're building a structure for this ministry that curriculum flows in and out of.

I've been asked: "Are you a Dave Ramsey church, Compass church or a Crown Ministry church?" We are a Jesus church. Crown Ministry, Compass and Dave Ramsey have great materials that we use and have greatly benefited from them. I love the leaders in all those organizations, but we are called to teach the whole counsel of God, not just specific curriculum.

At Gateway, we divided the congregation into four groups. We use these terms to make sure we're offering something for everyone. Building a culture of stewardship and generosity in your church requires you to touch all four of these groups within your own congregation.

The first group is those who are Struggling. These families are not making ends meet. At times, we've received eleven hundred phone calls per month from people who are hurting financially.

The second group is made up of those who are Stable. They have regular income but many times are one missed paycheck away from disaster.

Group three is those who are Solid. They are doing well financially. They're not wealthy, but they are managing their finances. The Stable and Solid groups make up 70 percent of most churches.

The Surplussed make up the fourth group. These families and individuals have wealth and a high capacity to build more. They need to be ministered to differently—and not to get anything from them.

The Struggling

The key to ministering to this group is relationship. We don't want our stewardship ministry to be seen only as the ministry people go to when they're hurting. When we give benevolence, we try to determine if they are looking to have immediate needs met or if they are looking for a life change. If they want life change, we will use our resources to help them walk through it. If they are one of those families who seem to be in perpetual need, we will work with them to get them on the path to life change.

The Stable and the Solid

It's sometimes hard to differentiate the Stable from the Solid, so much of what we offer is available to both groups. This includes generational classes that meet the specific life season of the group. We use my Route 7 class, Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and our versions of the Financial Hope Workshops. My friend, Dave Briggs, at Central Christian East Valley Church in Phoenix, originally created the Financial Hope Workshop.

The Surplussed

Those who have wealth are frequently the least pastored group in the church. At Gateway, we take these men and women on a Journey of Generosity with Generous Living. Check out the website generousliving.org for more details. This journey provides deep confirmation of what God is doing in their hearts. Or it provides a revelation of what God wants to do in their lives.

Getting Started in Your Church

Just starting a stewardship curriculum alone will not create permanent change in the culture of your church. As church leaders, you build the culture. There are four important elements to implementing stewardship as a culture in your church.
First and most important, you need to get the passion and support of the senior pastor behind you. He has to seriously buy into the concept.

Second, teach and train the staff. Get them behind you.

Third, identify and build your stewardship leader team. The staff will help you recruit this team. They know the key people.

Fourth, figure out your demographics according to whom in your church is Struggling, Stable, Solid and Surplussed. The church staff and leadership teams can help refine this.

These ideas should be enough to get you started.  

Gunnar Johnson is the executive pastor of financial stewardship at Gateway Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the author of Generous Life Journey, from which this article was excerpted.

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