n the quinquennium just ending, we’ve promoted stewardship as a total response of the believer to God, which includes financial stewardship (the returning of the Lord’s tithe and the giving of freewill offerings). This wholistic emphasis is necessary in putting the focus back on God as Creator, Owner, Sustainer, Savior, and Lord. Additionally, the motivation for doing stewardship is about helping people experience Jesus in their hearts (value transformation), and not simply about increasing the financial resources of the church. This paradigm shift is consistent with the mission of the church to make disciples of all peoples, and complements the General Conference initiative of “Tell the World,” of which the Stewardship Ministries is a partner and participant.
A significant achievement within this quinquennium is the fact that we conducted advisories in all of the 13 world divisions, something that was not possible in the past. This success was due in part to the willingness of divisions to work together with us to bring about a greater and better understanding of Christian stewardship to our people around the world. This recognition of the importance of conducting advisories meant that stewardship personnel at divisions, unions, and local conferences were properly oriented and trained in this important ministry of the denomination; and it allowed the church to move together in one direction, living out the lordship of Jesus Christ daily.
Advisory Campina, Brazil
Stewardship education is a key strategy of the department, and one that is ongoing, given the high number of new members joining the church yearly, and the need to keep on growing disciples. This emphasis is provided on a regular basis through varied training programs (summits, congresses, pastors’ conferences, union and conference training weekends, Sabbath seminars), as well as other activities. In Vietnam in 2008 the department conducted the first training seminar by any General Conference ministry for church workers since 1992, when a former GC president visited that country. Also in 2008, the department was able to provide stewardship training for leaders of a very young and growing church in Mongolia for the very first time.
Stewardship education works better when complemented by relevant and practical resources; and an emphasis on resource development has been a major contribution of the department. During the quinquennium we produced and distributed a number of significant resources (books, brochures, bookmarks, articles, sermons, DVDs, PowerPoint presentations, etc.), and also facilitated the distribution of other materials developed by divisions. Some of the resources we produced included the Gifts of God (DVD pack)—a communication tool helping members understand the way financial resources are utilized for mission at the General Conference; a stewardship devotional,
7 Week Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life, widely used and appreciated by church members; and the recently released Bible study guides, “Steps to Discipleship.”
Branding the Lord's cattle
In spite of the impact of the credit crunch and the financial crisis that affected the world economies in 2008 and 2009, we have witnessed across the globe the faithfulness of God’s people in giving. The church in Zimbabwe is one example of this kind of faithfulness, and we praise God for this level of commitment and sacrifice seen everywhere. This is a positive sign of spiritual maturity, and evidence that stewardship education is working. And while tithe returns and offerings are not our ultimate goal, these are important aspects of stewardship and measurable indicators of a matured and growing church.
Beyond the returning of tithe and the giving of monetary offerings, we have also witnessed in many world divisions—particularly in Asia and Africa—a growing trend in which members are expressing their worship and financial stewardship in kind. This practice of giving in other forms in subsistence farming and agricultural areas of the world helps individuals live out their faithfulness to God in their particular cultural contexts. In the Botswana Union (of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division), for example, the church has benefited much from tithe returned in cattle, goats, and other animals.
Though we are pleased with what has been achieved globally through the blessings of God in the past five-year period, we also want to highlight a couple of challenges that we have faced. First, we continue to be challenged by the high turnover of stewardship leaders at division, union, and conference levels. Of the 13 world divisions, we’ve had three divisions change directors during this period, and one of these three divisions has had three changes of leadership since the beginning of the quinquennium. Leadership discontinuity at any level tends to have a detrimental impact on the quality of programming and stewardship education. On the other hand, we have seen very good results in divisions where a director stays on for a full term or two. The second challenge that we’ve tried to address and one that requires a coordinated effort between Stewardship, the Ministerial Association, Education, and our institutions of theological training is the matter of a stewardship curriculum for our pastors in training. At present, many of our ministers enter the field with minimal or no understanding of Christian stewardship; and we think this is a weakness in our training system.
Into the Future
Based on current levels of growth both in terms of new disciples and financial giving, the future of stewardship is good. However, the church and the department have a lot of work to do, because stewardship is an on-going spiritual process, and we need to be intentional with it. Stewardship should be everybody’s concern (pastors and members alike). It should be regarded as a way of life (living the lordship of Christ), and it has everything to do with mission (making disciples for Jesus). But we also believe that the corporate church will be much richer (in all things) when we understand that stewardship is a total response of the heart to God.
This article was published June 24, 2010.