Financial stewardship matters

I didn’t learn to be a tither when I was growing up; my wife taught me that after she was my wife. In fact, most aspects of discipleship came to me from Tammi or from my professors and peers at Criswell College during my early 20s. The church that licensed me never asked about money and neither did the one that ordained me, though my ordination council was very thorough by today’s standards. I served on staff for several churches and none of them asked me about my giving habits that I remember. I only now consider that puzzling. It would be easy to get the idea that this aspect of following Christ is not very important, or is too private to speak of. 

Five of the churches I’ve been a member of, including the one that baptized me when I was 10, have closed their doors. Money was a big factor, one of the two most obvious factors, in these transitions. But we all know that giving and attendance are usually symptoms of some other malady. Frankly, most of those churches didn’t teach my generation to give because they just assumed we would intuit that the Bible teaches stewardship. Nope. Even my former churches that are still moving along struggle with very low participation in service and giving. 

I started thinking about this when I saw a newsletter from an old friend who consults with churches on capital campaigns. He was noting a Barna study that showed the different attitude toward giving that people under 40 demonstrate. This Millennial generation gives spontaneously, based on sentiment, I’m told. His point was that we are going to see a rapid drop off in giving over the next few years. In response to that, some ministries and churches encourage giving by text or even an app that allows them to capture the moment of inspiration the young person might be feeling. One app, called Millie, features a few causes at a time and enables a person to give to causes formerly unknown. The few rotate so that the spontaneous giver has other options when the app is opened next time. I don’t gainsay efforts to get ahead of trends, and I don’t deny that generations have different tendencies, but I do disagree with the attitude that a trend is fate. We are not marketers chasing the cultural curve; we are prophets, teachers, disciplers and preachers of revealed truth. There is an important “ought to” in this discussion rather than just an “is.” My Baby Boomer generation did not neglect giving or other expressions of commitment and devotion because we are anti-establishment; we turned away from these things because our role models didn’t seem to value them. Consider some “oughts” about Christian financial stewardship. 

Leaders ought to know what God says about money. My friend Bart McDonald recently reminded me that Malachi 3:10 (“tithe into the storehouse…”) and 2 Corinthians 9:7 (“…cheerful giver”) don’t exhaust what the Bible says about money, greed, treasure, gratitude and faith. I’ve heard a theology of evangelism preached in church as well as theologies of marriage, childrearing, rock music and television—but no theology of giving except during a capital campaign or budget slump. We should study it more diligently. 

Leaders ought to give generously to their church. I would say tithe at least, but I’m not going to argue with you about that number. That means deacons, teachers, music leaders and pastors should model what they teach and what they believe should happen. Tammi and I raised three Millennials who are not sentimental, occasional church members. They have decided to do generally what they heard us teach and saw us do. Church members will give if their leaders show giving to be important to them. The fact that a church will not consider a deacon or pastor who doesn’t come to church but commonly elevates men to these roles without asking them about other spiritual disciplines is a clear message to those who watch them lead.

Preach it brothers! If God says it and you believe it, say so. I’ve known evangelistic pastors who never taught their churches to witness, teetotaler pastors who never said what they believed to be the best way to handle beverage alcohol and prayer warriors who never challenged the church to join them. What do you think happened? 

Follow up. If I stop coming to church, somebody will eventually call or stop by to ask how we’re doing. If I stop showing up to teach my class, I’ll get an even quicker response. If I stop giving, who notices? Who has the nerve to ask me what is happening between me and God that causes me to neglect this aspect of devotion? Again, if it’s important people will know it’s important, and we as church leaders will expend ourselves to say so. 

There are books, experts, study guides and even not-for-profit ministries available to help churches design and implement a plan, just like there are for evangelism. My point is not to tell anyone what to do but to say that most churches should probably be more interested in this subject than is apparent to their members. Inaction has spiritual consequences that outlive the organizational ones that usually get our attention.  

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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