By Dr. Robert S. Hallett
Many pastors have told me in different ways – “Thank you for opening the door for me to preach on stewardship in my own church.”
Money and stewardship are perhaps the most ignored, misunderstood, resisted, misused, and emotionally packed of all the topics that are on the preaching schedule of most pastors. There are many reasons for this, but it all seems to boil down to not understanding the place that money and stewardship have in developing disciples.
Pastors are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to the Biblical teachings on stewardship because it is seldom taught in seminaries and other ministerial training courses as being integral to discipleship. Often there are courses on budgeting for both the pastor and the church, but it seldom goes to the extent of digging out the Scriptural nuggets of truth that can have a major impact upon the lives of their church people, especially their new disciples.
When pastors preach on money because the church needs it, it is selling the gospel message far short of what God intended for it. Asking people to give without first connecting it with their discipleship leaves the disciple with the impression that their money and possessions belong to themselves, and not to God. That leaves people considering what they can spare to give instead of asking God what he wants them to give. It is a matter of control, and ownership brings with it the right to control what belongs to the owner. Conversely, it takes away the right of control when stewards realize that they do not own anything, that it all belongs to God.
Without this basic understanding of the role of stewardship as relates to discipleship will leave the disciples with a poor and misguided understanding of their role as stewards and disciples. That inadequate perception will leave the disciples as spiritual orphans because it robs them of that vital connection with the heart of God. And it will leave them with information about discipleship without taking into account the vital relationship between God and the disciple that makes them a disciple and not just a follower of Jesus.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 identifies three primary responsibilities to fulfill the ongoing assignment for the apostles, and us, including: making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus taught. Many pastors are anxious to make disciples and baptize them, but are woefully weak in teaching them the rest of the gospel. This gives rise to the statement that many churches are a mile wide but only an inch deep.
Giving and stewardship are not exactly the same. Stewardship is the big principle, and giving is one expression of it. A good steward will also be a good giver, but a good giver may not be a good steward. Generosity is one expression of stewardship, but it is not the cause of stewardship.
When pastors preach on generosity as primary, people may give more, but that does not resolve their call to stewardship. While generosity is one of the best ways to help people with their me-ism and selfish tendencies, the issues of stewardship go much deeper, and are critical to a disciple’s relationship with our Lord.
Stewardship is the key component of discipleship because a good steward will understand that everything belongs to God, not the disciple, and that the disciple has accepted the assignment of being a good steward of God’s possessions. This is an attitude as well as a way of life. The steward-disciple will invest their energies to bring God the best return and profit with what God has entrusted to the disciple, and then realize that the disciple’s wages will come from God. The disciple does not try to interfere with God’s ownership of all things by withholding them for themselves.
Jesus was the ideal steward, as we glean from Philippians 2:6-8 where we see Him embracing the concepts of “gave up,” “humble,” “slave,” obedience,” and “death.” Jesus lived His life on earth under a specific assignment, not in any competition of wills with the Father. That sense of stewardship is what the disciple is called to do, but that can only happen when the disciple can say with Paul in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Teaching disciples to obey is different than teaching them information. The word obey signifies stewardship, both in attitude and lifestyle. That is what the third part of the Great Commission is all about. Information alone is not enough to develop disciples. Obey in this sense is not a harsh thing. Rather, it reflects a oneness of spirit with God and a willingness to serve Him. It is not a clash of wills where the disciple is forced to obey, but a surrender of the disciple’s identity, ambitions, and goals in order to accomplish the purposes of God.
By not purposefully teaching them to obey willingly, churches are unwittingly leaving their disciples as spiritual orphans with some information, but without the needed attachment to their Lord. That attachment is through their accepting their role as steward of what God has entrusted to them, and not using it primarily for their own benefit.
To preach on money without connecting it with true stewardship and discipleship gives the people a false understanding of what a disciple really is, and sets the stage for a tug-of-war over the request to give. Discipleship was never intended to be a conflict between God and humans over money, but as one way to reveal our true sense of stewardship. And since we are to give regularly, that shows that we regularly accept our role as stewards, not as owners, and that we regularly give God the honor and respect that is due Him. It seems to take regular giving for the disciple to remain true to the concept and commitment to stewardship.
Dr. Robert S. Hallett founded TLC Ministries in 1990 by with one purpose in mind, that of discipleship development, www.tlcministries.com. He recently published his third discipleship book entitled “Discipleship in 40 Nutshells – Leaders Guide.” It is a companion book to his “Discipleship in 40 Nutshells.” For more information, visit www.40Nutshells.com.