A pastor's struggle

A pastor's struggle toward preaching stewardship principles

When pastors talk about the need for personal financial faithfulness, what are church members thinking? This story sheds light on that question.

Bob Haslam is a retired pastor and editor who lives in Hermitage, Tennessee, United States.

Sam Shuster* sat in his church office, pondering aloud one of his most distressing failings. It wasn’t exactly a prayer, but a realization that he had neglected one of the major themes of the Bible in his ministry: stewardship.

Sam had an idea. A retired minister in his congregation, Will Duffey, had a lot of wisdom from years of experience that he, no doubt, would be willing to share. Sam invited Will to be his guest at lunch the next day.

Sam began, “Right now I’m disappointed with myself. I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve brought a message on giving as a stewardship principle. But I’m reluctant to preach on that subject since people may think I have selfish motives.

Will grinned as he looked Sam in the eye. “In the past, I, too, have thought that. A wise church member once asked me why I avoided preaching on giving. When I told him, he laughed. ‘You’re wrong about the way we lay people think.

We want to know what the Bible teaches on all matters of faith and practice. One reason we have financial problems in our church is that members are not willing to give up to their potential because they haven’t been taught.’ ” Hmm. I’m sure he was right, Sam thought. Then he questioned Will, “But how do I know that’s the case in our church?” “Find out. I suggest you ask several church members how they would feel about you preaching on the biblical truths about giving. See if they think you’d be doing it for the wrong reasons.” “But whom should I ask?” “Ask someone from the finance committee and ask the opinion of several individuals who do not have leadership positions. This might help you determine how receptive people are or are not to this subject.” Sam began with Tom, chairman of the finance committee. “I thought you’d never ask,” said Tom.

“We need biblical instruction on the stewardship of giving, but I’ve been reluctant to mention it. I felt it was inappropriate for me to suggest what you preach about.” “But will people think I’m trying to get more money for myself?” asked Sam.

“A few may think that,” agreed Tom, “but without good reason.

When you preached on the gifts of the Spirit and spoke about the gift of hospitality, we didn’t conclude that you were hinting for us to have you over for dinner. Why should we think that about giving?” Sam was surprised at Tom’s insights. “What do others sitting in the pews think about this?” “You know Don and Wilma Akens,” responded Tom. “They’ve been coming to church for about a year and a half. Why don’t you ask them?” Sam called Don to ask if he could come to their home for a visit. The next evening as Sam talked with Don and Wilma, he began by telling them how much he enjoyed having them in his congregation. Then, reluctantly, he said, “Folks, it’s been a long time since I’ve preached about biblical teachings on giving. How do you feel about hearing that from the pulpit?” They looked at each other and smiled. “We’ve been wondering about this ourselves,” said Wilma.

“We’ve only been Christians for three years and don’t know much about our responsibility to God and the church. We would welcome that.” Sam had married Jim and Carla a few months before. Now the pastor realized he had failed to mention stewardship to them during marriage counseling. He made an appointment.

Jim began the conversation.

“We’ve wished we could talk to you some more now that we’ve been married a few months.” For the next half hour, the couple asked questions of their pastor, and he responded to the best of his ability. Then Jim spoke up. “Pastor, as you know, both Carla and I have jobs, and we’ve been wondering what kind of expectations the church has of us in terms of what we give in the offering plate.” “I’ve let you two down,” Sam said, “along with our entire congregation.

I’ve not been faithful to present what the Bible teaches about the stewardship of giving. I promise you that within a few weeks I’m going to respond to the needs of our congregation and convey the truths of the Scriptures about this topic.” Following these conversations, Sam had lunch again with Will Duffey, the retired pastor, to report on his visits. Pastor Duffey was not surprised at what the laypeople had said. “Sam, don’t forget that stewardship includes talking about more than money. It’s about using our time, energy, abilities, friendship—in fact, all of our resources to the glory of God. I suggest that you preach a sermon series on various aspects of stewardship to get your members thinking about their responsibilities to God. End your series with a message on giving. By then people will be ready for that stewardship principle.” The following Tuesday, the two men met in Sam’s study and planned the series of sermons. Sam suggested that the introductory sermon emphasize every member’s responsibility to God, followed by a specific emphasis in each of the sermons.

“Great idea, Sam!” “And,” continued Sam, “I’ve been thinking of using titles in the form of questions to be answered.

My first title would be, What Is My Responsibility to God?” “I like it, Sam,” agreed Will.

“You can emphasize the overarching principle that in our lives we are accountable to God. Use as much Scripture as you can to show that the truths presented in these sermons are God’s ideas, not yours.” “Now that we have an introductory sermon idea, where do we go from here?” asked Sam.

“Why don’t we begin at the beginning?” suggested Will. “In the early chapters of Genesis, God made mankind responsible for all of His creation.

This sermon would concentrate on our accountability to God for the welfare or quality of everything God created on the earth. You can suggest ways in which, we as God’s people, may make positive contributions to fostering a healthy creation.” “What title question can we use for this sermon?” queried the pastor.

“What do you think of, What Is My Responsibility to God for the World He Created?” “I like that one. Will,” Sam continued, “I hesitate to even bring to the pulpit the stewardship of our bodies that the Bible refers to as temples of the Holy Spirit. Is that preaching too personally?” Will explained that the apostle Paul had made some significant statements about our bodies. He recited some recent medical developments showing that people need to be more careful about what they eat and drink and getting adequate exercise. “Combining biblical principles with the practical should inspire the listeners,” said Will. “And, talking to a doctor, a physical trainer, and a nutritionist would help create sensible guidelines for proper stewardship of our bodies. You could have as a title for this sermon, What Is My Responsibility to God for My Health?” “Good. Now let’s talk about the next sermon,” said Sam.

“I think a twofold emphasis on stewardship of our time and our abilities,” advised Will, “and giving a portion of our time and energy to serve God by serving others should follow. You could quote verses on the subject of being a servant, plus examples of ways to serve the needs of others. This would be a powerful sermon causing people to ponder, ‘What can I do to help someone?’ ” Right away, Sam had an idea for a title: What Is My Responsibility to God to Serve Others With My Time and Abilities? “Now, are we ready for the last one?” asked Sam. “It could read something like this, ‘What Is My Responsibility to God for My Use of Money?’ By the time I get to this final sermon, I won’t feel at all apologetic for preaching on the stewardship of giving. I’ll deal with biblical principles of both giving to God and His work, as well as using all our financial resources in ways that honor God.” “Yes, Sam. You can begin with Old Testament teaching on tithing and move into the New Testament.

Paul’s teachings on giving create positive and inspiring responses.

Huge numbers of church-going people don’t realize that the biblical word tithe means ten percent.

Beyond this, Paul deals with attitudes when we give. He wrote about giving ‘not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ ” [2 Cor. 9:7, NIV].

Soon after these conversations with Will, Sam stepped to the pulpit, opened his Bible, and began by making a startling confession. “I want to apologize to you for having let you down in an area of biblical truth that I’ve been avoiding. I thought wrongly that if I preached about Christian stewardship, including a Christian’s role in giving to God and His work, you would think I had wrong motives.

But I’ve talked to several of you, and every one I’ve spoken with has expressed a desire to know more about what the Bible teaches.

“This morning I’m beginning a series of five messages that will be straight from the Scriptures. My introductory sermon is titled, What Is My Responsibility to God? In the following four sermons, I’ll focus upon four specific areas, giving you biblical principles upon which you may base your living and giving to God and His work.” Three weeks following the close of the sermon series, the treasurer reported to Sam that giving had increased.

The pastoral staff called a congregational meeting where people were invited to share their dreams for the church’s expanding outreach.

The theme of their dreams was they wanted to see their church do as much as possible to be a Great Commission church. And they saw their increased giving as a way to make those dreams possible.

A new day had dawned at the Shepherd Hills church. Dreams and plans were born that evening as the congregation, mobilized with a new vision, was ready to reach out from their doorstep to the ends of the earth.

*All names are pseudonyms.

 

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Bob Haslam is a retired pastor and editor who lives in Hermitage, Tennessee, United States.

July 2009

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