A Strategic Plan For Adventist Stewardship Ministries
Interview by Marcos Faiock Bomfim
1. Would you describe the factors that gave direction to the current Strategic Plan for Adventist Stewardship Ministries?
Much prayer, as well as guidance from books such as Ellen G. White’s Counsel on Stewardship and Dr. Robert McIver’s recent research (2016) as presented in Tithing Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists: A Study of Tithe Demographics and Motives in Australia, Brazil, England, Kenya and the United States.1 Many things were learned while visiting nine divisions and 19 countries in 2016 and from the strategic plans within those divisions. The GC Stewardship Ministries team spent many hours deliberating the way forward. We were also blessed to receive counsel from Elders Juan Prestol-Puesan, GC treasurer; Billy Biaggi, our sponsoring GC vice president; and Magdiel Perez, assistant to the GC president, after sharing the draft plan with them. Suggestions came from division Stewardship Ministries directors after a virtual meeting. All these formed the ingredients that brought our strategic plan into existence. It is really the result of a group effort, and a continual work in progress as we grow.
We believe that stewardship, which touches almost all facets of the Christian life, is a concept too broad to be dealt with by just one department.
2. It seems that this Strategic Plan focuses more on the financial side of stewardship than on its broader aspects. Was that intentional?
We believe that stewardship, which touches almost all facets of the Christian life, is a concept too broad to be dealt with by just one department. The Adventist Church has developed many departments that are committed to leading each member to maturity of faith in various aspects of their identity as stewards of God. Historically, the Stewardship Ministries Department has been linked to the financial aspect of stewardship, and to depart from this may lead us to not only lose our identity but also our relevancy within the church’s mission. So, in order to avoid redundancy, we need to choose a main focus that will not be duplicated in other departments.
3. Does that mean that tithe and offerings are the only subjects that will be presented?
Not at all. Our motto is God First, which expresses the desire to lead every church member to develop intimacy with the Lord through personal habits of communion with Him from as soon as they wake up every day. This is the basis of a healthy Christian life. We also promote studying the weekly lessons in the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide as well as the Spirit of Prophecy. We also put God First by keeping the Sabbath, practicing health reform, pursuing Total Member Involvement (TMI) in outreach and maintaining healthy relationships, along with the faithful returning of tithe and giving of offerings—all inside the framework of spiritual growth, or Revival and Reformation. The main reason we do not focus only on people’s “pockets” is that we must be interested in the salvation of the whole person, since our pockets will not go to heaven alone. In keeping with that, according to Dr. McIver’s research, it has become evident that most of those items are part of the same Adventist “spiritual package.” He suggests that the best way to strengthen the habit of tithing, for instance, would be to encourage that whole package, which is likely to lead to a more comprehensive spiritual commitment. He also implies that those who tithe are more likely to make this kind of commitment and remain in the church long-term.2
4. Growing Spiritually, Growing in Nurture, and Growing in Knowledge are the three areas set as goals in this strategic plan. How do these goals relate to good stewardship and to one another?
These three areas work together to improve the church member’s spiritual life. They are the reasons for our existence as a department. We work not to collect money for the church, but to prepare a people to walk with the Lord now, and to meet Him when He comes. Such stewards will be able to fully commit themselves and whatever they have to hasten Jesus’ coming!
Growing Spiritually helps each church member to recognize the necessity of developing the habit of seeking God First before any other activity, every single day, by personal communion and family worship. Without knowing the Lord and His goodness, any effort to obey becomes self-righteousness, which is abhorrent to Him. The goal in this area is to use the “Promise Card” (https://stewardship.adventist.org/commitment-card-promise) to lead at least 25 percent of our members worldwide to make this full commitment to the Lord in this quinquennium.
Growing in Nurture has a lot to do with “Nurture and Retention,” one of the initiatives of the worldwide Adventist Church. We encourage thorough education for new members before their baptism, including instruction on faithful stewardship practices, as God expects,3 followed by a strong program of intentional visitation. Perhaps a shift in the culture of how we measure church growth (from number of baptisms to net growth), would encourage local leaders in some places to invest more in better preparation of candidates, thereby growing a healthier, not merely a larger, church.
Some studies have shown that tithe participation may either be an indicator of spiritual life or, when absent, a predictor of backsliding. Our goal in this area is to grow the percentage of regular tithers by 5 percent within this quinquennium. I would like to stress the point that we are not looking for tithe, but tithers!
Growing in Generosity focuses on regular, systematic benevolence, i.e., repetitive offerings based on a percentage of the income, in addition to tithing. As financial faithfulness should be expressed by both tithe and offerings (see Mal. 3:8), we will be aligned with what God reveals only if we teach that both are tied together under the same system (regular and percentage-based). This means that both must be prompted by the perception of any financial blessing.
The goal in this area is to reach an average of 5 percent of the member’s income as regular and systematic offerings by July 2020. I envision not only the impact this may have on each member, helping to develop trust and a deep relationship with God, but also on the mission of the church, as more resources will become available and we will be able to go farther and faster presenting the gospel!
So, when we establish a goal, we must choose one that is feasible to reach for most of the various regions around the world, giving us small victories that will encourage us as we proceed.tfre
5. The Strategic Plan states that Stewardship Ministries seeks only a 5 percent growth in the number of tithers within this five-year term, as well as a 5 percent increase in the Generosity Factor. Why not aim higher?
There are places in the world where those percentages may be easily surpassed, while in others it will be very difficult to reach them. So, when we establish a goal, we must choose one that is feasible to reach for most of the various regions around the world, giving us small victories that will encourage us as we proceed.
We will see growth in the number of tithers only if, as a church, we are able to provide thorough education in our doctrines and faith-practices before a candidate’s baptism and continued nurture afterwards, supporting continued spiritual growth. To reach this goal, which will reduce the rate of members leaving the church, collaboration by all departments, led by the institution’s administration, is essential.
Regarding the Generosity Factor, as of 2015, 4.16 percent of income was the average percentage worldwide that church members gave as offerings (including all categories of offering in addition to tithe). This is a small growth (0.2 percent) from the year before, and it will require God’s help to reach the 5 percent goal by 2020.
6. What part does the Holy Convocation event play in achieving our goals in this strategic plan?
A Holy Convocation is a one-week Revival and Reformation program that has the blessing of binding together the main initiatives of this strategic plan. During the mornings, all the pastors of a given conference or mission are gathered together for a God First ministerial council, in which they will be encouraged to develop or maintain their personal and familiar communion with God (Growing Spiritually) and be trained in Stewardship Ministries. In the afternoons, all of them are out visiting church members with a specific God First agenda, encouraging real spiritual growth (Growing in Nurture); while in the evenings each pastor will conduct a Revival and Reformation “week of prayer” in different local churches. The week ends with a commitment Sabbath and a call using commitment cards, encouraging spiritual growth for both pastors and members.
In August 2017, for instance, it was my privilege to participate in a Holy Convocation in the city of Blantyre, Malawi, gathering 140 pastors from that union. By the end of the week, by the grace of God, we were able to reach 11,624 persons (in 2,980 homes) with the God First agenda! Don’t you believe that it may be the beginning of the outpouring of the latter rain? I do!
1 Robert K. McIver, Tithing Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists: A Study of Tithe Demographics and Motives in Australia, Brazil, England, Kenya and the United States (Avondale Academic Press, 2nd ed., 2016). 2 Ibid., p. 153. 3 See Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 103-107.