Some months ago, few had ever heard of coronaviruses, much less thought that one particularly virulent variety would upend whole institutions and societies. Yet, that is what is happening in the wake of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Travel has come almost to a standstill. Several nation states have been locked down. Iconic public gatherings and events have been canceled or postponed indefinitely, including sporting events, music festivals, and conventions. Churches in particularly hard-hit areas have halted services and other church events. Some Adventist organizations are encouraging employees to work from home. As stewardship educators, how should we respond to this crisis?
Comforting God’s People
Recently, my sister-in-law, a non-Christian, asked if Covid-19 is the result of God’s anger. The answer may not be an easy one, but God is certainly the solution to both the virus and the fear of the virus. This is the message of comfort that God has entrusted to us for this time.
Currently, many people are confronted with fears related to basic needs, personal value, and the unknown. Many are asking legitimate questions about contamination, treatment, vaccines, food, and the future. Interestingly, a large portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:24-34, addresses similar fears present among the audience of Jesus. Without denying or minimizing the reality of these fears, Jesus points to the ultimate solution: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33, NIV).
When we choose to place God first, we have the Provider of all on our side; the One who sent manna from heaven, who made water to flow out of the rock, and healed those who were stricken by the venomous snakes. When God is first, individuals start perceiving themselves as sons and daughters of the King of kings, persons of great value. We are not insignificant figures; we count. When God, the One who knows everything, is first, the unknown loses its stressful power. Even more, He has the power over life circumstances, even over sickness and death. The God First message of Stewardship Ministries is a powerful antidote to the prevailing fears.
Pleading for Uninterrupted Faithfulness
This crisis offers an opportunity to expand members’ perceptions of giving. Many believers have cultivated the good habit of bringing their tithes and offerings when they attend the church service. This practice arises from two good principles: the storehouse principle, and the idea that one should never go to church empty-handed. But what if church is not open that day, or you cannot attend for an extended period of time—because of COVID-19 or any other reason? Should worship and partnership through giving go into retirement?
It is appropriate to remind everyone that the first recorded instance of tithing (Gen. 14:20) was not part of a religious ceremony or service at all, and that Paul actually set aside the first day of the week as the time for giving to the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 16:2). After all, to return tithe and to give offerings is not something we owe to the church itself; rather, it’s a loving response to God. Faithfulness can only strengthen our confidence in the Owner and Provider of everything.
In time of social distancing and church closure, the church needs to explore alternative means for members to return tithe and give offerings. These means might vary from place to place, depending on such factors as access to financial institutions and familiarity with and/or access to technology. Some believers already have easy access to a giving app. In other places, members will be familiar with direct transfers between bank accounts. Or they can simply send a check through the mail. The important thing is that we promote giving as an answer to God’s giving, every time He gives, and not as one specific event requiring our presence at a particular time and place.
While we encourage social distancing, let us not be stingy in giving comfort. We can be the loudspeakers through which these words resonate: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4, NIV). Seek wisdom, and continue to lead God’s people in uninterrupted worship and partnership.