By John and Sylvia Ronsvalle
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Reviewed by Ed Reid, Director, North American Stewardship
At first glance this book did not appear relevant because it began stating it was a report of the Stewardship Project that was based on interviews with church members and leaders of 15 denominations over a seven-year period (1988-1995). Since my denomination was not part of the study I initially questioned the value of the book to me as a stewardship leader. I was happily surprised, however, at how the project uncovered material that was both relevant and insightful. The book first lists the changes in society, culture, and economics that affect the church. Some of them are:
The church is turning more inward, more local, with less of a national or international focus. Money is a measure of devotion. The way we spend indicates something about us, sort of like a spiritual thermometer. In a consumer society, such as the United States, it may be the most intentional measurement available.
Church members have changed from stewards into consumers. People do not feel that they are returning a portion of their incomes to God. Rather, they feel they are paying for services rendered by the church. If their needs aren’t met, they will just go somewhere else (p.31).
Many pastors feel that in order to grow they must meet the ?felt needs? of the people in the community. Entertaining persons into the church is a far cry from challenging persons to faithful discipleship.
Many pastors are afraid to mention money in church. One pastor said, I’m a pastor. I want people to like me. If I mention money, they’re going to get angry and leave. They’ll go someplace else (p. 59).
Pastors have a misimpression that funds that go out of the congregation take money out of their own baskets. Pastors tend to think that if they push missions too hard, it will hurt the local operations. Studies tend to show the opposite (p. 97). Pastors should know better but they see missions as competing with local budget needs.
Frequently church officials honor donors who make large contributions to missions. However, pastors, who are charged with keeping the concept of missions before the congregation are rarely, if ever, given a front line experience.
Stewardship faithfulness falls off when members lose a knowledge of their history as a church. Many local church finance committees are concerned with the bottom line of paying the bills
and therefore missions get only what the budget will allow. Many mission decisions are made by merely looking at the numbers in the budget with no allowance for faith, vision, or mission. People are not compelled to give—they’re making a financial decision,
not having a mission experience.
Crisis fund-raising educates people to think that their money is their own until it is wrung out of them by some appealing need. Many members therefore think that they are not giving back to the Lord in response to His tremendous spiritual and physical blessings.
They think they are funding the services of the church.
There’s a definite prejudice in the local church against talking about money as a spiritual concept, about its discipleship aspects, its lifestyle implications, and church members’ own giving patterns. It was noted that finance committee meetings could last for three hours or more of talk about balancing the budget and yet entirely avoid the topic of whether church members are authentically responding to God’s grace in their lives through their giving patterns. (p. 128)
The book concludes that the role of the minister is the key to the stewardship crisis. ?The role of leader becomes moot if a minister is not guiding church members on a journey that involves either making a major impact in the present world and/or securing personal safety in the next? (p. 63).
The last half of the book is devoted to possible solutions in chapters about seminary training, giving and lifestyle, coming to terms with money, and the need for pastoral counseling. The ideas presented are very positive and appropriate. This book can make a difference in the attitudes of pastors and members regarding financial stewardship. I would highly recommend reading this book. It will be an eye-opener for pastors, finance committee members, and stewardship leaders.