Roberto Herrera, Associate Director, Inter-American Division
Summary: There are a variety of obstacles and challenges that impact church life as well as the implementation and incorporation of stewardship. The author talks about three of these concepts.
The stewardship message is one that affirms the believer’s life as first being impacted by Christ, their new model. It also indicates the importance of understanding how vital the pastor’s role is in bringing about an effective stewardship program in the church.
The local congregation is where the believer obtains all that is necessary for his or her spiritual growth and the pastor is the most influential factor in this organizational system by the nature of his work. This creates the necessity of pastors to comprehend how the church functions and how to care for its members.
There are a variety of obstacles and challenges that impact church life as well as the implementation and incorporation of stewardship in this context. I would like to briefly refer to three of these:
The spiritual condition of the church
The health of the church is the most important part of its spiritual life. The inspired writer tells us, “It is not the opposition of the world that most endangers the church of Christ. It is the evil cherished in the hearts of believers that works their most grievous disaster and most surely retards the progress of God’s cause. There is no surer way of weakening spirituality than by cherishing envy, suspicion, faultfinding, and evil surmising” (Conflict and Courage, p. 357).
There is no doubt that the response to such circumstances is to bring about a spiritual revival in the life of every church member with the help of the Holy Spirit. However, for this to take place one must look to the spirituality of the pastor. “What we need in this time of peril is a converted ministry. We need men who realize their soul poverty, and who will earnestly seek for the endowment of the Holy Spirit” (Pastoral Ministry, p.35).
Every pastor much keep in mind that all who regard him or her are influenced by what they observe in him with consequences that determine their generosity towards God’s work. “There is not a class of people in the world who are most willing to sacrifice of their means to advance the cause than are Seventh-day Adventists. If the ministers do not discourage them by their indolence and inefficiency, and by their lack of spirituality, they will generally respond to any appeal that may be made that commends itself to their judgment and consciences” (Testimonies for the Church, v. 3, p. 49). It is evident that the primary role of the pastor in view of stewardship in the church is to be a model to his members through means of a spiritual leadership and a committed ministry to the Lord.
The problem of fear
Today, sitting in our church pews are many that are imprisoned by fear. This is not new, given that when sin entered this world fear was the first feeling experienced by humans. Satan has employed fear through the course of history to instill doubt about God followed by disobedience to his commandments.
While fear is not a sin, it does pose potential to lead one to sin by means of unbelief and lack of confidence. For many who encounter difficulty with living out stewardship, the underlying cause is fear. They fear suffering if they follow through with God’s principles. They believe that if they return tithe they will lack for their needs. They suppose that if they faithfully observe Sabbath they will lose their employment and will come to ruin. They think that if they give with generosity they will come to scarcity. Therefore, fear leads them down the path of doubt that rationalizes their lack of love and generosity, ending in unfaithfulness to God.
It is necessary that the pastor be aware of this condition in many of his members so that he or she might tend to the needs of this type of person. However, those who possess this kind of fear do not need to be pressured nor accused. Rather, they need to be enabled to have confidence and encouraged to venture to do what they do not desire to carry out.
God’s solution and remedy for fear is called faith. Well acquainted with our condition, God has filled his Word with faithful promises and truths that will assist in trusting and following his plan in spite of fear. Faith is not the absence of fear rather it is confidence in God that surpasses fear. Faith, then, is not about how we feel rather it is about what God can do.
Contrarily, faith is not self-generated nor a result of a program implemented by the church. The Bible declares that God is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). This indicates that if our members are to become faith filled, they will also be needful of a strong, lasting and personal relationship with God.
It is proper to indicate that for stewardship to function well in the church, the pastor should be a leader focused on persons. The most important resource in our churches is people. Our ministers should place as a priority and above all enable its members to grow spiritually and become persons of faith. Before the construction of churches, organizing of clubs or giving marital counsel, the pastor needs to become a specialist in assisting his or her members in their spiritual growth.
Stewardship in the church also requires that pastors provide sustenance of spirit to the church. Every pastor should see himself as a merchant of hope. This vocation we can carry out with optimism as the hope we offer is secured in Jesus Christ. Every person that steps into our church should be looked upon as someone to whose heart we can impart hope and we should grasp every opportunity to speak hope, comfort and assurance to be found in Jesus.
The ministry is for those that are passionate about Jesus and his Church. Pastors ought not to waste their time explaining away the current difficult world conditions. Our ministries should exclusively lift up Jesus speaking of his delights, his plans for humanity, while imparting hope in his faithful promises. There is no need to accuse or condemn members into faithful living. What is needful is to encourage them to rely on the love of God and the righteousness of Jesus.
Our ministers can empower our members to lift their vision from their problems and weaknesses that keep them bound in discouragement and fear to lifting their eyes to Jesus and his promises by encouraging them to experience the joy of remaining faithful in the midst of difficulties.
The problem of ignorance
There are many in our churches that do not know what they believe and do not entirely understand their faith. This reality is one that many pastors do not seem to be aware of and how it impacts the life of their church. There are church members who ignore what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist and are not acquainted with the mission of the church and how such is financed. Many do not comprehend the financial system of the church and this impedes and limits the growth potential of the church.
We have to admit that the problem of ignorance is above all a leadership dilemma within the church. Every member has the right to be educated in the matters that affect their membership and those accountable for this are the leaders of the church. What is worse is that the church cannot experience growth without the means to sustain it.
It needs to be stated that one of the areas most impacted by ignorance in the church body is that of stewardship. This circumstance demands that a pastor strongly direct his attention to educating church members. The church is to function as an integral part of the whole with each of its components that is informed, committed and healthy.
It is not useful at any level to have pastors proclaim the gospel without explaining in who we believe. “Our goal should be to envision every member prepared for the Kingdom” (IAD Mission Statement).
Stewardship in the church functions at its best when its members know who God is, comprehend church doctrine, and understand how the church obtains and spends its money. This sort of environment fosters confidence and trust as a significant element necessary for Christian stewardship.
It needs to be stated that Christian stewardship is more than a program or event, it is an environment. When there is a systematic spiritual revival in the church, when Christ and his delights are exalted creating faith and faithfulness, it becomes a productive environment in the church. This can only be fostered in our ministries when we are committed to educating the church in a pertinent and comprehensive manner.
Gazing broadly and taking all into consideration one can easily recognize the leadership role of the pastor in stewardship. His or her model, enthusiasm, faith and relentless ministry are powerful tools in the hand of God that can become catalysts for an environment of stewardship and all that is good to grow for the glory of God.