Orville Ortiz, Associate Treasurer, Texas Conference, Alvarado, Texas
Summary: That churches incorporate teaching people about stewardship in all aspects, and that they take a special interest in the area of money and possessions.
In the New King James version of the Bible, the beginning of Hosea 4:6 reads, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” This Bible text struck me around 2007, the beginning of the financial meltdown, during my personal search for what God had to say in His word about the subject of money and possessions.
Within the Adventist church, the concept of stewardship has always been understood in the context of time, resources and talents, as gifts from God (Matthew 25:14-30) because He is the Creator and Owner of all. As a result of understanding God’s place, as our Creator and Redeemer, we present ourselves a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), which means we will live a life for God in gratitude for His mercies, kindness, and grace in saving us from our sins. We normally express these thoughts through prayer, church attendance, and witnessing about our Christian experience.
As someone who was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church, and as current elder at my home church; as I read Hosea 4:6 and searched what the Bible says about the subject of money and possessions, two realizations came to mind. First, church members do agree with the concept of dedicating our lives to God through the use of our time, talent, and resources; but when it comes to money and possessions we have narrowed God’s ownership to tithe and offerings. Second, because we have narrowed His ownership to tithe and offerings, the other 90% has not been considered as part of that which God owns, and redeemed as His through our conversion experience.
As an elder of the church, this signaled to me the necessity of providing our church members with knowledge (2 Timothy 3:16) of what the Bible says about handling money and possessions. If people have no knowledge of what God says about handling money and possessions, the void will be rapidly filled with instruction from the surrounding culture.
Knowledge of God’s economy
The pervasive consumerist culture, which was forced to slow down because of the present reality of our economy, suggested to people that acquiring more was important, and if one cannot afford it, debt was the solution to acquire what we could not afford. I discovered when hosting a Crown Financial Ministries class in our church, that people did not realize they were adopting the worldly standards, which diminished their capacity to give. The resources in their possession were occupied in acquiring more. Not only were their resources occupied in acquiring more, but their unearned future resources were committed to this cause, leaving little opportunity to look for reasons to give. This vicious cycle, has hurt the biblical model of churches, because the members do not have the capacity to be consistent givers. Money and possessions are tied up, and in some cases, people have not slowed down to even be able to think about it.
Now as a church, in order to continue the mission of spreading the gospel to the entire world, we must come to their rescue, and free them from the world’s models, and bring them to the knowledge of the biblical model, towards what Crown Financial Ministries calls God’s economy.
When I hosted the Crown Financial Ministries small group class in our church, it was amazing to see the impact knowledge made in the lives of those attending. In the first meeting, we talked about financial goals, and I remember one of the members mentioned they wanted to upgrade the size of their house, but by the time we met to discuss the fourth lesson the member said, “remember my goal of wanting to upgrade the house, that has changed, I will stay in my current home so that I do not increase my debt load, and can continue to give to God’s cause, the house I have is sufficient for my needs.” By this time in the class we had discussed God’s role as Owner, Creator, and Provider, our role as stewards or managers, and the subject of debt from a biblical perspective. All it took was knowledge, for a person to begin to understand why God gives us resources in the form of money and possessions, and how they are a tool to continue to advance God’s work, as well as provide for our needs.
It is evident that lack of knowledge is what destroys people’s lives, it puts us in a position where there is no margin because our culture tells us that our riches here on earth is what provides our comfort. Jesus warned not to build riches on earth (Matthew 6:19-20) because this can become a stumbling block for the mission of the church and a stumbling block to our spiritual connection with Christ. Instead he asked us to build riches in heaven. When one asks how do we build treasures in heaven the answer comes (Matthew 19:16-21), go sell all that you have and give it to the poor. There are the materially poor and the spiritually poor, and God has called us to take care of both.
Lack of faith may place us in a similar position. God promises he will supply all of our needs repeatedly throughout the Bible, (Psalm 136:25; 145:15-16) and gave us examples of how he can do that (Deuteronomy 2:7, Matthew 14:15-21) yet somehow our faith is weak, but I believe it is weaker when we lack knowledge that God has made available to us.
It is important to note, that giving faithfully is more important than the amount, demonstrated by the parable of the talents registered in Matthew 25:14-30, and in the story of the widow in Mark 12:42-43. God is asking for faithfulness, and the questions to ask are, how do I become faithful? In what do I need to be faithful? These questions can only be answered by presenting to the members the beautiful knowledge that God left in His word, particularly to prevent the destruction of people, not only in their spiritual walk, but also in practical matters of life.
The role of experience
We can provide all of this instruction to our members in a variety of ways and there are many tools available that help teach. Before teaching can be done, however, the people teaching must have experienced the teachings in their lives, this will allow the teacher’s faith and faithfulness to increase. The practical application of the Word becomes a powerful tool when teaching others. Otherwise, people will see it as an insincere approach to simply raise more money, rather than the radical change from our ways to God’s ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). It will be essential to have a number of teachers available that have studied the subject and have begun experiencing the changes, to achieve the greatest benefit for the church.
What methods can be used to effectively give people knowledge? I would suggest that a sermon series of three or four Sabbaths can be used to declare the importance of biblical financial principles, this will show the impact this subject has upon the church in matters of faith and in practical matters. The sermon series can be combined with studying the subject as a church for those three or four weeks either after the service, or even during Sabbath school period. I realize that this may change the format of the service for a few weeks, but considering the impact this can have on the lives of church members and the mission of the church, it could be a welcome disruption to the normal services.
As a follow-up, a small group Bible study for those that may want to search deeper into this subject will be essential, and fortunately there is plenty of materials available for this. You will discover that it will be during the personal study time, whether is Sabbath school, or after church, and during the small group study, the greater impact will be felt. Individuals will be faced with God’s word on a subject that many are scared to approach, yet very necessary to receive God’s wisdom. Once people have received the instruction, they will make decisions. It is very powerful to witness the changed lives and the answered prayers, as people deal with decisions from the past that are affecting them today.
Faith and faithfulness
I witnessed a married couple in our group that began to pray for ways to get out of debt that was oppressing the family, and before they knew it, they began to receive calls from people that were interested in buying the very same things that held them in financial bondage. If we make teaching this information part of our ongoing ministries, and make it a matter of prayer, I truly believe we will see faith and faithfulness increase in the members, as they see God providing for their needs as they provide for the material and spiritual needs of others.
Tools available that I have used are Crown Financial Ministries, a biblical based study on financial principles, and now the series produced by the Seventh-day Adventist church called Faith and Finance available in English and Spanish, which are well priced for people looking for instruction or for a church beginning this ministry.
I hope that churches incorporate teaching people about stewardship in all aspects, and that they take a special interest in the area of money and possessions, so that people’s lives can be restored to order, and they can continue to contribute not only with their time and talents, but also with the money and possessions God has placed in their care to continue to advance the Gospel.