Erika F. Puni, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: Suggestions are given as to what pastors can do to grow faithful stewards in their local congregations
It is a fact that most Seventh-day Adventist pastors never had a class or course in stewardship during their ministerial training. At least, this was my experience; yet the church expects pastors to promote and teach the local congregation on principles and practices of Christian stewardship. With this reality as a background, I want to offer some suggestions on what pastors can do to grow faithful stewards in their local congregations.
To help understand my perspective in this article, I want to state two assumptions. First, the goal of Christian stewardship is to help individuals connect and have an experience with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Second, the focus of stewardship education is value transformation.
Preach Biblical Stewardship
Given the role of the pastor as the primary religious educator, and based on my own experience in the local church I am convinced that preaching Christ (His person, His life, His ministry) with a broad focus on the larger themes of stewardship will change people’s hearts, attitudes and behavior. Preaching the Word is powerful because people accept this as the voice of God speaking through the expository presentation of Scriptures. And when Christ is the focus, this moves the center of the universe from self to God; a major paradigm shift for some people and the beginning of a new life and experience with Him. Preach on stewardship at least once a month.
Teach Financial Stewardship
Whereas preaching may cover a broad range of biblical themes and topics (and sometimes without mentioning the word stewardship), teaching financial stewardship has a much narrower focus: tithe and offerings. Teaching financial stewardship is necessary because it provides the pastor or the local stewardship leader the opportunity to address the specifics of returning the Lord’s tithe and the giving of free-will offerings. In addition to teaching biblical principles and practices of financial stewardship in the Bible, this is also the right time to help church members understand the church’s financial system and how it impacts mission both locally and globally. Opportunity must also be given during these sessions for people to ask questions and share testimonies, and quite often these are invaluable times to clarify issues and affirm their faith in God and the church. I suggest scheduling two teaching sessions on financial stewardship per calendar year.
Regular Visitation and Affirmation
I recognize that in some situations and parts of the world, visiting people in their homes or offices may not always be possible but the underlying principle is that connecting with individuals is very important and it can pay big dividends in terms of human relationships and support for the pastor and the church. Being in touch with people whatever the means opens up lines of communication and better understanding while offering the pastor opportunity to thank church members for their faithfulness to God. One way of affirming members in their stewardship is by thanking the congregation or acknowledging certain individuals during the worship time. Something simple, but it can be very effective; and often is better.
Church members are not donors, they are stewards; but they would like to know how their giving is making a difference in the life and ministry of the church. Unfortunately, the church is perceived to be quick in asking and reminding people of their financial obligations but very slow in reporting back to its constituents and members. In the local congregation, there are a number of time slots and tools to disseminate information: the Sabbath bulletin, announcement time between Sabbath School and the worship service, church board and business meetings. By reporting and sharing information freely and frequently, the pastor can create a culture of trust and transparency within the church; biblical values that people are looking for when searching for a church to belong to.
Modeling and Mentoring
Faithfulness as a human behavior is contagious, and it is caught more than taught. Now I understand that faithfulness as seen on the surface/outside is an expression of Jesus’ presence on the inside of us (it is Christ living out His life in me); but I also know that people take more notice of what we do than what we say. In the local church, what the pastor does speaks louder than what he or she may say to the congregation. When the pastor is faithful in the returning of tithe and the giving of offerings, the members will follow suit. When members see that their pastor is a good steward with his health, his leadership, his family, his time, his devotional life, and including the management of his finances they will want to behave like him.
The point I am making is simple, our members will follow us wherever we lead them; and our personal influence can have immediate and long-term effect in the way they live their lives and in their service for God. This is a wonderful opportunity to make a difference by simply living the life of a steward, and God’s grace is sufficient to help us when we are weak and feel inadequate. But whatever the approach you may decide to use to promote and encourage faithfulness in your little corner of the world, what is important is to remember that stewardship is not another program of the church to implement but a way of life; living for Jesus 24/7.