As Stewardship director of the South England Conference, I have reflected on God’s faithfulness to His church during this time of crisis, and I have been convicted, as never before, of the paramount importance of stewardship. As I am writing this article, many uncertainties remain. The United Kingdom government says the lockdown will soon be eased. I hope so, but in my heart, I reflect on Solomon’s words, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” I cannot put my trust in mortal man, because man does not know the future.
Only God knows and holds the future.
Years before this pandemic, online reporting of tithes and offerings had been rolled out in the local churches. Only months before, our conference treasury department had begun to enable church members to return tithes and offerings online. Who could have realized the importance of such facilities in the very near future? Where did our church leaders receive such guidance and wisdom so that God’s blessings, given through His people, could still reach the “storehouse”? Surely that wisdom and inspiration came only from God.
Our conference experienced a 17 percent drop in our tithe income immediately after the first month of the lockdown. However, as the membership learned of the different ways to return their tithe (i.e., online, mobile, and phone giving), the numbers crept back up. Fourteen months later, we are back to pre-lockdown figures. Now we have a 19 percent increase over the same month last year. To God be the glory.
The apostle Paul said, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” I can connect very well to that. Out of the most severe trial, the members’ overflowing joy and faith during times of extreme uncertainty has spawned rich generosity. I can only praise God that He allowed His people to have faith in Him and confidence in His church.
God aligns the desires of His people with His.
Two months before the first case of COVID-19 was revealed to the world, the new officers of our conference held a two-day envisioning session, seeking God’s leading for His church in this territory. These officers adopted “Making Disciples—Building Communities” as the new motto for the conference, in response to the world church’s “I Will Go” initiative.
Pondering how this goal could be incarnated in the local churches, Christ’s words, “for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me,” took on a new reality, as God gave His church more opportunities to witness through this time of the pandemic. Many churches began using their premises as “food banks,” where people from the community who were struggling economically could get food items to provide for their families. Many churches worked to deliver food and supplies to shut-ins and families in need. This helped church members see that ministry that is acceptable to God must extend beyond the walls of the church.
As an end-time church, we are called to reflect the image of Jesus through our lives. Our mission is to reveal God’s will to the world by living out the kingdom of God in our lives. In giving our time and resources to help alleviate the suffering and challenges of others, we showcase the gratitude we have toward God for His blessings. When we reflect on what Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” it enables our church members to see that loving their neighbors and bringing them relief from the devastating effects of the crisis, brings glory to God and is an embodiment of our gospel commission. We foster gratitude that God has blessed them to give amid these calamities. These acts of generosity at this time truly reflect the respondents’ answer to Robert McIver’s study on the motives of tithing; that gratitude is the main motivation for their giving.
Only God gives the increase.
Before the global pandemic, our churches were heavily dependent on the tithe and offerings given when people were physically in church. As our churches closed because of government advice on social distancing, our churches met virtually on Zoom. At first, this arrangement seemed to affect the pattern of giving; but soon it allowed God to be revealed as the Source, Giver, and Provider of all things. It also allowed our church leaders to promote systematic giving and other means of returning their tithe faithfully, by showing video clips provided by the GC Stewardship Department, or by local testimonies. Compared to the way the collection of offerings was rendered when meeting physically (where, usually, someone would just stand up and say, “It’s now time to collect our tithe and offerings” and then pray), there was time to educate our members on the value of regular giving and the destination of tithes and offerings. In the new conditions, giving became less impulsive and more systematic and intentional.
I called several pastors, asking what helped their churches maintain and even increase the pattern of giving through this crisis. One common answer I received was that as soon as the churches closed, they immediately provided the online/Zoom facility to hold their services and maintained connections with the members. One church even revealed that prior to the lockdown, their attendance during prayer meetings was low, and they did not conduct Friday evening services. But since they went online, prayer meeting numbers increased dramatically and they started a Friday Vespers service. This encouraged and nurtured their members even more. Through these virtual meetings, churches have been spending more time praying together, studying the Word together, and testifying of God’s goodness to them. As God warmed their hearts and increased their delight in Him as the true treasure in their heart, members became more generous and truly adopted an eye for the commission they have while waiting for Christ’s soon return. God inspired our church members to support the ministry tremendously, helping church giving to increase. Focusing on worship and taking care of God’s people are the most important things the church can do to sustain stewardship. This helps the members to be thechurch that God calls them to be, even during these trying times.
We cannot go back to pre-pandemic ministry. For effectiveness in our new reality it is vital to recognize the following five factors:
- Dependence on God is our security in times of hardship and challenges. Only He can provide for all our needs. He will allow us to go through difficult moments, yet, ultimately, He will reveal Himself more fully to us as the Source and Provider of everything.
- Daily connection with Christ is critical for understanding His will and plan for our lives. Allowing us to see through His eyes helps us understand our true needs and the needs of the people around us, and how to best respond to them.
- Adoption of new technologies and ways to give is important as we give our membership guidance and options to return their tithe and offerings in a timely manner. We are giving them opportunities to make an impact in other peoples’ lives in spite of their own struggles, which in turn enables them to recognize God’s blessings on them individually.
- Creative worship services and approaches to ministry in the local church are invaluable. These create a space for our membership to be involved and empowered in the services of the church, giving them the opportunity to make use of their God-given talents, time, and treasure for the benefit of the name of Jesus.
- God’s generosity can still be manifested through the generosity of His last-day church: people with the heart of God! The global pandemic may have affected every corner of our society, yet God uses it to accelerate His mission as we learn to love our neighbor as Christ loved us.
I can now relate more than ever to what Ellen White has written: “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” In God, His church is secure in times of uncertainties.
 Proverbs 3:5 All Bible textts are from the New International version
 Psalm 146:3
 2 Corinthians 8:3, 4
 John 5:30
 Matt 25:40
 Robert K McIver, Tithing Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists: A Study of Tithe Demographics and Motives in Australia, Brazil, England, Kenya, and the United States (Cooranbong, Australia: Avondale Academic Press, 2016), 145.
 Ellen White, Selected Messages, Book 3, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 162.
1 Proverbs 3:5. All Bible textts are from the New International version. 2 Psalm 146:3 3 Corinthian 8:3-5 ⁴ John 5:30 ⁵ Matthew 25:40 ⁶ Robert K McIver, Tithing Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists: A Study of Tithe Demographics and Motives in Australia, Brazil, England, Kenya, and the United States (Avondale Academic Press), p. 145. ⁷ Psalm 37:4 ⁸ Matthew 6:21 ⁹ Ellen White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 162.