The New Testament (NT) model of stewardship is tied not to money but to how people live out their lives. This article just takes one part of stewardship – money.
The New Testament model of stewardship of money is based not on what you give but on what you keep. Pledging to a budget is about as non‑biblical as a church can get. The NT model is radical gratitude-giving. We are to give to God, not a church. So it does not matter if I give to the church or some other Christian organization. What matters is, have I given enough that I have mastered my money rather than it mastering me. Does my giving cause me to cut back on my standard of living?
So, here is the formula, my standard of giving determines my standard of living, instead of my standard of living determines my standard of giving.
Along with that, the NT model is “owe no one.” In other words do not be in debt. Even when my wife and I did not have much, the only thing we were ever in debt for was our house, and we paid it off in ten years (we built small so we would not be in debt to it for years). Even the college education was paid for as we went. Same with credit cards, which we did not have for a very long time. We also never drove a new car, until recently. The house that we now live in is paid for. Owing no one is a NT principle. Now, I know in our day, that is hard to do. So the principle might need tweaking to say: owe no one more than you absolutely have to.
I remember a doctor telling me he could not afford to tithe because he was putting two kids through college. I asked him, “How much did your BMW cost?” I was shocked. It was more than he had given to God in his lifetime. I asked him, “How much did your 5,000 square foot house cost?” We could have paid off our budget then for the whole year with the price of his house. I could go on.
NT stewardship of money is living within one’s means, sharing with our brothers and sisters in need, and giving to God out of gratitude. It has nothing to do with budgets, churches, or salaries.
Now, does this mean one has to be poor? No. What is interesting is that when people live within their means, they always have something to fall back on because such people always seem to do two things: they seem to have more money than they should, and they save some of what they make.
At the heart of NT stewardship of money for today is the concept of consumerism. Christians should not feel any compulsion to shop, but many do. Let us apply NT stewardship to Christmas. Why in the world do we feel the necessity of buying presents for people who may not even want the present in the first place? Why do we set aside money during the year for Christmas shopping? Because some pagan economist told us we should; some pagan advertiser bombarded our kids with the newest toy or game on the market that they just have to have.
My wife and I quit giving Christmas presents about 30 years ago. And guess what? Our parents thought we were crazy. We now enjoy Christmas more than ever because there is no pushing and shoving, no presents to return, AND we can give God a big Christmas present every year. Some of it goes to the church we attend; some goes to other places, like church planting organizations.
Too many Christians are in debt too deep to tithe. Churches need to help them get out of debt and understand how to master their money and save. We found that financial management seminars helped some. But personal example helped more. I used to tell the congregation, “I know you can’t tithe because I see the kind of cars you drive and homes you live in. Your air conditioning bill is larger than your church pledge. We can tithe because we don’t drive a new car.”
NT stewardship is about how one lives their life rather than what one gives to the church. The NT people would have a hard time understanding budgets, programs, and even salaries (of course, times have changed some). But they would understand giving out of gratitude for the incarnation and the atonement. NT people give because they cannot help giving. It is in their bones. They are compelled to give. Their heart would burst if they didn’t. Their life would not have any meaning if they didn’t.
My grandfather got a Social Security check. That was all the money he had in the world except what my parents gave him. I learned one day my mom was furious at him because he tithed his Social Security check. She stopped giving him any money to survive on. I was not a Christian at the time, but her actions did not seem right to me then. But his action did. I did not know why then, but God was sowing seeds in my 10 year old head that would later burst into life.
What seeds are you sowing in the lives of those around you? Are you paying for life as you go, or are you living off of borrowed funds?
The fall is typically stewardship of money time in a lot of churches. If you are going to do a stewardship drive, let me recommend two great resources – Consecration Sunday by Herb Miller (Abingdon) and The Missing Piece by me. The Missing Piece works best in churches over 350 in worship.