"..Yet in My Flesh I Will See GOD" [Job. 19.26]

Friday, April 16, 2010

Genuine Godly Stewardship

Image above from Ibrahim Rifath, Unsplash.

Stewardship of Money

Godly stewardship of money is often treated as something what corporate companies would do with their finances. With church money, for instance, there would be lots of accounting and auditing. Not a cent would be taken from it without the board agreeing. And budget approval and release would be full of red-tape.

The pastor cannot just decide where the church money goes. It strictly follows some budget allocation program decided by the powers-that-be. Everything should be agreed upon in a church board meeting. To denominations, this is proper and godly stewardship of money and possessions. Imagine Jesus doing the same. He has to get a majority vote from his church board before his works can be approved.

But genuine godly stewardship of money, or any possession for that matter, is really something else altogether. Often, spending does not follow any budget allocations or anything like that. No matter if we spend everything to zero balance with no accounting. Churches are not banks--keeping and growing money and getting so strictly frugal with its use. Many churches fear getting zero balance because to them that is wrong stewardship. They relax when there's big money in their bank accounts. They feel they're being good and faithful servants.

Strict with Money: Hates to Part Ways With It

There's no sin that gets in the way between you and God like love of money. Money easily turns into an idol in the hands of those who mistake godly stewardship of money with banking--with church treasurers acting like bank managers and the pastor as a borrowing client. You'd see how the pastor has to produce all the necessary documents before money could be released to fund his ministry. Each board member has to approve it. This is especially so if the pastor is poor and enslaved by the church board.

I've seen board members (often the treasurer) reject the idea of increasing the pastor's salary (even if funds available allow it) because they want to save more money for the church. Yup, I've seen moneyed churches pay their pastors low (poverty-line) salaries. They believe that pastors with low salaries are spiritual and churches that pay low salaries super spiritual. And to the board members responsible for this (again, often the treasurer), it's an achievement. They're proud to have saved money and kept the pastor poor. And silly people respect them for it.

It's quite different when the pastor is rich. Rich pastors often connive with the treasurer so both act like bank managers (the treasurer being the assistant manager, or the other way around, if the treasurer is richer than the rich pastor). Together, they act like harsh landlords to church workers--rich churches often have church workers doing the real ministry (the dirty works) on ground zero, while the senior pastor acts as symbolic head of state.

The pastor and his board approves who gets more support (often this is the one who agrees with everything the pastor says and does) and who gets less. Thus, the pastor has lots of leverage to make things happen in church and make people agree with him. He is rich and powerful. Nothing bad about this if he is a genuine man of God who hears HIS voice and obeys HIM with all of his heart. But often, it isn't the case. Pastors with too much power (especially over finances) usually cannot handle it well and get overwhelmed by it all. They begin to think they are God, defying God's ways and standards in the bible and do things their way to get what they want.

Often, church people see all these scenarios as good and godly stewardship of money. You see their church income handled in either ways. And the common denominator is being strict with money.

But Real Kingdom Stewardship is "Wasteful"

But it was quite different with Jesus. He loved seeing those who dared spend everything they had for God's glory--like the poor widow who gave her last penny in the offering. He was not impressed with those who gave huge amounts but kept a much bigger amount in their pockets and bank accounts. To Jesus, keeping more than enough money for yourself was BAD STEWARDSHIP--yup, even for the church. Sometimes, he even desired having zero balance. Like in the feeding of the 5,000.

It was their last readily available resource--5 loaves and 2 fish. It was even donated by a boy. Jesus used up all that. In Luke, the disciples suggested sending the crowds away while they could still buy food and find lodging in the nearby villages, which sounded reasonable. If they did this, the 5 loaves and fish could be saved for Jesus, and probably for them, too. But no. Jesus gave them all up for the crowd.

One time he told his disciples--give up everything you have and give to the poor. He said EVERYTHING. This is genuine godly stewardship churches should be doing today. Churches should give up all they have--their money in the bank, their properties, buildings and facilities. To God, that is Kingdom stewardship--not keeping money in the bank or using money to own large properties and facilities. It's not about good accounting and auditing and making sure the big figures tally. It's about losing possessions and just having enough--and even the little that is left still belongs to God. That's Godly stewardship.

If Jesus were a pastor today, he'd probably be accused of church money mismanagement, abuse, and bad, bad stewardship. We've been taught that if the church is losing income it's dying. If you let poor folks use your church facilities freely and things get broken because of that (or some valuable things get stolen), you're a foolish steward. I heard one church bought a new carpet and the pastor kept the poor off it because their shoes were dirty. It's among their fears--losing their sacred properties.

But Paul said this is the right mindset on material possessions:
"...those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." [1 Corinthians 7]
For the modern church, this is BAD stewardship. 

A repentant woman once came running in and wept at Jesus' feet. She poured very expensive perfume oil on his head and feet. While some disciples vehemently disagreed (especially Judas), Jesus just let her. He wanted radical "waste" of precious resources used in something "trifling" like God's glory (to many, it's not worth spending for because you get no money in return here. No ROI). But don't get this wrong. This does not mean you spend money to improve your church building or renovate your alter or buy expensive flowers for church decor or buy expensive sound system for "worshiping" God. They think this is how you "spend wisely" or "waste money"(depending on how the church sees things). These are all nothing but garbage!

Jesus wants human lives glorified with the power of the Jesus LIFE. And this often involves real money expense. BIG expense. What temple God wants beautified is the temple of the Holy Spirit--our lives, our bodies. Church income should be spent for this--building people's lives to be fit for God's glory. Money should go to fully support pastors and their families, for instance, church workers who do the dirty works, and those who preach the Word in underdeveloped countries (not those who go to rich countries to "do ministry" there or go to poor countries like the Philippines and receive big pays in dollars and live like the rich). In short, Jesus wants to build lives--lives as simple and meek as his but as powerful and holy, "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ," [Ephesians 4.13].

And the church should release these funds without expecting anything in return. I'm so pissed off by churches that support pastors and workers in exchange for some "spoils" or "loots" or "booty" they can make for the denomination, like some added potential members or new potential bible study groups, or preaching points. So pastors and workers run after people to achieve this, nearly begging people to join their church. Jesus NEVER did this to his disciples. The instruction was just "make disciples." No time or quantity constraints or quotas.

Good Stewardship and Evangelism

Remember when he sent out the 12 and later the 72? When they came back, Jesus never asked them for some new members or lists for follow up. But he did marvel seeing Satan fall like lightning to the ground. This means, the supernatural effect of what the disciples did had conquered the territory in the spirit. The ground was prepared, paths where made straight for the reapers. The demonic strongholds were demolished. These are what counts in the Kingdom.

In man's empire, what counts are local membership and income. If anything does not translate to income, they see it as useless.

Real evangelism has two parts--the action of the sowers and the action of the reapers. Sowers go in to prepare the ground and plant seeds. They need not harvest at once. In fact, they do nothing but that--sow seeds. They do not collect names and addresses for follow up. They have no business about ROI or how many were converted or invited to church.

Sowers may not harvest anything but what they do results to a powerful spiritual victory, if they do it with a right heart. Satan falls to the ground. Meaning, the evil stronghold in that place is arrested. This is God's formula, evangelism and supernatural signs and wonders going together. They must go together. Then the sowers go out praising God because they know that later God will send in the reapers.

What the sowers have prepared, the reapers gather for harvest. In this way, Jesus said both the sower and reaper are happy. They both get rewards in the spirit realms. A lot of "church workers" and "church planters" today do not know this. They stress themselves with results they force to get RIGHT NOW because they need to be ahead in the rat race. They also want to make sure the benefits go to their denomination alone.

See the connection between stewardship and evangelism at this point? Because some people do evangelism for the money. The more members in church, the bigger church income grows. Well, if this is how you see church growth, get a good look at this stewardship. Read on.

Some sowers sometimes get to reap some harvests, too. This is because some workers (first batch of sowers) had earlier planted some seed which grew and produced fruit and which the second batch of sowers have chanced upon while sowing new seeds. So some sowers also become reapers.

Other churches have done some evangelism in the area and now you reap the result of their works, although you do not belong to the same church or denomination. So, do not also covet the fruit of your seeds when they grow and produce fruits. Just sow seeds with disinterest. God decides who reaps them, not us.

Now, it is God who causes the growth. You cannot project or aim that this year you'd hit 20 new members in church. This is silly boasting and bad stewardship. You can only obey what the instruction says. It merely says, make disciples. How many and when is NOT your business.

Getting more people (and church income) than is allotted to you at a time is BAD STEWARDSHIP, and will result to much worse scenarios in stewardship (eventually manifesting greed and self-centeredness)--like an Ananias and Sapphira type of church. Yeah you get a lot of money and build your own empire, but it will be so far from looking like Jesus' glorious church, without spot or wrinkle.

Remember the greedy Israelites who got more than their share of manna in the desert? The next day their manna turned into maggots. Getting more members than is allotted to you (doing evangelism your own smart way) will just get you maggot members in the end. I often see it in churches. Lots of people and big church incomes, lots of activities and ministries--but everything is just maggots.

5 Talents Grown to 10 Talents

Remember the talents? Three servants where given talents to grow, and the two good and faithful servants had different results. The one given two talents grew them to four. The one given 5 talents grew them to 10. It didn't matter to the master how much the increase was. What mattered was the obedience. They did what they were told "according to his ability." The ability God apportions you sets the limit. It's not your desire or effort. If the one given a single talent was able to grow it to one and half (1/2), he would have received the same appraisal. Problem was, he didn't believe in doing anything with it.

The lesson here is, so what if you discipled only one or two or 5 or 10 people in your whole lifetime, unlike those who have grown mega churches? God doesn't measure stewardship like that. Whether discipling one soul or a thousand and one, it's the same to our Master. We're all equally "good and faithful servants."

And mind you, the servants didn't decide beforehand how many they planned to have or make. In the Parable of the 10 Minas, the king told his servants to "put the money to work." In other words, make the money work, not them. The idea is investment and we know that while we make money work for us when investing, we do not have control of the ups and downs of stocks, of the market forces affecting profits, of how much profit we'd definitely make. We can only forecast or hope to make some amount. Some say it's how the money managers play the game, but if you know God's truth, you know it's all God, not the money managers. God decides everything.

Your job is to invest the money. Period. That's what the servants did. And in the spirit realms, "investing" means giving them all up and then following Jesus by faith, not really keeping what money you can and making it grow. Whatever riches you have finds meaning in the Kingdom only if you give them all up. All Christian church organizations should do this--give up all their riches and properties and follow Jesus by faith.

Zacchaeus didn't give up all he had but at least his was a great start--he gave up half of his riches right there and then to the poor and Jesus approved of it. Churches, especially big and rich ones, should at least do this as a start--give up half of their riches to the poor. Imagine what would happen if they really do this. Imagine what evangelism impact.

Good stewardship of money or any possessions is when you "waste" them by spending them all for God's glory (not the denomination's glory). It is something that NO CHURCH today is doing. What they do is go with the world, operating like commercial banks, investing in real estate as corporations do, engaging in franchising (planting churches to grow their denominations), making more money to put in their banks.

Auditing

Jesus NEVER audited Judas. The Lord knew he was robbing his treasury, yet he never audited him. Today, denominations call that bad money stewardship. In the Kingdom, that is called wisdom. Thus, denominations will find it hard to operate in the Kingdom because they are too engrossed with their riches and income, hanging on to them. It is impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

Whatever riches you have finds meaning in the Kingdom only if you give them all up.