At the heart of the Gospel is a God who gives. And at the heart of biblical stewardship is the fact that everything that has ever existed has always been God’s to give. Since we are made in the image of God, we are wired to be givers like God. However, sin has corrupted that image and has severed that wiring to the point where we naturally find it easier to keep. We find it perfectly normal to use everything we earn on us and live according to our means. Too many of us find it acceptable to use more than we earn and live beyond our means. But when the Gospel begins to change us, it changes the way we view money and possessions. As we are conformed to the image of Christ, we become givers.
As believers living in a selfish culture, we must do everything possible to be intentional in our giving. Within our value system, we must focus on the fact that everything we have belongs to God. The beauty of the Gospel is the freedom we have in Christ to decide how much of God’s stuff we need to sustain life. In other words, God gives us the freedom to choose our standard of living based on how much or how little we choose to keep.
In a practical sense, we need to make sure we are reaching out to and helping the people around us. Acts 2:44-45 reminds us that the early church made sure that the needs of the people in their congregation were met. We also need to be giving to efforts that are beyond our individual capabilities. Paul commended the church in Philippi for financially supporting him in his ministry (Philippians 4:15-16.) These two principles, God’s ownership of everything and our responsibility to give beyond our own capabilities, should be the driving forces behind our understanding of biblical stewardship at the individual level, the church level, and the denominational level.
As the church gathers together, the people worship God with their tithes and offerings by giving back portions of what He has so generously given. The amounts that are given vary, but each gift has an equal part in the work that is done through the church. It is not necessarily the amount given that is pleasing to the Lord, but the heart in which it is given that matters most. As Jesus compared the gifts of the rich men to that of the poor widow, he told his disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood,” (Mark 12:43-44, NKJV). We are told in principle throughout the Scriptures to give, not necessarily in equal amounts, but with equal sacrifice.
The church as a corporate body should set the example in biblical stewardship for its members. We must understand that the freedom given to us as individuals to decide the type of lifestyle we want to sustain is also given to us as a corporate body. We are responsible for meeting the needs of our people and for reaching into our local communities and supporting efforts that God calls us to support. In the process, we should manage the resources in a way that allows us to give to efforts that extend beyond our individual capabilities as a church.
There is no better way to invest in Kingdom work beyond our capabilities than to invest a percentage of our resources in missions through the Cooperative Program. There is no better, more efficient delivery system in place for getting missionaries to the places that we as individual churches cannot go. We should keep at least two things in mind when it comes to deciding how much we will invest in mission work through the Cooperative Program:
1) When we give to the Cooperative Program, we do so in order to extend the work beyond ourselves and to accomplish a Kingdom agenda that cannot be accomplished individually. We do not give to the Cooperative Program based on whether or not we are getting anything in return. We give so that the return on our investment will be realized in heaven.
2) When we give to the Cooperative Program, we are not paying the salaries of administrators who are managing missionaries. We are paying the salaries of a Florida Convention staff that see themselves as missionaries and are doing the work of missionaries. Too often churches don’t give because they fail to see that our Lead Strategists are missionaries whose work deserves our support.
There is a movement by NAMB and the IMB for churches to individually adopt church plants and embrace unreached, unengaged people groups, respectively. This type of support closely resembles a societal model of mission support, which in our day and time may be necessary in order to carry out the Great Commission. But the beauty of the Convention model of giving is that if a church is already giving at a sacrificial level to the Cooperative Program, then they can know that they are being obedient to both the evangelistic and the social mandates of Scripture.
Our State Convention is attempting to manage its budget and resources so that it will eventually give 50 percent of the contributions received to causes that extend our efforts beyond ourselves. Over the past three years this transition has proven very difficult, but I am confident that our State Convention will lead our denomination in its example of giving and God will honor the equal sacrifice of Southern Baptist churches when we all in good conscience stand before Him and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Mike Tatem is the Senior Pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Lake City. He serves on the State Board of Missions as a representative of the Beulah Baptist Association.
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