by Rob Tims
One of the many dilemmas senior pastors face is whether or not they will know the giving records of their congregants. It’s complicated, and I can rationalize both sides of the debate. There were very, very few exceptions in my last pastorate, but I largely avoided knowing who gave what, when and why.
Two reasons won out in my mind.
First, I didn’t want this information to influence how I ministered to any one person. Big giver causing trouble? It would be hard to exercise church discipline if I knew a salary depended on his check. Non-giver trying to influence personnel policies? It would be all the more tempting to dismiss her point of view knowing that she wasn’t giving a dime to support the church.
But the second reason is that I didn’t want the congregation to conclude that the bulk of biblical stewardship pertained to money. The Bible doesn’t merely teach financial stewardship, but whole life stewardship, even as it’s talking about financial stewardship.
Consider 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. In a bid to inspire the Corinthians to give to a special offering, Paul shares about the churches of Macedonia and the way the gospel shined through their stewardship that went way beyond their finances (but certainly included it). In these verses, we learn 5 things about such whole life stewardship.
First, whole life stewardship is gift of grace (vv. 1-2, 7). Verses 1-2, and 7: “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia: 2 During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part … Now as you excel in everything — in faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us— excel also in this act of grace.” Whatever we are when it comes to stewarding our whole life well for the sake of the gospel, we are by God’s grace. And God’s grace is present in our lives in both strained and abundant times. The temptation, of course, is to resist God’s grace to make us generous with our lives when trials are present, but to do so is to restrain grace’s potential to make much of Jesus in our lives through such pain.
Second, whole life stewardship empowers and encourages others in whole life stewardship. Verse 3-4: “I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints….” Paul was greatly encouraged (if not stunned) by the Macedonians’ desire to participate wholeheartedly in this stewardship effort, and their example empowered and encouraged Paul to be bold in his requests to other congregations. When someone’s whole life is behind what they believe in, it’s contagious and inspiring. Whole life stewardship is no different.
Third, whole life stewardship is a function of whole life discipleship. As Paul states in verse 5, the Macedonians “gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God’s will.” They stewarded their whole lives because Jesus was their whole life. For the Macedonians, there was no such thing as “I’ll write a check, but that’s all.” Nor was there such a thing as “I’ll go, but I won’t give.” A wholly discipled life breeds a wholly-stewarded life.
Fourth, whole life stewardship consistently perseveres. Notice was Paul says with regard to Titus in verse 6: “So we urged Titus that just as he had begun, so he should also complete among you this act of grace.” What this reflects is that whole life stewardship does not occur for a period of our life, but encompasses all of our lives until we pass into eternity. We will be tested and tried, but must consider Paul’s words regarding Titus to be words for us: let us persevere in our quest to be whole life stewards.
Finally whole life stewardship is the only stewardship consistent with the gospel. As Paul puts it in verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” There was nothing partial about Jesus’ stewardship of his ministry, and there must be nothing partial with ours. We must be whole life stewards because we serve a Savior who gave his whole life for us.
Yes, this includes our finances. Our expenditures reveal a lot about what we truly love.
And yes, it includes so much more.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.