What is stewardship? Is it just paying tithe or does it extend into other areas of our lives? For the Christian, “the central essence of biblical world view stewardship is managing everything God brings into the believer's life in a manner that honors God and impacts eternity.”[i] This principle is foundational to Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.
To help members embrace wider stewardship principles, the Stewardship Ministries Department at the General Conference has promoted a global emphasis known as the God First initiative. As part of this initiative, leaders have identified seven key ways that members can prioritize God and build character—through personal communion with God, family (or corporate) worship, healthy habits, missionary involvement, Sabbath keeping, returning tithe, and systematic offerings (the department refers to this practice as “Promise”).
How can this be implemented in the local church?
First, it is accomplished through empowering members. Some want to do more with their resources, but don’t know how to manage them. Aniel Barbe, associate director for the Stewardship Ministries Department, says, “help them manage their finances, help them learn to generate resources and it will be easier for them to partner with [the Church]. Besides the financial component, there is the element of spiritual empowerment. The principle we focus on is ‘contemplation creates transformation.’ The more people contemplate the greatest of Givers, the more they will be inspired to give” of their time, talents, and resources.
Secondly, it is achieved through mainstreaming stewardship education. “We want to bring stewardship knowledge to all segments of the Church. Today when people think of being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, generosity is not the first thing that comes to mind. We want to bring that to the forefront again,” Barbe says. “If we want people to embrace the God First principle in their lives, it is essential that they hear about it—that they hear about stewardship in the church. ”
Third, it is fulfilled through establishing trust in the local church and leadership. “Trust is an accelerator to faithfulness. When people can trust, they are more inclined to demonstrate faithfulness,” Barbe says. “The two components of trust we stress a lot are the ideas of competency and character. How competent are we in mission? People should not be made to feel that they are paying for the bills of the church, but that they are participating in something much bigger—mission. Character has to do with transparency, accountability, no secrecy when it comes to church finances and resources.”
“When these three elements [empowerment, education, and establishing trust] are present in the local church, it will be more conducive for members to embrace the God First principle in their financial life and in general,” he concludes.
Training and Resources
Education Tools for Kids
The department has prepared special resources for churches to use, including education tools for children. Lerato and Her Money Que$tions: Making Child Disciples Who Understand God and Money is a colorful new book and workbook for discipling children in principles of stewardship. Told in the form of a story, the book covers questions such as: Why do people go to work? Is money a bad thing? How do I calculate tithe and where should it go? The book even covers creating a budget and avoiding overspending.
While “the book can be read alone by kids with a certain level of reading proficiency, the workbook offers an interactive space for children and parents/educators. This material was designed for use in a family or as small-group activities.”[ii] Both the book and workbook are available on the Stewardship Ministries Department website.
Stewardship Emphasis Sabbath
Every year in December, a special Sabbath is set aside for World Stewardship Emphasis where members are invited to recommit to putting God first. “It is a time when Adventist stewardship leaders around the world lead out in the morning worship service and conduct afternoon seminars. The climax is a ‘Promise’ celebration”[iii]where members indicate on a card their decision to set apart the first moments of the day to spend with the Lord in prayer, Bible study or reading the Spirit of Prophecy; have consistent family worship; improve relationships through faithfulness, forgiveness and love; commit to establish one new healthy habit; devote time for witnessing throughout the week; keep the Sabbath; faithfully return God’s tithe; and dedicate a portion of their income as a regular love offering.
For the past several years, the Stewardship Department has sponsored Holy Convocations, regional meetings that bring pastors and stewardship leaders together for training and spiritual renewal through personal devotional time, group worship, exercise, training seminars, member visitation and revival preaching in local churches.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ability to hold Holy Convocations. Large gatherings and in-home visitation, two key features of the training event, have not been feasible due to safety protocols. Challenging these limitations, the Peruvian Union organized an online Holy Convocation complete with virtual visitation.
Participants determined to visit 30,000 families in just one week. They almost reached their goal, too, with just over 29,000 families contacted through phone calls, Zoom or WhatsApp. Commenting on the event, Barbe said, “Pastors provided encouragement, prayer, listened to their members, answered questions and addressed stewardship issues. It was beautiful!” It was a prime example of putting God First into action, not allowing anything to stand in the way.
This really is the overarching goal of the Stewardship Ministries Department. Barbe says, “Our vision is to lead all members, everyone, to put God first. Our mission is to lead members to trust God as the owner and provider of everything and to partner faithfully in His final mission through regular and systematic giving. We want our church members to acknowledge that God is the provider and in control.”
The Stewardship Department has a variety of resources, including a stewardship newsletter, stewardship magazine, devotional readings, videos, and more available for members and church leaders to use on their website: stewardship.adventist.org.
[i] Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewardship_(theology) on June 3, 2021.
[ii] Retrieved from https://stewardship.adventist.org/participants-workbook—lerato-and-her-money-que$tions-making-child-disciples-who-understand-god-and-money.pdf on June 3, 2021.