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Church, pastor experience God through lifestyle stewardship


SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (BP)–“Our relationship to God has a lot to do with who is in charge and what we do with our resources,” Mark Pitts reflected recently.
As pastor of Village Meadows Baptist Church in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Pitts said he has found the matter of lifestyle stewardship to be “an experiencing God thing.”
While many might view the congregation at Village Meadows as well above average in stewardship maturity, Pitts continually looks for ways to challenge himself and other church members to the highest standards.
The recent announcement of “How Much Is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival,” a Southern Baptist emphasis for the first quarter of the year 2000, for example, prompted Pitts to say, “I want it, and I want it now.”
Pitts said the congregation had a strong orientation to stewardship of time, individual talents and financial resources before he became pastor less than three years ago. But the most recent evidence of stewardship consciousness has come related to building needs.
Having outgrown their church facility several times, the congregation now needs space beyond the capacity of the church campus. Averaging 300 persons in worship and 220 in Bible study, building expansion has gone as far as available land will permit. An added early Sunday morning worship service in a sanctuary built in 1994 now exceeds attendance of the original service, though the worship style for the services is identical.
A Korean congregation of 35 also meets in the main congregation’s former worship space.
Months ago, a capital campaign was begun to accumulate funds for new property. And while many experts in capital fund-raising prefer that church members know more specifically what they are working to finance, Village Meadows members based their plans for the future on a phrase in Genesis 12:1, “To the land which I will show you.”
The search for property adequate for growth and near enough to continue ministering to their community proved difficult. Projected costs, based on an average of $35,000 an acre, seemed almost overwhelming to some.
Following proven growth patterns, Village Meadows’ second service hit 80 percent of capacity, bringing worship attendance for the two services to a total of 350. When the second service reached the 80 percent mark, attendance predictably dropped.
The month before, a one-day, intensive “Successful Christian Financial Management” course was taught by Bill May, president of the Arizona Church Growth Board. The seminar material, published by LifeWay Christian Resources, teaches a biblically based philosophy of money. Course content includes how to get out of debt and stay out of debt, how to develop and live within a budget and how to retire comfortably. A plan is provided for savings, living expenses, debt and future planning needs after the tithe, taxes and social security have been subtracted from one’s income.
As a result of the study, the church gained 15 new tithers. Pitts said others may have wanted to become tithers, but he realizes “there may be people who are willing, but because of poor management have ‘dug themselves a hole.'”
By the end of March 1998, the congregation had agreed to enter the capital stewardship campaign, with goal levels of $440,000, $550,000 and $660,000. Pitts planned to preach four consecutive Sundays on stewardship, but dreaded the experience so much, he recalled, “I felt like I was going before a firing squad.”
His fears were unfounded. The congregation, in fact, exceeded the top goal, pledging $683,000. Approximately 30 percent of the money has been given eight months into the campaign. If that were not enough, undesignated giving has increased. Some might view Pitts’ observation that “It was a blessing” as an understatement.
By summer 1998, the land became a reality. Southern Baptists Louise and Lloyd Fuller, friends of Village Meadows who had helped begin the church as a mission of First Baptist Church, planned to sell their home and acreage anticipating a move to Tucson. While they had not planned to subdivide their approximately 50-acre property, they offered to sell the church more than 37 acres at a substantial bargain.
Pitts, who had been on the staff of First Baptist Church earlier in his ministry, said the Fullers’ generosity was not a surprise.
“They taught me stewardship,” he said.
The capital campaign is only the latest evidence of a strong stewardship mind-set at Village Meadows. Shortly after Pitts became pastor in 1996, the congregation added approximately $60,000 to the annual budget without discussion.
Pitts said, “I thought, either we are in for a real blessing or a real nightmare. Hindsight tells me they knew exactly what they were doing.” The funds were to provide for a full-time youth/music minister.
The budget has continued to grow, and a part-time administrator has been added. With the recent move of the youth/music minister, the church has re-described staff positions. A youth/recreation minister and a music/education minister will be added.
Gene Laird, a church member who was also interim pastor prior to Pitts’ arrival, said the church demonstrates stewardship in areas other than money.
“There is a nucleus of men and women in this church who are tremendous caring people. This has been the heart of the church,” Laird observed. “When Mark came, he fit into that. He has a low-key approach, and the church responds.”
Pitts looks at the last few years of spiritual and numerical growth and declares he could not have foreseen a process.
“God gave us a plan that I didn’t know about until it was in progress. I do understand now we are where we are because of those stewardship emphases.
“I used to brag that I did only one stewardship sermon a year,” he admitted. “It could very well be that I failed in my duty to take the people to the heart of the matter. Churches need a stewardship plan. The annual stewardship message is not a plan. It’s a cop-out.
“You cannot serve God and money,” he said. “Stewardship is often tied to our yielding to God.”
Materials for “How Much Is Enough?” will be available in mid-May this year. The emphasis combines the resources of five Southern Baptist Convention agencies. LifeWay Christian Resources, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Annuity Board and Woman’s Missionary Union sponsor the month-long study designed to involve adults and older youth. Church Stewardship Services at LifeWay is coordinating the emphasis and producing the resources.