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FIRST-PERSON: Developing stewards

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) — One of the casualties of the loss of discipleship focus in many churches is the absence of an intentional stewardship development strategy. Some pastors are afraid to “talk about money” in church (a ridiculous cop-out) and others over-spiritualize church finances (expecting money to magically materialize when it’s needed). Wise leaders implement intentional strategies to develop stewards — helping people manage their wealth (all of it, not just the part they give away).

Developing stewards is a favorite theme for me. I was fortunate to be trained as a young adult in a church that did a good job with this facet of disciple-making. One of the early lessons I learned related to giving was “the tithe is the baseline and grace givers exceed the tithe.” My family and I took that lesson to heart and have given away more than 10 percent of our income for more than 35 years. As a result, we have experienced God’s supernatural provision and enjoyed His financial protection in tangible ways.

Over the years, some younger Christians have challenged me when I have taught the aforementioned basic conviction. They claim the tithe is passé, and grace frees us to give whatever amount God directs. In one sense, I agree. The tithe is legalistic — and Christians are free from legalistic ritual. But in another sense, I disagree. In the New Testament, the law was fulfilled (filled full and exceeded) — not fulfilled (abolished and ignored).

Three examples. Jesus said the law forbade adultery — but He forbade lustful thoughts. Jesus said the law forbade murder — but He forbade vengeful plotting. Jesus affirmed that God required a sacrifice for sin to be forgiven — and then offered Himself as the consummate sacrifice. Jesus taught that legalism was overwhelmed by grace — its standards exceeded by grace-living in every way.

So, if you claim the tithe is passé — and by that you mean we should all give more than a tithe, I agree! But if you use the claim to excuse your selfishness — giving less than even a legalist would give — I disagree.

American Christians currently give — by multiple survey reports — between 2.5 and 3.0 percent of their income to kingdom causes. Any way you cut those numbers, we are a selfish, greedy people. May God give church leaders courage to re-establish stewardship training as part of their disciple-making ministry. May God give us faith to trust Him as we learn to give away more and more of the resources He has generously provided.