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Stewardship emphasis is timely, has widespread appeal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hundreds of pastors across the Southern Baptist Convention are learning that some of the best guidance they can give their people during these days is how to manage their finances, the leader of the SBC’s stewardship emphasis said.

“Because of the climate that we live in, there has never been a better time to have a conversation in church about money than right now,” Ashley Clayton, associate vice president for stewardship at the Executive Committee, said, adding that many people in the pews are preoccupied with job security and how to pay their bills.

“Why wouldn’t a pastor address that? It could be that the people in our churches wonder why their pastor never talks about money when it’s clearly in the news all the time,” Clayton told Baptist Press.

Church leaders must begin to see stewardship in a different light, he said, because Jesus spoke frequently about money, a tool that enables ministry.

“Even as a denomination, we spend way too much time trying to divide the Cooperative Program dollars when what we should be doing is trying to grow the Cooperative Program dollars, and you do that through stewardship,” Clayton said.

Most churches lack a consistent plan for helping people deal with money, he said, noting that one of the main benefits of such a plan is that it changes lives on an individual level.

“The person who is worried about their future, who is failing to invest in their future, who is struggling to pay their bills, who is struggling to give often can’t see beyond that,” Clayton said. “It colors their whole world. So a consistent stewardship plan in a church changes lives. It changed my life.”

Clayton said he and his wife struggled with money for too many years, but when they took the first steps toward financial freedom, it was liberating.

“We still had the same problems and we still had debt to overcome, but you would have thought we had won the lottery. We were truly liberated because we were on the right path,” he said.

Also, a consistent plan for helping people deal with money is a cultural bridge from churches to their local communities.

“If you want your church to get a toe hold in your community, if you want people in your community to see your church as being relevant and a place of hope and a place of help, hang out a sign that says, ‘Get out of debt here.’ It’s a strong cultural bridge,” Clayton said.

Church planters especially should be interested in promoting stewardship, he said, because offering people help with their finances immediately will help the community perceive the church as a place that offers hope and help.

Stewardship also is relevant because handling money well is a mark of maturity in a believer’s life, Clayton said.

“It’s a direct and outward response to God’s grace in our lives. We should be compelled by God’s grace to invest as many dollars in the Kingdom as we possibly can,” he said. “My experience has been that it’s not that believers don’t want to give. It’s that they cannot give.

“If it’s true that unbelievers and believers alike spend $1.26 over every dollar they earn, it’s no wonder that giving has been on a decline in our denomination,” Clayton said. “The point is treating money well and having a healthy approach to money translates into funding the Kingdom.”

With such a strong need for stewardship education in churches today, the Executive Committee is investing in the convention’s leaders through seminars, curriculums and other resources under the “It’s A New Day” stewardship umbrella.

By year’s end, more than 2,000 pastors and church leaders will have attended a one-day financial freedom seminar sponsored by churches, local associations or state conventions in conjunction with the stewardship office at the Executive Committee.

The seminars, which run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., present biblical principles about stewardship and offer lessons in money management, such as budget planning and how to handle credit cards, cars and housing expenses. The sessions cost $20 per person to cover materials and lunch, and spouses are encouraged to attend at no extra expense.

Starting this fall, church leaders who attend the seminars will leave at the end of the day certified by Crown Financial Ministries to teach the 10-week Life Group Study at their churches.

Clayton noted that the Executive Committee has a goal of offering the one-day seminars at each of the six Southern Baptist seminaries. In April, more than 300 students and their spouses attended a seminar at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and another is scheduled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in September.

Cooperative Program dollars are being used so that students can attend the seminars free of charge.

“We think this is a great investment in the leaders of our convention. We’re aware that most of our seminary graduates are leaving seminary and going to their first church with a large amount of credit card and student loan debt, and in many cases more than they would be able to fund over a long period of time,” Clayton said. “This investment of CP dollars is an attempt to give a better foundation on a personal level for these pastors to begin their ministries.”

Also, the Executive Committee has released recently Volume 2 in the It’s A New Day curriculum series. Whereas the first volume, developed by Crown, involved a fee for Sunday School lessons, this volume is completely free and includes all new material.

Available for download are four weeks of sermon videos, sermon notes, listening guides, PowerPoint slides and Bible study lessons. The lessons include teachers’ guides for children, youth and adults so that the entire church can learn about stewardship together.

Another resource the stewardship office is offering is a video series called “God Provides,” produced by Crown. Six theater-quality short films and a printed companion guide use stirring accounts and parables from the Bible to show how God meets the needs of His people. The films can be used for individual or group study in a variety of ways.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information on the It’s A New Day stewardship initiative, visit sbc.net/newday and crown.org/godprovides.

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  • Erin Roach