FIRST-PERSON: Let's emphasize stewardship from the pulpit
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--Many years ago -- OK, it was 1984 -- there was an immensely popular commercial for fast food burgers, which posed the memorable question, "Where's the beef?" It was one of those quotable lines which became a part of the vernacular. When people were asking questions about substance concerning a matter, "Where's the beef?" was often employed as a primer for discussion.
During the same year, Walter Mondale used the question in a presidential primary debate against Gary Hart. (Though Mondale eventually defeated Hart and others to gain his party's nomination, he lost the election to Ronald Reagan who quipped in a debate that he wouldn't exploit Mondale's "youth and inexperience" for political purposes.)
Years later, I spoke with a friend who was writing a book on stewardship. I simply said to him, "Why not entitle it 'Taking the Stew Out of Stewardship?'" To my surprise, he did just that. I can't remember how well the book was received, but I really liked the title. The book was good in content, too. I still have it in my archival library of print books.
Lately, I have revisited my suggestion for the title of that book. It sounded so catchy and promising to me then. Now, I have the feeling the elderly lady in the "where's the beef?" commercial had it right in 1984. I am now asking myself, "Where's the 'stew' in stewardship?"
By "the stew," I mean "the beef." Where is the teaching of stewardship of Christian living among us today? We need "to stew about it and we need some stew in it as a biblical doctrine." Recent statistics are distressing at best. Currently, evangelical Christians contribute to all charitable causes (not just churches) an average of 2.6 percent of their income. That percentage actually may be an optimistic one. It has been tracking downward for decades.
I must confess: When I was a young pastor, I dreaded preaching on stewardship. Try as I may, my attempts to broaden the understanding of my people's beliefs about stewardship, I found my attempts to often ring hollow. In retrospect, I believe my passion for the subject was a few quarts low. I felt sensitive about the matter. After all, I was being salaried by their tithes and offerings.
Thankfully, later in my ministry, I found my voice on the biblical teaching of tithing and the overall doctrine of Christian stewardship. Rather than taking out "the stew," I was putting it in the mix as I sought to lead my people to grow in Christ holistically.
In today's dialogue about the church, there is a growing hunger to make a difference in our lost and dying world. That is an encouraging sign indeed. The passion for reaching people should never wane. Some have advocated the adoption of challenging lifestyle changes, freeing us from the materialism which plagues our way of life. That is laudable and praiseworthy, too. It has been a recurring theme since the 1960s and much needed, too.
My concern is for the long journey of Christian obedience. I believe we need to add to this current emphasis on passion a Biblical perspective on teaching stewardship -- and, yes, I mean tithing -- and going beyond the tithe as well. You can sell all your possessions -- home, business, etc. -- and make a big impact now, and if that is what the Lord leads you to do, then I would not seek to dissuade you. However, consider setting the example for your family and others in your sphere of influence by committing yourself to be a tither (10 percent contributor to your church). In time, that will make a long term multi-generational impact for Christ in our needy world. This actually accelerates the passion for reaching people to higher levels.
I realize that we probably have, at least partially, lost a generation or two of people who do not sense this passion for the long-term perspective of Christian stewardship. Yet, I feel optimistic that we can turn these downward giving trends around in the near future. We can have a balanced biblical view of Christian stewardship. This approach does not just have a big immediate impact, but a long-term, exemplary one. This impact can keep on having an impact from generation to generation. I like the sound of that affirmation.
If I were advising a writer today concerning a book title on the subject of stewardship, I would recommend, "Where is the 'Stew' in Stewardship?" I wish I were a good enough writer to do it myself, but -- no false humility on this front -- I am not that kind of communicator. You may be the one who can put into words the challenge I am seeking to describe. If I have helped you, like my friend a generation ago, then you have made my day.
Let's "stew" some about stewardship! Preach it fearlessly, not with timidity. Let's be impact Christians for the long haul. May we see Christian stewardship as a lifestyle worth living, worth teaching and worth being a major part of our legacy as believers. You may not make a big splash immediately, but you can help be a game-changer for the future.
Rick Lance is a state missionary and executive director with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. This article originally was posted at his blog, www.RickLance.com.