More About Our Stewardship
“Come to our church. It is so friendly.” “Please join us for worship at our church where the music is wonderful.” “Our church is just down the road. Visit us soon.” We all make such comments. It is hard to imagine not saying something similar if you feel positive about a local fellowship. “Our church” comments often emerge from family ties and from a desire for others to join the faith family. So far, so good.
Go farther. These statements can also hint at a viewpoint that has seriously damaged many local churches. Stagnation, slow decline, and even violent splits occur when attendees of a church assume improper ownership. It is fine when “our church” means “the church to which we are committed.” It is faulty when “our church” means “the church where we get to call the shots.”
The faulty thinking and behavior is a violation of sound stewardship theology. What do “steward” and “stewardship” mean? In biblical times, a steward was a significant person. Yet, a steward served a person with a much more elevated status. A steward was a special slave, called to take charge of his master’s property. Stewardship was management, evaluated by the master, based on how productive the steward was using the master’s resources for the master’s benefit.
We cannot save ourselves by being good stewards. God saves us so we can become good stewards. Eph 2:8-10 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Humble service will bring reward, but entrance to heaven is not the reward. Heaven is where Jesus will ultimately reward his saved ones who grow in grace and serve him now.
God owns all things because he created the universe. He doubly owns believers because he has purchased us through the cross. When I was an associate pastor, people would sometimes ask me when I was going to get my own church. I always found that question provocative. Perhaps wisely, I avoided saying, “I will get my own church when I die and then rise from the dead in my own power.” That is precisely how Jesus got his church, and it is the only viable way to do it. Since I have not done that, I do not have my own church. I never will, and no one else will either.
By grace, Christians are part of the church Jesus owns. When Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesian church, he exhorted them saying, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). Even overseers are not owners since they did not buy eternal salvation with their blood. Jesus did. Peter also addressed elders and reflected a stewardship mentality. In 1Peter 5:1-3, he exhorted the leaders saying, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” God entrusts the church to the leaders for purposes of sound management. The church does not belong to the leaders for purposes of personal power or gain.
What is true for the leaders is true for the entire flock. Paul told the Ephesian congregation, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:13-14) Peter also said God owns the church. In 1Peter 2:9, he explained, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Paul told his associate Titus that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14) It is not good to forget that Jesus calls the shots for his church. Local congregations have latitude to employ various means in order to minister the gospel, but we must always make those decisions in a spirit of humility before the one who gave himself for us in order to own us. We must seek his will, even if it puts us in new, challenging, and even uncomfortable positions in order to carry out our mission to do good.
Believers should belong to a church, but the church does not belong to believers. When a church is our home, saying “our church” is natural. But we must keep a supernatural perspective. The church belongs to the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus. No matter how many years (or decades) members spend pouring themselves into the ministry, the church still belongs to Jesus. We never reach the point where we are entitled to have things the way we want them. We are always responsible to discern the Lord’s direction for the ministry. No amount of sweat equity in a local ministry replaces the blood equity Jesus invested through his cross. It may be our church to join, but it is always his church to lead.
We are much more than simply individual stewards. God saves people to form his church, and he puts saved people to work in local churches. Our management is a group matter. Fishkill Baptist will get a united review as a church body. We saw that in sermons from the Lord’s letters to the churches in Rev 2-3 in which Jesus reviews churches. Only two out of the seven churches got a good review. They were unimpressive churches to others (and even to themselves), but they impressed Jesus. Jesus deserved seven churches like that.
Since we have the best Master, he deserves our best moves. Sometimes more than one move can be good stewardship, but not just any move will be best in most circumstances. To seek the best approach takes the patient discipline of discernment. Obviously, we need to consider what God requires of every church. Yet each local church has a particular history and lives in a particular cultural context. We must consider our spiritual gifts, given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the body. We must explore our spiritual passions. What has God put on the hearts of this church family? We also need to consider our unique context. We have certain advantages, challenges, cultural pressures and more.
Pray that the Lord will help us always discern, and be devoted to, our best stewardship. By grace and truth, our church will show all what it means to be his church.