When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state, I wondered how the Church would survive in an environment of lockdown, in which the churches are not allowed to have in-person gatherings. The news media predicted loss of jobs or reduced work hours. I thought if the prediction held true, the Church’s stewardship picture would look pitch black. I concluded the pandemic would be a test of faithfulness.
Following the government’s order, many of our churches were closed to in-person services to help curb the spread of the virus. I want to commend our pastoral staff in that they continued to offer services using various online platforms. The Church continued to minister to people’s needs. For example, we saw many churches conduct food pantry ministry in the communities surrounding their church buildings. But the big question on my mind during this pandemic was how will this impact the Church’s offerings? Typically, the Church relies on the weekly, free-will offerings collected by the passing of the offering plate. However, it was at this point that I realized what my own natural inclination was, to not give out money. Intellectually, I thought if our church members truly believed in the stewardship principles, then naturally, they would continue to give generously to the mission of the Church. I then remembered reading a French philosopher’s words, “When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion." I think what the philosopher meant was that when there is no religious reminder, like the gathering for services and the passing of the plate, many of us are not likely to give out money to keep our financial religious obligation. I believe one needs to have a good enough reason to give out money at any time. For example, one must have a personal faith in a God who says “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” Isaiah 41:10 NKJV. Now, I will tell you that during this pandemic period, there were circumstances that challenged me; even when I knew this God, I worried about my wallet, health, and safety, etc.
Regarding Christian stewardship, I want to say that in my reading on charity giving and religious giving, I noticed that it is well-documented that there is a personal benefit to giving. I have concluded that giving is a faith relationship issue. The question is, how is my faith relationship? Can I trust God or am I dismayed? Can I count on his strength and his help? I am not judging motives; all I am saying is you and I need to settle the answer to the question of faith for ourselves. My personal views on giving and my stewardship relationship were greatly strengthened during this period. I learned anew how to trust God with my all.
Now, if my conclusion is right, that “Giving is a faith relationship issue, demonstrated in a life that acknowledges that God is the owner of everything, that God has promised to help us in whatever circumstance”, then I think that “Faith relationship” should be reflected in our giving. Our treasury department just closed the September books and the good news is, year to date comparison shows that the Conference had a 2.97% gain over last year. Praise the Lord! We want to thank you, our church members for your faithfulness, and the pastoral staff for your leadership in stewardship.
I now realize that the Lord is in control. Yes, there will be challenges ahead, but if we are faithful there is no reason to fear for the future! I want to say that we all should be encouraged to be faithful. We can develop a personal giving plan, we can demonstrate our faith, we can live by faith, trusting in the Lord’s goodness. The truth is that the Lord was not caught off guard by COVID-19. This pandemic has given me a new perspective and an opportunity to position myself to enjoy the benefits of trusting God. As a Church that preaches the three angel’s messages, let us do so with a Kingdom perspective. We as a Church must find new ministry opportunities in this pandemic and find ways to better serve the community in love. This is a time we must rally the church members for total involvement.
Stewardship is a relationship with a personal God. The Bible teaches that in the relationship one’s willingness to give tithe and offering is a demonstration of one’s love for God. It is not a MUST or OUGHT, it is not an OBLIGATION, or a TAX, it is not a LEGAL REQUIREMENT. Giving to God through his Church is a natural flow out of a love relationship. Ellen White in talking about tithe wrote, “I speak of the tithing system, yet how meager it looks to my mind! How small the estimate! How vain the endeavor to measure with mathematical rules, time, money, and love against a love and sacrifice that is measureless and incomputable! Tithes for Christ! Oh, meager pittance, shameful recompense for that which cost so much!” 4T 119.
The practical act of giving is only possible when one has placed his/her life in God’s hands. I will testify that giving to God does deepen one’s relationship of dependence. Giving helps us to develop a relationship of trust. The Psalmist said God is not looking for our earthly treasures. (Ps 50:9-10) He is not asking for money! God is interested in a relationship. God desires our involvement in the soul-winning mission. I have learned that developing an intimate spiritual relationship with God ultimately enables me to give of my time, talents (abilities), temple (body), treasure (money) and my testimony (witness). What one gives does, by and large, reflect the giver’s relationship with God.
True Christian stewardship is a personal relationship with God. When one has a relationship with God one will be involved in God’s mission! As Christians, we are moved by the love of Christ. (2 Cor 5:14) That love compels us, meaning it gives us a powerful urge, and that impulse is so great, there is a strong inclination to be involved in helping people realize that they are accepted in Jesus Christ. That urge will lead us to want to get to know Jesus personally, to love him intimately, to serve him passionately, and share Him with our neighbors. That “love impulse” will be more powerful as we recognize that Jesus’ return is soon. Therefore, we will want to actively be engaged in ministry. I have realized that in most cases, that impulse is so great that it demands personal engagement. I think that a personal life-love-relationship with God will color our worldview and thus our money will just be a tool for mission.
Let me point to three things I learned anew in my spiritual life during this pandemic period. First, I have come to believe that life and everything I have was/is given to me by God. I therefore have concluded that I really should not wait to have a million dollar to give back in love. Second, I have learned that in this life one should be thankful for every moment; we should give to the Lord’s cause as a way of saying- “Thank you Lord.” The Lord says when you give, He will give you back a full measure, shaken and pressed down in return. (Luke 6:38) If I am reading the Bible correctly then the Lord is saying, you will still have enough after you have given to God and God’s mission. Third, I am suggesting that going forward, please find a way for your church to sit down and develop a strategic program for mission in which church finances are focused on the soul and not the wallet. I am convinced our hearts must be right with God to do what God wants the Church to do. Is it not true that where your heart is your treasure will be? The Lord put it this way, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt 6:21 NKJV
By Brian Mungandi, VP for Administration & Stewardship Director