When Paul Powell was president of the Annuity Board, now GuideStone Financial Resources, he once told me that he was writing a book on stewardship. As Paul described his upcoming publication, he paused and then said, “But you know what? I don’t know what to title it.”
My response was meant to be cute rather than serious. I said, “Why don’t you entitle this new book Taking the Stew out of Stewardship?.” I laughed a little, but he didn’t even smile. At first, I thought I had hurt his feelings. I mean this was a serious project, and maybe I was being a little too cute for my own good.
Then I was totally surprised when Paul responded, “Well, that is the title of the book! I am going to use that. Thank you for mentioning it.” I fumbled around some and said, “Hey, wait a minute. I was just kidding about the title.” He responded: “Well, I am not kidding. The title fits the book. I am using it for sure.”
Occasionally when I go to my library, pick up that book and glance at the foreword where Paul Powell thanked me for giving him the title, I am amused all over again. How can you obtain a book title in such a way? How can you just kid your way into the naming of a book? It sounds so counterintuitive.
Since that time, I have actually thought that the book title was really appropriate. For most Christians, stewardship causes a real “stew” in their lives. We live in a world seemingly drowning in debt. Nations have borrowed so much money they are now asking other nations to borrow money to loan them so they can pay the interest on their own loans. That is a real “stew” if I have heard of one.
Countries can become debt laden, and so can Christians. Until the recent “Great Recession,” credit card borrowing and other forms of excessively easy credit was omnipresent. The real estate bubble burst was largely a result of too much easy credit and lenient borrowing practices by lending institutions. That has become well documented and vehemently debated ad nauseum.
The terrible reality about debt is that, at some point, someone has to pay for it. That can create a crisis when such inevitabilities have to be faced. Americans, as well as others in the world, have way too much debt. Christians are in that category too. This has to be one of the reasons why evangelical Christians contribute less than 2.5 percent of their income to any all charitable causes, including their churches. Think about that for a moment. Generally, people will borrow money to do almost anything but not to give to their church.
That is a real and growing challenge for churches, denominations and, as we would describe it, Great Commission Ministries around the world. This is why I believe any real consideration of a Great Commission renewal begins with individual Christians and local churches. We must return to the biblical teachings about faithful stewardship. That is the only way to take the “stew” out of stewardship.
For many years now, significant Christian voices have been warning us about the dangers of debt and the bondage of borrowing. Managing our financial resources is an act of stewardship. When the Corinthian believers were described as “first giving themselves to the Lord,” they set the example for us. When we give ourselves to the Lord, everything else is prioritized. The “stew” comes out of stewardship.
To some, tithing is too legalistic to discuss or teach today. I am saddened by such thinking. A legalist, I do not want to be. A Pharisee? I loathe the thoughts of such a characterization. Yet, tithing is biblical. An attitude of legalism or Phariseeism about it is not Biblical or Christian.
Teaching solid biblical stewardship to believers, younger and older, is a healthy place to begin getting us out of this “stew.” If we fail to do so, the situation will just get worse, and we will have lost another teachable moment in our generation. Debating over a declining piece of the pie in churches and conventions is a symptom of the “stew” we are facing. It is not a solution.
I think I am going to reread the book Taking the Stew out Stewardship. And better yet, I believe I am going to seriously study the Scriptures anew for a fresh word from the biggest Giver in the world. “For God so love the world He gave….”.