Archives For Stewardship

The Briefing

Here’s where evangelicals are giving the most and least
Giving continues to rise for many categories of ministry, according to new research released today by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). An analysis of the finances of more than 1,800 of its accredited members found a 2.2% rise in cash contributions from 2015 to 2016. This group also saw a 3.6% rise in non-cash giving, which includes income such as government grants or real estate. That adds up to $16.2 billion of giving—$12.6 billion in cash and $3.6 billion in non-cash—to evangelical ministries in 2016.

It’s official: Evangelicals appreciate Chick-fil-A the most
You could say Chick-fil-A is one of those fast-food restaurants with a cult following. But in this case, the closed-on-Sunday chicken sandwich chain clearly has a church following. Evangelicals and fellow Christians have the most positive view of the Chick-fil-A brand, according to Morning Consult’s 2017 Community Impact Ratings. In breakout poll results provided to CT, 62 percent of evangelicals considered Chick-fil-A to have a positive impact on their community, compared to 48 percent of Americans on average.

Former fire chief Cochran’s rights aired in court
A federal court is weighing not only former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran’s right to express his beliefs but the right of others as well, religious liberty advocates say. A federal judge heard arguments Nov. 17 in Atlanta regarding the city’s 2015 firing of Cochran. The city terminated Cochran, now a staff member of a Southern Baptist church, after he wrote a men’s devotional book that advocated in a brief section the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, including that homosexual behavior is immoral.

Iraqi Archbishop pleads with Trump to save 20,000 Christians
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, is urging President Donald Trump to help 20,000 Iraqi Christian families that have been driven out of their homes following attacks and dangers from Islamic extremists. Warda said in an interview that 20,000 Iraqi Christian families, or around 100,000 people, still need vital assistance following years of attacks by Islamic radicals and other conflicts.

Church of Sweden to stop using ‘he’ and ‘Lord’
The Church of Sweden has urged its clergy to use more gender-neutral language when referring to God and to avoid referring to the deity as “Lord” or “he”. The move is one of many made by the national Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is in the process of updating a 31-year-old handbook, which outlines how services should be conducted in terms of language, hymns and other aspects.

Sources: Christianity Today (2), Baptist Press, The Christian Post, The Independent

Increased missions support is encouraging, but it’s just a beginning.

The new year brought encouraging news to the IBSA office: In 2015, churches gave more than $6.2 million through the Cooperative Program, which funds missions and ministry in Illinois, across the country, and around the globe.

That’s $93,914 more than in 2014, an increase of 1.53%.

“We certainly are grateful to each IBSA church that continues to prioritize missions and ministries beyond their church by giving through the Cooperative Program,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams, in response to the increase.

Founded in 1925, the Cooperative Program works when churches send a percentage of their tithes and offerings to their state convention, which then forwards a percentage—Illinois sends 43.25%—to support and train more than 4,000 international missionaries, plus 5,600 missionaries and chaplains in North America.

The remainder—56.25%—stays in Illinois to help get the gospel to eight million people who don’t know Christ, to strengthen nearly 1,000 existing churches, and to help start new congregations in neighborhoods with little to no evangelical presence.

Over the past several years, cooperative giving has been hampered by economic downturn. Adams noted that 2015 giving still fell behind 2012 and 2013 (and IBSA’s peak year of 2009).

“Throughout most of 2015, Cooperative Program giving in Illinois was running one to two percent behind 2014, so when giving surged in December and ended up higher than 2014, we were very encouraged,” he said. “I know a number of churches that have been struggling in various ways, and I hope this upturn in giving is an indication of greater church health and strength in 2016.”

The Southern Baptist Executive Committee shared its own good news in October, when they reported a 1.39% increase in nationwide CP giving over the previous fiscal year. The increase can be credited at least in part to the “1% CP Challenge” issued to churches by Executive Committee President Frank Page.

Last year, Baptist Press reported more than 4,400 churches have met or exceeded the challenge to increase their giving through CP by 1%. Page has said that if every SBC church accepted the challenge, CP giving would increase by $100 million.

Looking into 2016, Adams echoed the challenge. “I would join our national SBC partners in urging churches to embrace percentage giving from their annual budgets, and to consider a 1% increase in CP giving this next year.”

For Cooperative Program promotional resources, contact IBSA’s Church Communications Team at (217) 391-3127 or Communications@IBSA.org.

 

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Missionaries-squareBy Meredith Flynn | The tone was set at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention: If we’re going to continue sending missionaries to people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, the missions paradigm has to change.

“Churches almost unknowingly begin to farm out missions to missions organizations,” International Mission Board President David Platt said during the missionary commissioning service that coincided with the Convention.

“But this is not how God designed it.”

Instead, said the leader of the world’s largest evangelical missions organization, local churches must play a greater role in sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, like the first-century church at Antioch did.

Two months later, Platt announced 600-800 missionaries and staff would end their service with the IMB through a voluntary retirement incentive and subsequent hand-raising opportunity. And the local church was still central to the conversation.

IMB released a list of ways churches can support returning missions personnel. Many, including Illinois pastor Doug Munton, publicly encouraged local congregations to consider hiring returning missionaries to fill vacant staff positions.

At their September meeting, the SBC Executive Committee adopting a resolution encouraging churches to give to the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ main method of funding missions—“more than ever before” in light of the IMB cuts.

Since Platt was named president in 2014, he has prioritized the responsibility of local churches and everyday Christians to leverage what they have so that more people around the world might hear and respond to the gospel. And not just through monetary gifts.

“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year…we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said when he announced the personnel plan in August. The solution: “Consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go.”

What it means for churches: Those avenues may find business people, college students and retirees in your church leaving their lives in the U.S. to take the gospel to people who have never heard it. Local congregations have an opportunity to expand the ways they think about missions, and encourage “regular” people in the pews to do the same.

How is tithing like football?The numbers may be surprising. A people who claim generous giving as a way of life, with the biblical standard of 10% as their benchmark, give only about 3% of their income to charitable causes, including their local church.

And of evangelicals, only

12% qualify as tithers, giving 10% or more of their income to their church (or other organizations), according to researcher George Barna.

So, what’s the disconnect? We talk about tithing. We teach tithing. But many believers don’t tithe. Why?

And here’s a better question: What’s at stake if we don’t give generously?

First and ten

The play is complete, the ball is down, but the purpose of the next play is unclear. If the football has been moved 10 yards, it’s a first down and the offense gets to start counting its march downfield from its new vantage point. If not, the play could be the last, for now. Ground gained could be lost.

So the chain gang comes in from the sidelines to measure the advance of the ball. Was it 10? Is the offense positioned to start another advance?

Similarly, in ministry, gospel advance is often determined by the resources available to move the mission forward. And month after month, we call in the chain gang to measure our progress financially.

Sometimes we pass the line.

Often we fall short.

At issue is how we teach people to give, and how we budget based on those expectations.

Many evangelicals have a firm commitment to tithing as a New Testament command. Tithing is commanded in the Old Testament. In fact, multiple tithes are collected from the Israelites to support the priests, the temple, and the poor.

It is the prophet Malachi who puts the sharpest point on the one-tenth rule: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!….By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts (Mal. 3:8-10, HCSB).

When Jesus speaks about giving 400 years after Malachi, the tenth is assumed (Matt. 23:23). But Jesus, criticizing the legalistic actions of the Pharisees, expresses concern about the heart in giving. And Paul prescribes giving that is compassionate, generous, systematic, and regular (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Some would argue that the tithe is still in place for New Testament believers, that it is still a command. Others contend that, free from Law, the tithe becomes a benchmark for believers who choose to give, and that the command is instead generosity.

Call it obedience

Former Illinois pastor Rick Ezell frames tithing as an act of obedience. “If you are tithing, you are being obedient to God’s instructions. But remember that tithing has always been the floor—the place to begin, not the ceiling—the place to end, of giving to God’s work.”

In a recent devotional for his South Carolina congregation, Ezell advised taking steps to correct faulty giving patterns. “If you are not tithing, perhaps it is because of poor money management. Many believers don’t tithe not because they don’t want to, but due to their current economic situation and spending habits. Maybe you need to spend some time examining your expenses and evaluating your priorities.”

“I am very direct about preaching and teaching on generous giving,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon. He holds up the tithe as the standard. “I have tithed and beyond all of my life and this is extremely valuable to my spiritual life. I preach on the importance of a generous life.

“Generous giving (tithing and beyond) is one of our expectations of members of FBCO. And generous giving is one of the great joys of my life.”

For Bryan Price, pastor of Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, the tithe offers clarity. “For me, the idea of tithing gives a better guideline for people, gives a benchmark,” Price said. “Focusing on giving (rather than tithing specifically), that benchmark was missing.”

Both Munton and Price preach regularly on giving. Munton leads an annual stewardship emphasis. And Price returned to a financial series after a two-year break when he was encouraged by church leaders to address the issue again.

“Having discussion with our elders, I asked our Sunday school to join me (in a stewardship emphasis). Price admits he feels some tension when preaching on giving. “You don’t want to come across trying to beat people over the head about money,” he said, but “we made a concerted effort, and it proved beneficial.”

Especially among younger people. “You would think people would be familiar with tithing, but we have younger people coming up and newly marrieds. They’re hearing these things for the first time really.”

And the results? “We have definitely seen an increase in giving in the past several months,” Price said.

The head of an organization called Generous Giving, Brian Kluth, says pastors can’t be shy about teaching on money. “We need to learn to be open-handed people in a tight-fisted world.” Kluth had considerable success as a pastor leading his Colorado congregation in giving. “Every time you give to the Lord, you are declaring who your source is, who your help is,” Kluth said.

In a recent blog post on tithing, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd warned against greed as the enemy of generosity: “Somehow we must grow in our faith enough to understand that when we do not give biblically by both tithing and practicing generosity, we are not walking in godliness.”

But, he admits, it will take support from the pews to overcome reticence to address money issues. “Lead the way laypeople, encouraging your pastor to preach on tithing and generosity. Encourage and defend him both privately and publicly,” Floyd wrote.

Floyd’s comments come as the SBC strains to rebound in Cooperative Program giving to missions, and to answer long-term questions about funding for SBC missions on all fronts. The potential for gospel advance would be almost unimaginable, if the biblical standards for generosity were heeded.

What if we all tithed?

Empty Tomb, Inc., a Champaign-based research firm, asked this question when average giving by church members was at its lowest point in their annual surveys (2.46% in 2008): What if all givers tithed? The researchers projected that if every church member in the U.S. gave 10% rather than the average 3%, the additional amount available for kingdom work would be $172-Billion.

Empty Tomb speculated, “If those members had specified that 60% of their increased giving were to be given to international missions, there would have been an additional $103-Billion available for the international work of the church. That would have left an additional $34-Billion for domestic missions, including poverty conditions in the U.S., and this all on top of our current church activities.”

Meanwhile, the ball moves ahead in fit and starts, while the measuring gang rattles the chains on the sidelines.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist where this article first appeared in the September 21 issue. Read the Illinois Baptist online now.

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Nate_Adams_March23Recently a bivocational pastor shared with me a difficult decision he needed to make, whether or not to stay as pastor of the church he was serving. He had already accepted the reality that the small church could not afford both his insurance and a full-time wage, and that he needed employment outside the church to support his family. What seemed to have him questioning whether he could stay were recent remarks by a couple of his church members.

“We had to cancel Sunday services one week because of a snowstorm,” he explained, “and a couple of the members raised the question of whether or not they should still pay me that week, since I hadn’t actually preached.”

I could hear the hurt in his voice, and read the disappointment in his face. He was still a few years away from retirement, and had recently lost his job outside the church. At a time when being valued by the church was very important to him, a couple of unthinking church members had made him feel less valued than ever.

But the pastor went on to explain that, in his view, the problem probably ran deeper than a careless statement or two. “I really think some of them think that way. They aren’t giving generously to the Lord, or even to support me as their pastor. They feel they are merely purchasing a service from me, and that if that service is not delivered, the church shouldn’t have to pay.”

After a few minutes of talking it through, it seemed clear to me that the pastor was going to stick it out. He loved his congregation, and I suspect that even the ones who made the hurtful statements loved him. But he and I agreed that if he was going to feel appreciated, and perhaps even more importantly, if his people were to have their hearts matured and transformed into generous, godly givers, that he needed to provide some candid teaching, and loving but direct conversation, on tithing and giving.

I think one of the reasons I was able to understand this pastor’s hurt and encourage him to press on is that this same dynamic of consumerism can also affect our cooperative missions work as churches. Not often, but occasionally, I will hear someone ask, “Why should we give to that? What do they do for us?”

They could be referring to a mission offering, or the Cooperative Program, or the local association, or any ministry where the investment is largely in people that are doing ministry among and on behalf of the churches. If there’s not some direct, tangible benefit back to the church, the value is questioned. “If they aren’t here, helping us, maybe they don’t deserve our support.” If the sermon isn’t preached, the ongoing, continual ministry of the pastor isn’t valued.

The next Sunday after that conversation, a snowstorm hit here in Springfield. Several area churches cancelled services, but our church did not.

With that pastor’s pain still in the back of my mind, I got up early to clear the snow from our driveway, and make sure we could get to church. As we headed out the door, I asked my wife to make sure we had our offering envelope with us. I remembered in a fresh way that our tithe was the Lord’s, and that our church’s staff and ministries count on our support, whether we’re there benefitting from them or not.

I also remembered that the portion of my weekly offering that goes through the Cooperative Program supports thousands of missionaries and other ministries that operate literally around the clock and around the world. The Lord and they are at the heart of my giving, not the benefits I receive. And I’m grateful for each one of you that feels and gives from that heart too.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Nate_Adams_1110HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently the city council in Seattle, Washington, voted unanimously to change their designation of the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. “Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington,” said one Indian nation president during the council meeting. And so, at least on one day in October, the city of Seattle will go its own way.

And yet, Seattle is not alone. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, city council passed a similar measure earlier this year. In Hawaii, they now celebrate “Discoverers’ Day” instead of Columbus Day, while in South Dakota it’s now “Native Americans Day.”

As much as I appreciate our nation’s Native American heritage, actions like these seem to me to denote a troublesome attitude or mindset, and yet one that I’m noticing more and more, even in Baptist life. It’s a mindset that says, “We’re mainly interested in what’s relevant and valuable to us here at home, and less interested in the bigger picture of what others are doing.”

In a way, it’s a mindset that’s compatible with the deeply held Baptist belief in autonomy. “No one outside our church is going to tell us what to do!” Yet at the same time it’s a mindset that tugs against the very spirit of unity and cooperation that have always been the hallmarks and strength of Baptist churches.

The way I see it expressed more these days is through practices such as designated rather than cooperative giving, or ecumenical rather than denominational partnerships. For example, one large Baptist church in the south that used to give more than $1 million through the Cooperative Program recently shifted more than 90% of that directly to their preference, international missions. And I see Baptist churches of all sizes occasionally doing missions or benevolence projects with partners whose doctrinal positions I daresay they have not examined.

Some of this is people just naturally doing what they want, or supporting what they find most compelling. But in those individual choices or preferences, there are often also great losses. When we each do what we prefer locally, we diminish what we can all accomplish collectively.

As we come to the close of another year here in Illinois, and perhaps finalize our church budgets, I would encourage us to do more pulling together and less pulling apart. There is already great individuality and diversity among our churches. And yet it is our unity around Baptist doctrine and cooperative missions that pulls us together, and allows us to accomplish together things that no individual church could do on its own.

Recently I’ve been invited to a number of churches to share, usually in a combined adult Sunday school class, how and why “cooperative missions” works, and then to preach in the morning worship service. Each time I do, there are older adults who come and say something like, “That’s why I’ve been Southern Baptist all my life.” And there are younger adults, many of whom didn’t grow up in a Baptist church or receive any childhood missions education, who say, “You know, I don’t think I really understood how we work together with other churches, but that really makes sense.”

In other words, our churches are already full of indigenous peoples, who naturally go their own ways. Our responsibility as autonomous but cooperating Baptist churches is to pull people together around the Word of God and the Mission of God.

Columbus wasn’t the first or only discoverer of America, and he wasn’t perfect. But when we celebrate in his name, we pull together as a nation, and we affirm the spirit of adventure and discovery. Likewise we should enthusiastically pull together as Baptists, around the name of Jesus Christ, and in support of the wonderful adventure we share, establishing His Kingdom in a new world.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Nate_AdamsCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

Just a few days ago, my wife, Beth, and I finally got around to doing something we had promised ourselves we would do for years. We updated our wills.

It’s only the second time in our married life that we have drawn up wills, and this time around it was quite different. For one thing, our young adult sons are now old enough to play significant, legal roles in matters such as our future healthcare decisions and finances. Frankly, it felt a little sobering this time around to assign those responsibilities to our children rather than our parents.

We also discovered that the people and causes to which we wish to entrust our earthly possessions at life’s end have, at least in some cases, evolved. Our confidence in the effectiveness of some ministries has increased, while in others it has decreased. Even within the ministries we have always planned to support with our estate, we now have more specific causes we want to empower.

But by far the biggest difference in updating our estate plan this time around was in the help we had doing it. This time we had a wonderful tool from the Baptist Foundation of Illinois called the “Life Stewardship Navigator.” And we had the expert help of our friend and BFI Executive Director Doug Morrow.

The Life Stewardship Navigator is simply a do-ityourself document that walks you through the different types of assets and decisions you need to consider as you form your estate plan. It helped us pull together our records and documents, and talk through key decisions we needed to make as a couple.

With that information in hand, we were ready to sit down with Doug and discuss the best ways to both
take care of our family and invest in Christian causes well beyond our lifetimes. Doug called it “taking
care of both the kids and the Kingdom.”

With Doug’s office here in Springfield where we live, having that conversation with him personally was easiest for us. But the Foundation also has qualified attorneys all over the state who make it relatively
easy for any Illinois Baptist to have that same helpful conversation.

Frankly, the hardest part of the entire process was not filling out the Life Stewardship Navigator, or
walking through the paperwork with Doug. The hardest part was simply sitting down as a couple and
making some of the biggest decisions of our lives about our life stewardship as disciples of Jesus
Christ.

Though we are lifelong tithers and seek to be generous with Kingdom causes beyond our tithe, we realized during this process that our estate plan would far exceed even our lifetimes of weekly giving
through our church. What we chose to do with the accumulated wealth of our lives, however large or
small that might be, would be our largest single opportunity ever to contribute financially to God’s
Kingdom on earth. So prayerfully, thoughtfully, we wrote out a plan that will care for our family, and that will support ministries that advance the Gospel and support Baptist churches and ministries, especially here in our Illinois mission field.

I realize now that the day I sat down with my spouse to outline our estate plan was, in effect, my own personal Memorial Day. It was the day I was able to intentionally choose the values that I want to
memorialize my life, and to stand the tests of time and eternity.

I know that my life is about far more than my material possessions. But I also know that where my
treasure is, there my heart is also. So I chose to communicate to God that the biggest giving opportunity of my life places His Kingdom as the top priority. We can all do that. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.