Responsibility, Accountability, and Trust

(Matthew 25:14-30)

Today I want to address an issue that can be sensitive, personal, challenging, and for some a topic they consider off limits. The topic is giving to God through the church.

I know some preachers shy away from this topic and still others harp on it almost very Sunday. Also, this month typically many churches begin their "annual stewardship campaign," the time when they ask the congregation to estimate their giving for the coming year.

But stewardship is so much more than a campaign and a commitment card, it's a lifestyle.

So to better understand stewardship lets consider some definitions. First, stewardship is more than money; it also includes the giving of our time, our skills, and our abilities. No one gift is more important than the other. For example, giving money for ministry is not more important than giving our time and one doesn't replace the other. Money, time, talents, skills, and abilities are equally important and all ought to be freely given in support of God's mission.

Stewardship is also more than giving. It's taking good care of all that God provides - our lives, family and friends, the earth's people, and all its natural resources.

Stewardship begins when we realize we don't own anything. All we have, all we are, all we hope to be, comes from and belongs to God who graciously shares with us and calls us to be good caretakers of all that he has provided.

Stewardship is everything we do after we say "I believe." It's placing our trust in God that he will provide for us and show us how to use all our resources to glorify Him.

When we get the big stewardship picture, the pieces begin to fall into place. And this understanding of stewardship applies not only to us as individuals but also to us as the body of Christ, the church.

Today's Gospel reading follows on the heels of last week's gospel reading about the ten bridesmaids, and comes before the parable of God's judgment. So what we have is a pattern emerging.

We learned last week that we need to be prepared for the coming of Jesus by being a faithful Christian witness. This week we learn that to be a faithful Christian witness we need to live a lifestyle of Christian stewardship. And then comes final judgment, which is when God will evaluate how we've done. Today's gospel reading emphasizes how we need to live until Jesus does return.

The master divided the talents among his servants, according to their abilities. No one received more or less than they could handle. And if they failed in their assignment, their excuse could not be that they were overwhelmed. Failure could come only from laziness or hatred toward the master. The talents in the parable represent any kind of resource we have been given. God gives us time, money, skills, and other resources according to our abilities, and expects us to invest them wisely into his kingdom until he returns. The issue isn't how much we're given, but how well we use what we've been given.

Clearly Jesus must have seen this as an important issue since he spoke of how we use our time, our gifts and our money more than any other topic, including the topic of love, during his three year ministry in this world. Jesus didn't shy away from the topic and neither should we.

In a nutshell, what Jesus is talking about is living a lifestyle of wholistic stewardship. A lifestyle of diligently using all that God has given us in order to serve Him completely, in whatever we do. We are responsible to use well what God has given us. And he will hold us accountable for how we use his gifts.

I think one of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to be a good steward. It's hard for us to determine, whether individually or as the church, how best to use the gifts God has entrusted to us. We agonize over what to do and what to give, and then we worry about whether we made the right decision. We want to please God; we want to know without a doubt that we're fulfilling God's purpose.

One thing I learned, say about 10 years ago is that decisions within the church are more complex then they were when I was working in the business world. And this was major a-ha moment for me on my Christian walk.

Many of you are aware that my path to ordained ministry took me through the role of stewardship chair at the church I was attending. It's in this role I came to a new awareness and understanding of what Christian stewardship is all about and as a result my world as I understood it was turned upside down.

You see when I was responsible for leading an operating division of a company, and was making strategic business decisions; I was focused on making the best possible decision to return a financial profit to the benefit of our share holders while growing the part of the business I was responsible for.

And in a way I assumed all organizations worked the same, including the church, because I really didn't know any different.

Through my new understanding of stewardship, however, I learned that within the church, we certainly make financial decisions, but not with the same purpose or end result in mind. The decisions we make within the church center on how to best use the resources God has given us to make disciples, so that the Gospel message can be proclaimed wide and deep, thus growing the church and the kingdom of God. In a sense the profit of such decisions became disciples, people like you and me, not financial gain.

In the business world leadership is responsible to, and is held accountable by its customers, a governing board and ultimately by the share holders if it's a publicly traded company. Within the church responsibility and accountability for using the gifts given is also twofold: 1. We each are held responsible for giving our time, money and gifts to carry out our God-given mission, and ultimately we will be held accountable to God for what we do or don't do. 2. The leadership of the church is responsible for using the gifts given to the church for ministry, and is held accountable by the congregation and God for the effective use of these gifts. And this is why a vision and mission are so important. One of the tools we have in helping define how we give and how we use our resources is a well defined vision and mission, not only as a church, but as individuals.

How many of you have a well defined mission statement for yourself, and what is your vision of the future?

You see vision and mission are important because they become the focus of our giving and participation in ministry. A vision states where we want to be, and our mission is how we get there.

For example, Trinity's vision is to advance the kingdom of God in Emmitsburg and the surrounding area, meaning we have a vision of a community where more and more people are growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

How we get there is our mission. Trinity's mission is to glorify God through heartfelt worship, service to others, and by making and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words we believe we can advance the kingdom of God, if we provide inspirational and life-changing worship experiences, by helping others in their time of need, and by making disciples and equipping them with the knowledge, passion, and tools to make more disciples.

This then is our guide for how we use the gifts given to the church. If we are using the gifts given to the church to execute the mission, more likely than not, we're going to make the right decisions. The same is true of our personal lives.

What is your purpose? What is your mission? And what is your vision for the future? Have you ever taken the time to reflect on these questions?

With the help of the Holy Spirit I encourage you to develop a vision and mission for yourself, then you can make decisions regarding how to use the blessings and gifts God has given you more intentionally and with more certainty.

My personal vision is to persuade others to receive the saving grace of Jesus Christ. My mission is to be the best possible Christian witness I can be by boldly living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now let me also say that just because we have a vision and mission doesn't guarantee we won't make mistakes or have miscues sometimes, because we will. But I'm convinced if we have clear understanding of who we are, and who's we are, and have a sharp focus of what our purpose is, our mistakes and miscues will be far less than if we simply fly by the seat of our pants.

Now when it comes specifically to the issue of money some feel it's a personal matter and shouldn't be discussed in church, but the truth is money is a spiritual matter and should be discussed so that we understand what God's position is on the use of HIS money. And yes it's God's money, he only lets us use it, it's not ours to keep forever.

You see from God's perspective our value is not based on what we have or how much we have, it's based on who we are and how we use what we have. You'll notice a hearse isn't equipped with a luggage rack or a trailer hitch. So we can't take what we have with us when we die.

A couple of months ago I was reading an obituary of a young man who wanted to be buried in his pickup truck, I guess he thought he could take it with him, or he just didn't want anyone else to drive it. But we can't take what we have here in this world with us.

This is not simply putting a spiritual spin on a very practical matter. Giving is not a worldly matter with spirituality as the benefactor, meaning we give so God will bless us with even more money or stuff. Giving is very much a spiritual matter with both spiritual and worldly implications.

As we give, and if we give completely of ourselves for the right reasons, we will make a difference in the lives of others. When we give from the heart we will be blessed, perhaps we'll receive a smile from a child who is receiving his first and only Christmas gift, maybe we receive a hug from someone who hasn't eaten in two days, or perhaps we feel this unexplainable joy in our heart, knowing we helped someone and pleased God as well.

In our giving, not only are we meeting someone's worldly needs, we are also helping them see Christ as they experience the spiritual blessing of love, compassion, and joy through us. In return we also end up receiving these spiritual blessings.

The future of our community and the world doesn't lie in who has the most toys, who has the most money, or how well the stock market does.

The future lies in our willingness, and the willingness of all Christians, to understand one another, and to understand our God given purpose, which includes using what God has blessed us with to fulfill the mission he has entrusted to us.

Here at Trinity you'll notice we don't have an annual pledge campaign where we ask the congregation to fill out a pledge card and provide an estimate of giving for the coming year, from which a budget is then produced. We don't because I believe this reduces the spiritual importance of giving, to a mechanical act of placing money in an offering plate.

" If we are living as good Christian stewards, and we believe in the vision and mission God has given us we shouldn't have to have pledge cards. " If we believe in the ministry of Jesus Christ we shouldn't have to ask every year how much folks will give. " If we believe that God has given the church the responsibility to carry out his ministry we shouldn't have to hold fund raisers for the purpose of maintaining the institution. And encouraging people to give shouldn't be required. " If we are truly followers of Christ giving our best comes naturally and joyfully.

Now this doesn't mean we don't create a budget, because that's the responsible thing to do, it doesn't mean we don't track giving and expenses, because we are accountable to God for being good stewards, and it doesn't mean we make decisions without prayer and discussion, because this is how we seek God's guidance, as we place our trust in him to lead us in the proper direction.

What it does mean is that we don't spend all are time being consumed by figuring out what it will take to maintain the institution. Yes, at the appropriate meeting we put on our financial hats and we discuss these issues, we discuss the bills, we discuss how to maintain the building in good order so ministry can occur, but we do so with our focus on supporting the ministry of the church, and not on how we can keep the heat on in the building throughout the week, or how we can squeeze more out of our volunteers so we can reduce expenses.

The focus of our financial discussion is how we can best support the ministry of the church with the resources we have available. And how can we support the Lord's ministry with excellence.

If we're not willing to give our best to the work of the Lord, then we might as well close the doors and go home. You see God evaluates both our motives and the quality of what we offer him.

In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain gave an offering to the Lord, his heart wasn't into it, but he knew he was required to give so he did. Abel on the other hand gladly gave the best he had to the Lord out of thanks for all the Lord had done for him. As a result the Lord was pleased with Abel and not with Cain, not because of how much was given, but because of the attitude each displayed when giving.

Do we give just because we're suppose to and have been conditioned over the years to give to the church, do we give out of guilt, or do we give with a glad heart out of thanksgiving?

When we give to God and others, we should have a joyful heart because of what we are able to give and do. And we shouldn't worry about how much we're giving up, because all things are God's in the first place. Instead we should joyfully give to God our best in time, money, possessions, and talents.

Now God also doesn't want us to be irresponsible or extravagant with how we use the resources he's given us, but he does expect that what we do, we do to the best of our abilities with good stewardship as our motive.

You know by all worldly standards this church is wealthy and has been for over six years now. We have total assets that easily exceed 2 million dollars. And with this wealth comes added responsibility, a responsibility I believe God trusts we can handle, otherwise he wouldn't have blessed us with this kind of wealth.

As a congregation we are challenged to continue to give and share what we have from the heart, and not to diminish our personal giving because God has provided other resources. We are challenged to use the additional resources that God has blessed us with wisely to grow and facilitate the ministry of nurturing, outreach and witness.

Let me offer an illustration of what I mean by being responsible using the drapes in the fellowship hall as an example. A rich and inward looking church would decide to have custom draperies designed and made for the fellowship hall, using some of the finest materials so that the windows look nice when social events and dinners are held, or so others might be impressed with how we have adorned the church.

On the other hand a richly blessed and outward focused church will look for appropriate draperies at a Wal-Mart type store, seeking to buy drapes that will certainly look nice, but that also serve the function for which they were intended, without being over-the-top.

You see a rich church is concerned only with making life inside the walls more comfortable. A church that is richly blessed exercises good stewardship and will maintain a beyond-the-walls focus while addressing legitimate inside the wall issues. Do you see the difference? It's all in how we view the gifts we've received.

Balance is key, and by maintaining a keen focus on God when addressing issues as they come up we will ensure the proper inside-outside balance is maintained.

So as you consider how and what you will give back to God through the church the remainder of this year and next, don't think of your giving in terms of a budget or paying the bills, but as a sacred trust, as a way to say, "Thank you God," and as a way to intentionally support the ministry of Jesus Christ, a ministry we are all called to be part of. Consider you're giving as an act of worship and one means to share the glory of God with others.

We have been blessed to be a blessing to others, and by the power of the Holy Spirit I pray we each will take our roles as Christian stewards seriously, so when we stand before God in judgment, which we all will, we my hear those seven wonderful words, "Well done thy good and faithful servant."


Read other messages by Pastor Wade