As I write this, Crestview is in the process of beginning the most extensive campaign to disciple our people in the area of finances that we have ever undertaken as a church. Financial Peace University has hit a new milestone, and under the leadership of Don Cramer we are seeking to help our people find freedom and peace of mind in the area of their finances. Self discipline is the key. For couples, a mutual understanding and plan about finances is a necessity. Both self discipline and a mutual understanding fold neatly into what it means to be a partner with God in kingdom work. With that brief introduction to the subject, I want to talk about money a little. Churches are notorious for not wanting their pastors to talk about money. However it is pretty obvious that Jesus never hesitated to talk about money. He said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
When we arrived at Crestview, we were pleased to discover that the church had a broad base of financial support. Yet even with that widespread support only 400,000 dollars were given in 1994. Only a little over three thousand of that was general fund gifts that supported the budget. The rest was designated to the missions or building fund mostly. I began to tell our leaders that it had always been my practice to weave teachings about stewardship into messages about Christian discipleship. I had found that a message devoted solely to giving was not nearly as effective as teaching about giving in the larger context of teaching people how to follow Jesus. Some people did not agree with me and from time to time would try to pressure me to speak on giving more. Those voices were stifled in time as our giving began to grow. We rapidly moved from annual gifts of four hundred thousand to nearly six hundred thousand, from six hundred thousand to nine hundred thousand, and then from over one million to this past year of record breaking giving of well over three million. Through all of this development, we have stayed the course as one of the leading supporters of missions in Texas. We are a leading church in our gifts to World Hunger. I am constantly approached by those who work for our state convention and told that we are known far and wide for our financial commitment to missions and that when we speak the convention listens.
Why would I devote this space to this part of the history at Crestview? I want those who lead churches who may read this in the near or distant future to be aware of some principles about stewardship that you will not likely learn in classes or in books. Let me look back and share some further evidence before I write of these principles. In Richland Springs we tripled our giving in four years. In Mason we increased our giving by fifty per cent. In Baird we doubled our giving in six years, in Kingsville we tripled our giving in ten years, and here at Crestview we have reached the place of giving eight times what the church gave in 1994, Was this done by preaching regular sermon series on stewardship? Those who know are well aware that it was not. So how did it happen?
1. “There is gold in the harvest.” People often speak of a harvest of golden grain. Let me use that analogy to say that we never reach people in order to increase gifts, but if we are reaching people gifts will increase. They will do so for two reasons. People who have found new life in Jesus give out of thankful hearts. People who are drawn to join because their hearts have been touched want to support their new church. People who are long standing members get excited when they see people reached and want to give more. Therefore there is gold in the harvest.
2. People joyfully support a program with a clear mission and vision. They do not want to pay bills. They want to invest in world changing realities that start where they live and extend to the ends of the earth. This is the vision that must be cast and must be clearly implemented so that everyone who attends sees their giving as a good and worthy investment in the Kingdom of God.
3. Personal conversations or teachings about stewardship are infinitely more effective than sermons. I have had more conversations about stewardship over the years than I have ever preached sermons devoted to the subject. In every case, those that I have talked to have thanked me for the counsel and responded in greater confidence about their giving.
I will close with a story. When we served First Baptist Baird, I was making a rural visit to a deacon, but could not find his house. I stopped at a small wood framed house to ask for directions. When I introduced myself the owner of the house, an elderly lady, said, “Oh, you are my pastor!” She had not attended in many years and was delighted to meet me. She insisted that I come in a moment. I noticed she had a large collection of dolls and I asked if I could come back and bring my little girls to see her dolls. She was excited about that return visit. As I left, she said, “You are the first pastor who has ever been to my house.” You cannot imagine how many times I have been told this in our forty years of leading churches. I made that return visit with my wife and daughters and she was so blessed to have us come that she began faithfully attending the church again. God in his providence blessed that woman with an amazing oil discovery on her land. She paid off a sizable debt for a building the church had built before I came there. She was almost solely responsible for the entire remaining balance being retired. She also supported our budget generously. She wrote up a will before we left for Kingsville in which she left her entire estate to First Baptist Baird. She had no other heirs and joyously wanted to bless the church that had reconnected her to its fellowship in her later years.
No pastor should ever complain about poor finances who is too lazy to faithfully visit his people, and for that matter, allow God to lead him to stumble on to a spiritual gold mine. Even if Ruth, that was her name, had been penniless the church would have been blessed by her spiritual renewal, but God in his grace had greater things in mind.