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The Heart of a Caretaker (Part 1)

Few things teach us more about ourselves and God than money.

Describe what you've learned preaching over the years on stewardship.

It's helpful to preach as a fellow traveler, to share about my own struggles, how my wife and I have made decisions around the use of time and money and the talents God has given us.

One story comes to mind about my first stewardship campaign. We had engaged a consultant, and he encouraged me to share my personal commitment to our building project. I wasn't comfortable with that, but I went ahead and shared the financial commitment my wife and I had made; not just the dollar amount, but the conversation we'd had around it. That simple act changed the whole dynamic of that campaign. It opened up conversations for people. It was a small church; they all knew what I made and what I was committing, and so stewardship suddenly became concrete and accessible for people.

We did a similar thing in our recent campaign here at Grace. In conjunction with a teaching series, we prepared a 30-day devotional guide where staff and elders each wrote an entry about some personal insight they've had as stewards. Once again, the leadership became fellow travelers with people and put us all on the same level.

A second thing that has helped is to use numbers and be specific. Until you get concrete, people don't always hear or understand. We did that in a recent series on stewardship of time. Working out ofPsalm 90, I talked about how we live 70 or 80 years. I calculated that 80 years equals 29,200 days. Then I said, "How quickly can you go through $29,000?" Suddenly, when people had a sense of how many days they had left, we had their attention. When we got to the tithing sermon a couple weeks later, I pulled the median household income for the county, which was $62,000, and said, "if you tithe that money, that's $6,200 a year; that's $120 a week in the offering plate." Many of the people told me afterwards they had never thought about what tithing really meant until we used the numbers.

When the Spirit is working freely in our lives and in the church, there is this sense of abundance and abandon.

You need to know the culture in which you're teaching. My first church was just outside of New York City. New York is a money culture, so I could be direct with people about money. After 15 years in New York, we came to New England, which is a culture of thrift and restraint. I preached on money pretty quickly after I got here, and I could tell it caught people by surprise how blunt I was.

Then, you have to lighten it up. It's such a tough topic for people. The moment you say it—money, time, service—you're challenging people, and everyone gets defensive. You have to find ways to ease the tension. We don't regularly use drama in our worship, but we almost always do if we're discussing money, because it lets people relax and look at themselves. Do anything to let people laugh; it relieves the tension in the room and helps people process the truth.

Jesus says, "To whom much is given, much is required." Some of the scarier passages addressed to Christians have stewardship as their subject.

It reveals how serious God is about advancing his kingdom. He's not interested in things staying the same. It reveals God's passion about extending salvation, righteousness, justice, and mercy. Jesus talks in Matthew 25 about faithfulness. Faithfulness isn't staying even; faithfulness is increasing. The servant who stayed even was called wicked and worthless, and was cast out. Sometimes churches can get into a mentality of, "We're just going to be faithful." That canbecome an excuse for non-growth. Jesus' strong language reveals his commitment to the growth of his kingdom.

Jesus also talks about the strong connection between our hearts and wallets, that what we do with our money and time reveals what's going on in our hearts. In fact, Jesus says it doesn't just reveal it; it determines it. He says, "Where your treasure is your heart will be." We think that what we value we give to, but Jesus turns that around and says what you give to you'll value. Jesus comes at that repeatedly and with such strength because if we're not honoring God in those ways, we're probably not honoring him in other ways.

What do you think a faithful caretaker of time, gifts, and money knows about God?

You mentioned earlier, "To whom much is given, much is required." Some of the best caretakers I know are those who realize how much they've been given by God, how grateful they are for his gifts, to the point of wonderment that they should have so much, either spiritually or materially. With that goes this desire, out of gratitude for what God has done and an eagerness to be like God, to be generous and faithful sharing that with others.

They also have a confidence that God and his purposes are good and that they can trust him. If they give away a significant amount of money, they can trust him for their future. If they give up their weekends to teach a Sunday school class, they can trust God that he'll bless their family and personal lives with health and vitality. They have both gratitude towards God and a confidence in God's character and will for their lives.

That attitude is liberating. Being a giver has become a wonderful way to live because they feel like they can't lose. They have such joy in giving, and then joy in watching how God provides for them, even if it's not a material provision. The spiritual blessings that come through a generous life are rich.

How does our understanding of each member of the Trinity enhance our understanding of what it means to be a faithful caretaker for the Lord?

James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). The Father has given those gifts out of his wisdom, grace, and providence and placed them in my care. If he has been so generous with me and has determined that I should have certain opportunities or resources, how can I not honor him in the way I use them, and be generous with others? I think about my earthly father "giving me an education." Certainly I contributed along the way, but he made sure I got a good education. Why did he do that? So that I could live a productive life. So that I could fulfill my potential as a person. I want to honor that.

When I think about the Son, the first thing that comes to mind is how eager Jesus was to do his Father's work. "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5:17). He wasintent to work hard, work well, work on the right things, and fulfill all that God had called him to do.

And I think about the abandon of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit is working freely in our lives and in the church, there is this sense of abundance and abandon. If he gives gifts like evangelism, mercy, preaching, or leadership—or if he gives the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience—you don't want to get in the way of that. Like a reservoir flowing in and flowing out again, you want to keep that abundance of God's Spirit flowing into and then out of your life again. If you hold onto it, the flow stagnates.

In part two of this interview, Wilkerson discusses tithing and how certain root sins affect stewardship.

Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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