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Stewardship Basket
by David Milotta
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Chapter 4
The Stewardship Basket
The church s need for financial support is difficult for most clergy to talk about, yet it is one of the most important challenges we face. It is as if the topic of money was  unclean and likely to cause embarrassment when discussed in public. Many pastors don t want to  rock the boat , or are embarrassed, so they are silent in asking for money. In some instances this hesitancy to discuss financial needs may come from family or cultural influences. Our theological foundation is based in scripture. The Bible has a lot to teach us about God s view of money and wealth. These are important lessons for both our personal life and the financial stability of our church. God wants to bless us in an overwhelming way and there are 7 spiritual principles that are set forth in scripture that we can depend upon as guidelines.
1. The Biblical concept of wealth has to do with right priorities and the acceptance of responsibilities. Paul warns Timothy about what happens when we get our priorities backwards and we love money more than God.
 For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. I Timothy 6:11
It is tempting to think that if we have enough money then we don t need to depend on God. This is a dangerous spiritual attitude in that ever so subtly our allegiance shifts from trusting God through faith and enjoying that relationship to another worldly path. Jesus reminds us that we need to make a choice about who is the Lord of our heart.
 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24
2. So we must choose to put our love for God before anything else. The proper attitude we should have about wealth, money, even our own bodies, is that all we have belongs to God.
 The earth is the Lord s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1 We are sort of like temporary care takers. When we serve God with our wealth we must act as what the Bible describes as a  good steward .
A steward is a trusted servant who takes care of property and belongings on behalf of his master. The Greek word used in the Bible has the meaning of  household manager . Faithful stewards are praised by their masters because they demonstrate a spirit of resourcefulness and use this position of trust as a further blessing for the master. A good steward adds to the master s prosperity.
God has given each of us certain gifts, talents, abilities, and a splash of faith. We are to be good stewards of these opportunities and gifts. The master expects each of us to do the best we can with what we have been given. 3. God is looking for a spiritual return on His investment in us. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents, how important it is that we act in a spiritually responsible manner.
 "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest." 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
In this spiritual lesson, the master, who represents God, leaves on a long journey and entrusts talents, bags of money, to three of his servants, for investment purposes. A talent was a huge amount of money equal to 5 years wages. The master gives  to each according to his ability . He gives to one servant 5 talents, to another servant 2 talents, and to one servant 1 talent. The master s actions demonstrate to us that we are made differently with different  giftedness and God is aware of this. We are never entrusted with more than we can be responsible for.
 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. Matthew 25:16
We don t know exactly how this steward made his trade that resulted in a 100% return for the master. The Greek phrase that is translated  he traded with them literally means  he put the gift to work . He took what the master offered and by using his own abilities returned a tremendous profit for the master. This makes the master very happy.
 His master said to him,  well done good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master. Matthew 25: 21
The servant who was given the one talent went and buried it in the ground. He was fearful of the master and afraid to take the risk of investing the gift. This is symbolic of people who don t use the resources God has given them. We use all kind of excuses, but the bottom line to God is that we have wasted His precious gift. This makes the master very unhappy.
 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Matthew 25: 30
Not only does the worthless servant get cast into eternal suffering, but his one talent is taken from him and given to the good servant who made a profit for his master. Unfair? Not in God s eyes. He knows that he ll get a better return on his investment with a wiser servant. 4. The point that Jesus is teaching us is that it is better to take a risk in the market place of life than seek safety by cowardly inaction. Faith is made to energize human resourcefulness. God wants us to try so He can anoint our activity.
 Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you Matthew 7:7
5. This teaching of Jesus reminds us that it is God s will that we actively seek out answers to prayer. We are not to just pray and sit idly by. That would be like the worthless servant not using his gift. Every challenge we face is an opportunity for God to take action. Just like the entrusting of talents to servants, so the giving to us by God of life s challenges are really golden opportunities to partner with God for spiritual miracles. God has placed His solutions to our problems in the world around us. We may have to do a lot of spiritual leg work, but answers are out there for us to find. If we never try we will never succeed.
6. There are some spiritual practices we can employ that will actively bring spiritual blessing into our lives. One of these is the giving of our wealth and money. This spiritual discipline of giving to the Lord s work helps us clarify in our minds the priority of money in our life. If we can give it away it has less a hold on us. The Bible teaches the discipline of tithing. A tithe is a tenth or 10% of what you make, grow, or otherwise earn. This is how the church was supported in Biblical times. The leader of the church must set the spiritual example by tithing. This monetary sacrifice gives the membership an incentive to give. In order for the leader to ask for money, he must deserve that right. That right is earned when the leaders tithe.
 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the doors of heaven for you and pour down for you an over flowing blessing Malachi 4:10
There are a few important observations about this verse that give us insight into how God operates in response to our giving and obedience. First, this is one of the very few places where God says  put me to the test. Often we read in scripture that we should  not test the lord thy God like in Deuteronomy 6: 16, Isaiah 7:12, Matthew 7:7. This is a direct challenge from God to trust Him in our giving. If we give our tithe to the church God promises to pour out His blessing on us. Secondly, these blessing are so much more than mere money. God s blessings are for all eternity, not just this earth time. Thirdly, God understands our heart s attitude toward Him and rewards us for our effort.
 Whatever your task, work heartily as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance of your reward; You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
7. Finally, God really wants us to experience His overflowing abundance. The secret is that we must give in order to receive. This act of obedience activates the spiritual blessings in our life.
 Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. Luke 6:38
God pulled all of these spiritual lessons together in my mind with an image of a basket weaver. I see God wanting to fill the basket of my life with His good blessing for me, so I want to make a really good basket in order to hold them all.
This is the Stewardship Basket.
There are different kinds of woven baskets. In Hawaii, it is a common sight out in the country to see woven hats and baskets made from coconut fronds for sale along the side of the road. These are loosely woven with holes or spaces we call pukas. They are perfect for holding large objects or for a causal sun hat. However, they cannot hold fine objects like sand or water, they are too loosely woven.
If this is the kind of basket we weave in our lives or churches, and It has plenty of spiritual pukas, how is God going to bless us? Is it even right for us to expect to be blessed by God if everything He gives us falls right through and is wasted.? And what if God wanted to pour out a spiritual blessing as fine as gold dust into our lives, could we hold the blessing?
We need a better basket than one made out of coconut fronds. The Hawaiians also have a plant called lauhala. They use the stripped leaves from this plant to make a tightly woven basket that can even hold water (for a short time). This kind of strongly woven spiritual basket can hold anything that God wants to pour out. It is our task as believers to weave a basket like this out of our lives in order to be used as God s vessel for blessing.
" Our first task is to make sure we have a good bottom on our basket so nothing leaks out. In terms of sound church stewardship this means that we make sure our people and facilities have proper insurance. Many mainline denominations have custom made broad insurance coverage packages for their churches and pastors. You will need all the basic coverage like fire, flood, liability for injury,etc. Other good coverage to have covers clergy malpractice, coverage for board decisions, loss of records, theft, etc. . With these kinds of coverage in place you create a stronger bottom
Another crucial part of a good bottom has to do with the financial operation of the church. When churches are small and just starting out they cannot afford to hire professional accounting services. The books are usually fairly simple, not much more than a small business or home account. They develop a  mom and pop store mentality that depends on trust instead of institutional internal controls. What needs to happen is that churches need to adopt a more business like fiscal mentality and insist that they operate according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This business savvy is further increased with familiarity of  Church Law and Tax Report. This book provides a current update on all matters pertaining to compliance with federal and state laws concerning churches and pastors.
If your church does not follow my suggestions about weaving a good fiscal bottom then you can be assured that the chapter titled  The Embezzlement will soon apply to you. When you incorporate a business mentality as part of your churches foundational understanding of stewardship, then other people and organizations will begin to trust you with their gifts. Because we have a good business reputation and practices with no pukas God pours blessing into our stewardship basket.
Another crucial component to the weaving of a strong bottom for our stewardship basket is the annual audit. When churches run on trust alone with weak internal controls, and think they want to save money on the budget, one item quickly sacrificed is the cost of the audit. What a big mistake that is! Again, see  The Embezzlement . In short, we made that mistake and it cost us over ten times as much to fix the damage than the cost of an annual audit would have prevented!
There is a spiritual lesson here. Satan wants to poke holes in our financial baskets. The church positions that deal with money are open to spiritual attack. Judas, who would betray Jesus, was the treasurer for the disciples.  Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. Luke 22:3 His love for money overcame his love for Jesus. When he saw a generous gift of precious ointment poured out upon Jesus he was indignant instead of joyous.  Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor? This he said, not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. John 12:6 The Bible shows us that those who handle money need to be protected. We must defend these positions and people by internalized, standardized, accounting practices. This helps prevent temptation. One of these forms of spiritual defense is the annual audit.
" Make a big basket with a wide mouth so you can receive all kinds of gifts.
Imagine you wanted to hold a huge blessing but you made the basket with a narrow mouth.  Lose money we say in the local pidgin. You want to make it easy for people to give gifts and churches to receive them. If churches can discover ways to broaden their appeal and increase the scope of gifts they can receive they will fill their basket of blessing much faster i.e. reach their financial goal.
One of the most common ways for churches to raise money is with the annual appeal. (See discussion on fund raisers). Often this is part of the every member pledge drive that occurs in the fall of the year. Sometimes this is called the  stewardship campaign . You will need a mailing list made up of every member, friend, and prior contributor. Try and precede this mailing by a couple weeks of preparation with members speaking during the worship service about their own adventure of giving and trusting God to help them meet their needs. Church members listen with a trusting heart when one of  their own talk about their personal giving experiences.
In an ideal church you would mail the proposed budget along with a well crafted letter that highlights the accomplishments and needs of the church for the coming year. Sometimes the budget is not ready. The letter should be from the church stewardship committee and be signed by the pastor. When you mail these requests for support out, you want them to be well received. A hand addressed envelope with a fancy stamp always attracts attention and will get opened. If the letter has a little note from a committee member known to the addressee, it will demand a closer look. That is just a small step away from a gift. Include a stamped pre addressed envelope and there is a very good chance the person will make a gift or a pledge.
One year we forgot to include even a return address on our annual mailing and people still responded. People develop a loyally in their giving. A thank you letter from the pastor for responding to the spiritual adventure of giving goes a long way in strengthening this bond between the giver and the church. The pastor need not know the size of the gift. The giver needs to know the pastor cares, and respects the decision to make a financial sacrifice for the Lord s work.
It is more than likely that people may want to donate real property or include the church in their wills, estates, and trusts. The church should decide on a policy regarding these kinds of gifts. We decided as soon as we started to raise money for the building fund to establish a distinctly specific committee with its own boards and bookkeeping. This way we could receive gifts that were specially designated for the building fund and not mix the money in with the general fund. The Building Committee decided on an investment policy for the funds as they were gathered. The church needs to have the proper legal advice and financial vehicles to receive these gifts. Our United Church of Christ churches in Hawaii have access to the guidance of the Hawaii Conference Foundation which manages church properties and investments. Funds invested with them are secure and prosper. A charitable remainder trust, in which the donor gets some income as well as a tax benefit, is a great way to give for certain people.
Our church also established a brokerage account with a local stock broker. This was useful for receiving gifts of shares of stocks and mutual funds. For some givers it was more financially advantageous to donate shares of stock that had appreciated over the years rather than sell the shares, pay capital gains tax, and then give cash. Some people also paid their pledge to the general fund in shares of stock.
We were also remembered in the wills of church members and their families. If you remind members to include the church in their wills you will receive unexpected blessings (see Violet Kunimitsu estate).
" Weave the sides of your basket with information, involvement, and appreciation.
The more you can keep people informed and involved in the building project, the greater the results. People want to know what is going on in the progress of fund raising and how the plans and progress for building are shaping up. The church newsletter is a good vehicle to keep everybody informed. There should be regular updates to the congregation by the building committee. A short talk during worship is the best time.
The fund raising committee should keep a running tally of money raised, maybe with a graph or chart It is good to list the names of donors from outside the church in the newsletter. This inspires others to give.
Member manpower is needed for most fund raising events. Working together builds team spirit and enthusiasm. (We had all kinds of projects which are discussed in  Fund Raisers ). These events also make the church s mission more evident in the community.
Another good way to involve the church members is to ask them to write contributions to make a church devotional. We printed pamphlets for the Easter and Christmas seasons. These devotions are the faith stories of the people. We printed stories from small children as well as adults. This writing exercises faith and promotes confidence and grows the faith of all involved. This is one form of giving.
We always made it a point for both the Pastor and the Building Board Chairman, Bob Kumasaka, to sign the thank you notes when we received gifts. This is for more than tax purposes or good accounting. We want to establish a relationship with our donors. We have experienced that when someone gives to our church, and we thank them, then they are more than likely to give again. All our donors are included in our church newsletter mailings. They also like to receive the devotionals we print.
When you construct this Stewardship Basket you have made more than just something to hold blessings. If you are diligent about building a secure financial foundation, and make it easy for people to give the kind of gifts that best suit them, and you are faithful in expressing thankfulness, you ll discover something miraculous. You have made a money machine that runs on perpetual motion. The basket keeps getting money put in it. People have their hearts touched and keep on giving. Even after the project is long over people are still giving to the building fund. Often these are memorial gifts. We use these funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings.
I am sure that there are many ways to boost the stewardship awareness in your church. Remember, you are weaving a good basket to hold the blessings God wants to pour out upon you and your church. Be a good steward.

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